July 08, 2020

Stabilizing Oregon’s Vulnerable Arts and Culture Sector

By: Jerry Tischleder
Senior Program Officer, Arts and Culture

In April, OCF and partner funders announced the Oregon Arts & Culture Recovery Program to support arts and culture communities who have been ravaged by the outbreak of COVID-19. The depth of financial loss for these groups is staggering – over $35 million in reported losses, not including the ripple effect on businesses who rely on over $300 million in annual spending by patrons attending arts events across Oregon.

We know that no combination of government, foundation and individual support can hope to fill the entire hole of what has been lost. The nonprofits in this already vulnerable sector have responded to the crisis by cancelling performances, exhibitions and fundraisers; refunding tickets and fees; voiding contracts with artists; furloughing or laying off staff; and cutting expenses down to the smallest possible footprint that still ensures the capacity to reopen on an uncertain timeline. As these groups drain their modest cash reserves, they are calculating how many months they can survive until it is safe to gather again. Individual circumstances vary widely across geography and artistic disciplines. Some museums and arts education groups are now operating in limited ways with new safety protocols, but many performing arts institutions don’t anticipate re-opening until next spring or even the fall of 2021. theater seats

Given this background, it’s no surprise that we received 460 applications from nonprofits requesting over $10 million through the Oregon Arts & Culture Recovery Program. To date we’ve distributed $2,216,070 in grant dollars to 123 organizations and expect to finalize awards for the roughly $800,000 remaining in pooled funds by the end of July. We’ll continue to solicit new contributions in hopes of meeting as much of the collective need as possible, knowing at this point that every dollar counts towards securing the cultural vibrancy of our communities past this period of strife.

Beyond these efforts, OCF has earmarked an additional $200,000 towards direct support for individual artists, and we’re exploring several mechanisms to distribute those funds fairly across the state. We’ve also loosened requirements for current grantees by deferring grant reports and offering the option to repurpose any remaining funds (to the degree possible given the restrictive nature of some of our resources) for use as general operating support. We hope this flexibility allows nonprofits to direct those dollars where they’re most needed for immediate relief.

Meanwhile, artists continue to inspire our communities through online performances and increased virtual programming. You can browse a selection of statewide events and resources through the Oregon Cultural Trust’s monthly round-up. I’ve heard countless stories of innovations across distance that will allow many nonprofits to thrive in new ways and fundamentally change the way they operate into the future. I’ve also seen artists and culture bearers lead the call for more just communities through their words, their song, their images and their actions. As an artist myself, I know these voices are essential to elevate the complex stories happening across Oregon right now and open doors to the change and healing that is needed across our state.

I invite you to consider what you can do to support the arts and culture ecology in this critical moment. Offer your support in whatever way you can: make donations directly, decline ticket refunds, purchase albums or artworks, offer professional expertise, or hold your own fundraiser for the groups that you can’t imagine life without. You may also contribute to the Oregon Arts and Culture Recovery Fund, where we’ll continue pushing resources out to communities across the state with a priority for disproportionally impacted populations. Please stay tuned to our website and social media channels for any and all updates and keep supporting the artists and organizations who are near and dear to you. They need your help now more than ever!