Rethinking Portland
by: L.E. BASKOW, Whether they’re local institutions – such as the Oregon Symphony (with cellist Tim Scott, left) and Oregon Ballet Theatre (with company dancer Martina Chavez, right) – or new experiments, arts ventures add to the economic activity and cultural richness of our city.

Portland's creative scene is richly represented by just about every art form - be it visual, musical or theatrical.

But the ability to keep this thriving arts community financially afloat has proven elusive. As noted in this edition of the Tribune's Rethinking Portland, stable funding for the arts is the pre-eminent concern for most people involved in creating, displaying, performing or teaching art.

Of course, monetary problems are nothing new in the art world, and they certainly are not unique to Portland. The phrase 'starving artist' wasn't invented here. But we believe that support for local arts can be increased, and that the power to do so rests with those who are involved in the arts.

Simply put, artists and their backers can raise more funds if they raise the bar on their own expectations and seek to make Portland a city renowned for greatness in the arts.

Such aspirations can be achieved in part by connecting art with other elements of the community - those things for which we already are well-known and distinguished.

That means emphasizing the physical environment in our art. It means drawing upon art forms - such as jazz - that have a special tradition in Portland. And it means reaching out to the growing high-tech industry not just for funding, but also for inspiration in creating art.

Art enriches in many ways

Becoming a city known for great art is not an elitist goal. It is an important objective for a region that must compete economically and socially with other metropolitan areas.

An active, excellent arts community will attract new residents and new businesses to this region by making Portland more livable.

Art also contributes directly to the economy through the people it employs in museums, galleries and theaters, and through the substantial effect it has on other businesses.

But the necessity of art goes beyond economics. Art in all its forms enriches lives, fosters creativity, provides education and brings diverse people together around a common interest.

That's why, despite their economic insecurity, artists are engaged in one of the noblest of professions. The Portland area is fortunate to have so many quality artists working in a field that requires extreme dedication for - often - very little compensation.

We congratulate these artists for their fine work, and we also are thankful to those who support the arts with their contributions. This network of support is crucial.

Seek cultural greatness

The drive to give the region an even bigger arts presence isn't limited to downtown Portland, and neither are the benefits if that effort succeeds.

The importance of cultivating art and culture is recognized in Tigard, where the Broadway Rose Theatre is staging superb - and profitable - productions. Out in Gresham, actor Kirk Mouser, who left a successful New York career to return to Oregon, is helping lead the campaign for a new arts center. And in Lake Oswego, the Lakewood Center for the Arts continues to grow in quality and esteem after 54 years in operation.

Art is alive and well in all these places, as well as in dozens of local high schools, community colleges and universities. Such broad, community-level involvement in the arts shows that the interest and energy to make Portland a distinctive arts city is far-reaching and already in place.

But more focused leadership is needed to channel that enthusiasm and point this region toward artistic greatness. If that occurs, we are confident the funding will follow - whether from greater attendance, public support of targeted taxes to benefit the arts or more generous corporate and individual donations.

This is a city and region that should strive for even more cultural abundance and artistic greatness.

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