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OPBs art allegiance makes TV matter

What's this? Local arts to the rescue? In the bottom-line climate of the television business, it's almost inconceivable you'd hear a battle cry that has the word 'arts' in it, especially preceded by the word 'local.' But at Oregon Public Broadcasting, it's as real as a Monet original or a high C at the Portland Opera.

'Oregon Art Beat,' the OPB program that airs Thursdays at 9 p.m., is kicking some serious canvas. Flush with funding and viewers, 'Oregon Art Beat' is one of the best reasons to skip 'Friends' or 'Survivor.' It's a local show that expertly fills a void and gloriously attacks a subject that TV has pretty much considered too stuffy and niche-ridden.

But at a time when OPB has been hammered with budget cuts and layoffs, the half-hour show just received another two years of funding from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, which doles out millions of dollars to arts and education.

'Oregon Art Beat,' which premiered in April 2000, now boasts 37 original weekly episodes per season, which is almost unheard of in an age when reruns and high production costs are the rule. It isn't unusual that more than 40,000 homes are tuned in to the show, co-hosted by K.C. Cowan and Gray Eubank and featuring a trio of eight- or nine-minute segments per commercial-free half-hour.

I've always maintained that when TV decides to zero in on the arts Ñ another good example is CBS' 'Sunday Morning' Ñ the results are often stellar. Close-ups of a painter's pallet or a dancer's feet are something that a camera does best.

With 'Oregon Art Beat,' the emphasis is almost always on the artist. Or, as Cowan puts it, 'being interested in the person, who also happens to be the artist.' Whether the focus is on Liza Jones, the founder of Portland's Inkling Studio (complete with an etching press), or painter Chad Mayo Ghosthorse (who sold two works as a result of the story on him), it's obvious that the behind-the-scenes process and the personality of the artist is what satisfies here.

'We knew that when we started this show, we couldn't just appeal to arts patrons,' explains executive producer Jeff Douglas. 'We needed to pitch a bigger tent.' And week after week, 'Oregon Art Beat' pulls it off.

Combined with 'Oregon Field Guide' (in its 14th season!) at 8:30 p.m. and PBS' 'Frontline' at 9:30 p.m., 'Oregon Art Beat' has helped make OPB a surprising Ñ and welcome Ñ bright spot.

Pete Schulberg is host of 'Portland's Morning News' on KPAM (860 AM). Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..