Oregon’s arts and cultural organizations and performance venues seek another round of $50 million to help them recover financially while they rebuild attendance and audiences lost during the coronavirus pandemic.
They got help in July 2020, when lawmakers approved $50 million from federal funds to help them.
House Bill 2459, heard Tuesday by the House Economic Development and Small Business Committee, proposes $22.6 million from state funds to be divided among seven large organizations and 77 smaller venues named in the legislation. The rest of the $50 million would go to the Oregon Business Development Department for distribution.
House Bill 2911, which was heard last week, proposes $20 million for the business agency without naming organizations or venues.
Chairwoman Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, said the ultimate fate of the bills is up to the Legislature’s joint budget committee.
They are not the only ones urging legislators to continue aid that originally came from federal dollars. Gov. Tina Kotek, in presenting her budget recommendations for the next two-year cycle starting July 1, said Tuesday: “Future budget cycles may present difficult choices.”
Brian Ferriso, director of the Portland Art Museum, said attendance in 2022 was about half of pre-pandemic totals despite two major exhibitions and conservative projections.
“Our organizations, large and small, are struggling to regain footing in the wake of the pandemic. Oregon experienced some of the longest pandemic-related shutdowns in the nation,” he said at a committee hearing.
Ferriso acknowledged that downtown Portland, the scene of racial justice protests and the target of vandalism for weeks in 2020, posed a special challenge for the museum and other prominent institutions.
“We know that many workers and their families have yet to return to Portland’s downtown,” he said. “Let me assure you that we are doing what we can to be part of the solution.”
Like the 2020 allocation, a small group of organizations would share $11.8 million: Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, $5.1 million; Oregon Symphony, $1.9 million; Portland Art Museum, $1.5 million; Portland Center Stage and Portland Opera, $949,375 each; High Desert Museum in Bend, $759,500, and Oregon Ballet Theatre, $683,550. (Excluded are 2020 recipients Metro, which had run the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, and the Pendleton Round-Up.)
All except two are based in Portland. Portland Art Museum did not get money in the initial round in 2020, but lawmakers later added a few organizations and venues to their original list.
Another $10.7 million would be split among 77 named performance venues. In the 2020 allocation, about 80 venues split $9.7 million; 41 of them in the Portland area got a total of $6.3 million.
The overall bill specifies that $9.6 million must be distributed outside the Portland metro area.
The 2020 allocation was approved by the legislative Emergency Board, which meets between sessions of the full Legislature, and left it to cultural coalitions in Oregon’s 36 counties to distribute the $26 million remaining.
Ginger Savage, a board member of the Cultural Advocacy Coalition of Oregon, said a recent announcement by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival of major staff cuts and production curtailments may foreshadow what is in store for smaller organizations without state aid.
“There is no doubt in my mind that when we support the arts, we are supporting Main Street and all the different businesses associated with the arts,” said Rep. Greg Smith, a Republican from Heppner, an economic development consultant and a co-sponsor.
Ferriso mentioned a 2017 study by Americans for the Arts, which said activity by cultural nonprofits in Portland generated $330 million annually in spinoff benefits, almost 10 times the national median of $35.8 million for a metro area.
Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, is a co-sponsor and an organizer of the Arts and Culture Caucus in the Legislature. He said economic losses in Oregon’s creative sector from the pandemic amounted to $1.6 billion.
“This loss was made worse by the fact that audiences are still slow in returning to their pre-pandemic numbers. Even now with restrictions lifted, venues are still not seeing audiences return in the numbers we are used to,” Nosse said.
“Attendance numbers are moving in the right direction. But unless we provide a lifeline of support, I think we are at risk of losing some of our most critical cultural venues across our state.”
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