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Arts need a public lifeline, supporters say

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The Wilsonville Community Theater, shown here during a performance last year of James and the Giant Peach, would get $3,000 if the Wilsonville City Council approves a funding request. The Wilsonville City Council is considering a request from the Wilsonville Arts and Culture Council for up to $10,000 in grant funding to help both the Wilsonville Festival of Arts and the Wilsonville Theater Company survive ongoing financial difficulties.

Local arts supporters say the city would be much worse off without longstanding cultural institutions such as the Festival of Arts, which began in the late 1990s and at one time included a popular community parade. Today, the festival is struggling to hang on and the parade is now only a memory.

If approved by the council, $7,000 would go to help the Festival of Arts, while the remainder would fund the Wilsonville Theater Company, which is scheduled to open its winter production “On Golden Pond” Feb. 21 at the Frog Pond Grange Hall.

“The arts and culture are considered to be the soul of the city,” Wilsonville resident Dave DeHart said at the council’s Feb. 3 meeting. “Well, much like they say a room without a book is a room without a soul, a city is the same way.”

DeHart co-chairs the Arts and Culture Alliance of Wilsonville along with fellow Wilsonville resident Keith Amundson. The Alliance was created to oversee Wilsonville’s public art program, which at one time saw up to a dozen large metal sculptures gracing various sites around the city. Now, DeHart and Keith Amundson are virtually the only ones left. The group’s slow decline is just one example of the crisis facing arts in Wilsonville, said DeHart, who believes the city needs to take on a much bigger role in funding public art.

“This project will not survive as is,” he told the council. “The city needs to take an integral role in this, and there must be a professional review and analysis of arts and culture and its contribution to livability.”

The council, he continued, should also consider including a performing arts center as part of any future community or aquatic center.

Councilor Julie Fitzgerald expressed support for DeHart’s concept.

“There is a lot going on,” she said. “I think this is something we should look into.”

No formal action was taken by the council on DeHart’s grant request. But individual councilors largely sided with Fitzgerald in expressing their support.

It was also suggested that perhaps arts and culture could be rolled into the city’s ongoing tourism task force to find ways in which the arts can help bring visitors to Wilsonville. This is already the case with the city’s showcase event, Fun in the Park.

“It is captured as a need,” Fitzgerald said. “Now, we’re not to a point of having an actual strategy, so I would think it’s good to get another highlight on it.”

Mayor Tim Knapp also noted the city needs to investigate how it can ensure sustainable funding for the arts, should the council act on DeHart’s request.

“We haven’t undertaken that in any significant way as far as I know,” Knapp said.

City Manager Bryan Cosgrove noted the tourism task force is currently preparing to wrap up the initial stages of its work in order to present a final report to the council by April. It may be too late by that timeline, he said, to inject a whole new variable into the equation.

“I think the tourism strategy stuff needs to happen,” Cosgrove said. Arts “could be identified in the strategies that come forward, but I would recommend allowing the tourism thing to do its stuff first, and after that we can consider some of those options if the council wants to go further than the recommendations.”

Wilsonville Festival of Arts Chairwoman Theonie Gilmore said she is pleased to have found a new volunteer, Wilsonville resident Linda Brecke, to take over as festival chairwoman after this year.

“Linda has a really good head on her shoulders,” Gilmore said. “I’m so pleased that we found her.”

DeHart’s request, she added, would be a true lifeline for the festival if it ultimately is approved by the council.

“We have to submit a grant application,” she said. “Last year we got half, $2,500, of what we asked for and we really had to go into our savings to run the festival. So this year we’ll try to do more fundraising with businesses.”




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