Local Arts Stumbles But Will Rise to the Challenge

It just breaks my heart every time I write about the demise of yet another arts organization in Central Oregon. I’m thinking back on the downfall of the Cascade Music Festival that closed amid accusations and turmoil nearly eight years ago. Then in June 2014 came the failure of the board of directors of the Nature of Words to continue the literary organization when its founder, Ellie Waterston, moved on to other journeys after diligently creating and nurturing her dream.

Now we must speak about the beloved Art Station that was abruptly closed last month by the board of directors, who once again was unable to maintain the programs following the departure of its founder and champion Cate O’Hagan. The board also cancelled Arts Central, the umbrella non-profit organization for the Art Station, VanGo and Artists in Schools programs, providing arts education and advocacy services in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson Counties.

Much blame has been battered back and forth about the closure of the region’s only non-profit visual arts school and the regional arts & cultural council.

However, today we should talk about hope and the future and what we can do to assure that our cultural and creative entities are supported and valued.

Acknowledging that Central Oregon is a growing environment for art and cultural that add to the quality of life and economic vitality of Central Oregon is an important step in our healing. When you support arts programs, you support a thriving creative economy that enriches all in our region.

Unfortunately funding of the arts is not a walk in the park as there are so many needs in our communities, especially helping at risk youth and families.

I must mention the blatant lack of appropriate funding from the Oregon Arts Commission (OAC) and the Oregon Cultural Trust (OCT) that claims: to lead Oregon in cultivating, growing and valuing culture as an integral part of communities.

That’s not happening in Central Oregon. The OAC recently cancelled funding for the High Desert Museum stating that art is not at the core of the Museum. The conclusion to withhold funds from the Museum is completely ridiculous. Not only is the Museum an extremely valuable cultural entity in the state, it continuously hosts noteworthy art exhibits.

Chair of Brooks Resource, Mike Hollern, tried to help the Museum restore the funding but resigned from the OAC advocacy board when his efforts were thwarted by the Commission. Continued advocacy to our state’s arts funders in Salem needs to occur. We must let our needs be known and be adamant that Central Oregon is worthy of significant attention and support.

Just this past Month, the Museum held its annual fundraiser, Rendezvous, showcasing the Art in the West exhibit and raising $325,00 to support this unique Museum. This level of support reveals that our community is connected to sustaining these ‘artful exhibits, alluring animals, engaging programs and meaningful history.’

I am grateful that our region is helping to sustain other arts and cultural organizations including the Tower Theatre, High Desert Chamber Music, Scalehouse, Bend Experimental Art Theatre, Central Oregon Symphony, Sisters Folk Festival and many others.

Recent funding for local arts groups from OCT (see page 4 of this issue) received a paltry $74,962 with $31,239 going to Playa in Summer Lake. Not one grant went to an organization that offers art education. While the Novel Idea, OperaBend, Camp Sherman Historical Society and Women’s Civic Improvement League may be important cultural offerings, they are not encouraging creativity in visual art.

The arts are what make our community strong and vibrant and Arts Central had a confident 40 year heritage of cultivating creative minds in Central Oregon.

What are we, as champions of the arts, going to do to create inspiration, innovation and creativity in communities throughout the High Desert? While I write this there are several people talking about how our community can continue to offer the arts programs and where the regional council should operate.

Through thoughtful discussions I hope to report good news in future editorials.

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