For the first time in over a decade, Portland will go a year without a new edition of the Fertile Ground Festival of New Works, the annual arts festival that runs for 11 days each winter. The news that the event will be taking a “strategic hiatus” in 2023 was announced May 22 in a press release.
“I believe now is the time to look back and identify successes and improvements in order to look forward. It is time to assess how the program can become sustainable fiscally and from a human-powered perspective,” said festival director Nicole Lane.
During the hiatus, Fertile Ground (which is a program of the Portland Area Theater Alliance), “will work toward restructuring the funding and staffing required for a sustainable future,” according to the press release.
“This strategic hiatus is a tremendous opportunity for PATA to fortify the foundation that has been built by a team of dedicated, passionate volunteers over the last 13 years,” said Fertile Ground marketing director Dré Slaman. “This moment in time offers a chance to make the festival stronger, so that it may to continue to be an outlet for artists to share their work and the Portland community to enjoy it for years to come.”
Since the first edition of the festival, which was founded by Trisha Mead, Fertile Ground has become a fixture of the Portland arts scene. By focusing exclusively on original works, it has allowed Portland theatergoers to see scrappy plays that buck the status quo in inventive ways. One day, you might be watching a mermaid musical in Mother Foucault’s Bookshop; the next, you might be absorbing an environmentalist fable in a backyard studio.
While Fertile Ground has consistently remained creatively vibrant, the pandemic forced it to adapt multiple times. In 2021, the festival became virtual and curated (and free); in 2022, it returned to being uncurated, but remained virtual.
Throughout the process, the festival sought to amplify a diverse array of voices with the help of the GROW Panel, a community panel that would award a $500 GROW Award to five artists-producers (along with four more who were selected to receive funds from community donors).
“This festival has provided an amazing, and invaluable, platform for local performers and creators for the past 13 years,” said PATA board president and former Fertile Ground artist Samson Syharath. “We hope to expand upon the equitable practices already in place under the leadership of Nicole Lane and Dré Slaman, with more support from grant funding, and a sustainable staffing structure. There are so many possibilities for how this festival can grow, and we are excited to explore them thoroughly.”