Commissioner Sam Adams' Creative Capacity Town Hall
Tuesday night elicited cheers, hissing and words both harsh and heady from Portland's creative community, about 300 of whom showed up to the Gerding Theater at the Armory to voice opinions on "what it will take to unlock Portland's full creative capacity."
Adams, whom many in the nonprofit arts community count as an ally, lectured for a good thirty minutes on Portland's creative economy, throwing out sobering arts spending stats and pledging his desire to "take it to the next level. Too many of our arts and culture organizations spend too much time fundraising." He lamented the pitiable amount of city, regional and state funding spent here on arts and culture: according to his stats, the City of Portland spends $6.11 per person on arts/culture, the region spends $2.31, and the state? A whopping $.87 per person.
In addition to just a wee bit of political show and tell - Adams boasted about his office's efforts and successes, including the Milepost 5 affordable live/work artist housing, his work with Oregon ArtPAC
(Political Action Committee) and helping to save the IFCC
- Adams opened the floor for "ideas, problems, suggestions."
Among the usual pleas for financial support and the opportunity some attendees used to speak about their own excellent work, there were some intriguing and useful thoughts from the arts community (who identified, according to a poll of hands, as 1/3 performing artists, 1/3 visual artists and 1/3 "arts lovers"), among them:
*Portland Baroque Orchestra's Tom Cirillo and the IFCC's Adrienne Flagg called for better and more affordable arts venues. "The quality of venue is important - not only an affordable venue, but one that's exciting to attend," Cirillo said.
*Several attendees suggested there be a City fund to help get Portland-based artists out into the world through touring and exchange programs.
*Kimberly Howard spoke eloquently of the need for more diversity within and without the arts community: "There's a voice," she said, "that is missing."
*There were also comments about the state of arts journalism and criticism throughout Portland, with one attendee saying "the real estate available for arts criticism - serious arts criticism - in community newspapers is shrinking, and that's not good."
After getting these disparate thoughts penned on oversize paper, Adams invited two colleagues to the stage to speak about their success in advocacy work, METRO's Jim Desmond and Mark Weiner. Weiner - a former member of the Portland theatre community turned political fundraising consultant - had a strong message to the community:
"You're going to have to change the nature of the perception of the creative arts in order to make your case. You're not ready to go - not even close," he said. "Get your ass organized."
The energy in the room shifted dramatically with his talk of organizing, advocacy and the long, spendy road to increased funding for the creative community. Just as he finished, a woman in the front row called out: "Somebody pass me a Prozac."
Adams has set up a website—www.creativecapacity.org—for those interested in organizing around this initiative.