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Arts council offers encouragement, but not funds for Parkrose Triangle

Parkrose business people and neighbors have worked diligently over the past year to clean up the overgrown - and, frankly, unsightly - large traffic island where Northeast Sandy Boulevard crosses Northeast Killingsworth Street.

After days of backbreaking work, these volunteers transformed this plot of land into the beautifully landscaped 'Parkrose Triangle.' And, they prepared a large, concrete pad on which they plan to mount a display of public art - such as a statue or sculpture - that would be changed out every year or so.

With this in mind, members of the Parkrose Business Association welcomed Eloise Damrosch, executive director of the Regional Arts and Culture Council, to their general membership meeting not long ago.

Commission brings culture to greater Portland

Damrosch began by telling of the organization's mission to 'integrate arts and culture in all aspects of community life.'

The council, Damrosch said, was formed in 1995 when Multnomah County 'transitioned' the Metropolitan Arts Commission into a not-for-profit organization.

'Existing arts organizations asked that we not solicit money from their donors, so we came up with a unique funding plan,' she said.

About that time, Damrosch said, Multnomah County passed the '1 percent for Art' plan, under which 1 percent of municipal capital building budgets had to be set aside for art.

Tax-supported art program

'The beauty of this plan is that it assures that art will be involved in every capital project built with public money,' Damrosch said. 'There is local input on the art projects; artists, citizens, and users of the building agree on the artwork.'

The downside, she conceded, is that the council is primarily funded, and restricted, by the 1 percent mechanism. 'The good news is that we've been able to bump that up. Multnomah County is 1.5 percent and the city of Portland has committed 2 percent. Our maintenance funding has grown, as well. We don't want the [public] art to look awful; it needs to be maintained.'

Over the years, Damrosch added, the council and its funding model have achieved a degree of national recognition. 'We consult around the country for communities who want to set up a program like ours.'

Supports a variety of

art programs

The Regional Arts and Culture Council supports 35 art programs throughout the three-county area.

'These include project grants and grants to schools' artist-in-residency programs,' she said. 'We also offer smaller artist education grants.'

When times get tough, Damrosch said, arts programs are the first to be cut from schools.

'There are still arts programs, but it is inequitable,' she said. 'Kids in less affluent schools suffer the most from inequity. We want to bring arts education back, K-8, in all three counties.'

Art on the Parkrose Triangle

Turning to the local issue, public art on the Parkrose Triangle, Damrosch asked, 'You have a spot here in Parkrose for public area. What are the options? Do you have in mind that you would like a permanent art piece?'

Several members spoke up and said, 'The plan is for a rotating display of art.'

Damrosch responded, 'In Lake Oswego, every two years, the downtown business foundation changes out the artwork on the pedestals they've built.'

Artists don't favor plan

'The downside we hear from artists is that the chances it (their artwork) will be sold is remote, after it has been on display. It is out of their control; they don't know if it will be in good condition when it is returned to them,' Damrosch said, adding that most artists say the honorarium they receive for 'loaning' the artwork isn't sufficient to cover having the work unavailable for sale, and having to install and remove it.

'We don't have money sitting around looking for opportunity,' Damrosch said. 'We provide a service to help people go through a process to set up a program. We can help you with that. But, we may not be able to help cover the cost of finding art and installing it.'

For more information, see www.racc.org.