Portland’s Most Imperiled Arts Organizations Are Turning to Women to Save Them

It’s not just generational turnover, either: In many cases, the white men in charge are being succeeded by women and people of color.

(Sam Gehrke)

If the upcoming fall arts season has a motto, it's "Out with the old men, in with the new blood."

A massive overhaul is happening at the top of Portland's biggest artistic institutions. Six of Oregon's major arts organizations—including NW Film Center, Portland Center Stage and Chamber Music Northwest—have recently undergone changes in leadership, or are about to. It's not just generational turnover, either: In many cases, the white men in charge are being succeeded by women and people of color.

It's a shift that's occurring all over the country, as the number of women and people of color leading American theaters has doubled over the past three years. But it's particularly significant in Portland, a city whose progressive reputation hasn't always matched reality.

That's the good news. But many of those new leaders are inheriting organizations dealing with severe budget deficits and struggling to stay relevant with young audiences who can get their art fix without ever having to get off the couch.

For that reason, in this year's Fall Arts Guide, we wanted to introduce you to some of those fresh faces, and ask them: What are you going to do differently?

In some cases, they're already doing it, and getting results. After a year, the new curators of the Portland Biennial, one of the Pacific Northwest's largest surveys of regional art, are reimagining what a local art exhibit looks like, and drawing record crowds. Barely a month into her tenure, The New York Times has already declared Nataki Garrett, Oregon Shakespeare Festival's new artistic director, a key figure in a new generation of American theater. And while Amy Dotson has yet to officially start as NW Film Center's first new director in almost 40 years, the fact that she wrote her master's thesis on Pee-wee's Playhouse is certainly encouraging.

Other organizations are still figuring out how to move forward: After losing its general director this summer, the financially troubled Portland Opera finds itself at a crossroads as it attempts to reach new audiences without alienating the crowd it already has.

Of course, this issue is, first and foremost, a road map to the biggest arts season of the year. So we've also highlighted the 25 most exciting shows this fall, from a splashy production of Lin-Manuel Miranda's first musical to an exhibit that involves a virtual reality shopping mall and poets singing karaoke. We talked to Gabby Rivera, who made history at Marvel Comics and is about to re-release her debut novel set in Portland, and put together a guide to great local jazz every single night of the week, usually for only a few bucks.

Change has been a long time coming, and there's still a ways to go. But the onus isn't just on the new leaders—it's also on you. We hope, more than anything, that this issue will inspire you to engage with the stories being told on the city's stages, gallery walls, screens and pages. Because the future of the Portland arts scene depends on all of us.

The Curators of This Year's Portland Biennial Imagine the Future of Regional Art by Uncovering Oregon's Past

Following the Departure of Its Director, Portland Opera Is Attempting to Engage With Modern Audiences—While Also Recovering From Financial Disarray

After Making Marvel Comics History With "America," Gabby Rivera Is Re-Releasing Her Debut Novel Set in Portland

Nataki Garrett Is Updating American Theater For the 21st Century, and Attempting to Repair Oregon Shakespeare Festival's $2 Million Deficit

NW Film Center Is About to Get Its First New Director in 40 Years. But Can It Adapt to an Era of Streaming Services and Content Overload?

Where to See Local Jazz Every Night of the Week

The Five Book Events We're Most Excited to See This Fall

The Five Theater Shows We're Most Excited to See This Fall

The Five Visual Arts Shows We're Most Excited to See This Fall

The Five Music Shows We're Most Excited to See This Fall

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