Tomorrow, the Portland City Council will vote on how to spend $128 million in CARES Funds, including $4.35 million in relief for the arts and culture sector.
Most of that money, along with funds allocated to for-profit venues as part of a separate business support relief program, would go toward local arts venues. No local music venues, however, are BIPOC-owned. So local nonprofit Friends of Noise began a petition today asking for $500,000 to start a fund to create one.
"In a scene largely driven by art created by BIPOC, there is virtually no representation in ownership by people of color," reads the petition. "As a result, this proposed payout serves as a bailout for an industry that had historically locked out BIPOC; and at a time when we have committed to centering around their needs."
Some of the $4.35 million that the City Council has allotted for the arts will go toward BIPOC artist grants that will be distributed by the Regional Arts & Culture Council, and the rest will go to the Metro-owned Portland's Centers for the Arts and local nonprofit venues.
"I was a bit chagrined that based upon their formula, $3.6 million, give or take, out of the $4 million would not be going to anybody who's POC," says Friends of Noise executive director André Middleton. "Because there are not any POC venue owners."
The petition arose at the last moment—it was created this morning, the day before the City Council is scheduled to vote on how to appropriate CARES Act funds. But it surpassed its initial goal of 100 signees in a few hours and has now upped its target to 200 supporters.
"This petition is asking our local commissioners on their own volition to add our language as an amendment to the current proclamation that they've already secured the votes for," says Middleton. "I'm asking in the next 24 hours for them to amend that proclamation and carve out half a million dollars specifically for the development of a BIPOC-owned and -operated venues."
The petition proposes that the $500,000 come from what's currently allotted for arts venues. The proposal's supporters include Jim Brunberg, who owns Mississippi Studios, Revolution Hall and Polaris Hall, and who founded the Independent Venue Coalition, which has lobbied for financial relief for such venues throughout the pandemic.
"It's something that I believe in wholeheartedly," Brunberg says, adding that although the organization has not yet released an official statement, "I think there's a consensus that it's supported by the IVC."
Founded in 2016, Friends of Noise has long pushed to open an all-ages music venue.
Most recently, the organization was approached about a building in Montavilla on Northeast 74th Avenue and Glisan Street that Metro purchased with the intention of creating mixed-income housing. Middleton says Metro agreed to let Friends of Noise use the building until the agency secured a developer.
"But then the pandemic hit," he says. "Everything is still up in the air."
Friends of Noise would place the $500,000 in escrow with plans to develop an all-ages music venue and community center with public and private funding.
"We were not going to get everything we needed out of this particular declaration," says Middleton. "But if we can put it aside and get some private partnership, I think they would be very intrigued to know that they we were able to get $500,000 of public money. That says a lot."