Taking the reins
On a spooky Sunday afternoon, Tomi Douglas found herself rubbing elbows with the leaders of her new community as she watched a parade of ghouls, princesses and washing machines walk by.
Douglas was one of the judges during Gresham Station Shopping Center's Halloween Costume Contest Sunday, Oct. 27. She laughed and marveled alongside her fellow judges at the creativity of the outfits on display.
"It's amazing to see what everyone was able to come up with," she said.
Being able to spend an afternoon taking part in a Halloween event is one of the reasons Douglas made the move to Gresham to helm MetroEast Community Media. A seasoned nonprofit administrator and arts professional, she had grown a little stir crazy operating a consulting firm out of her Portland home.
While she enjoyed the work, she started to miss the little things. She wanted to be able to connect with co-workers; bounce ideas off talented co-workers; and take part in things like an office "Secret Santa."
"I like to be part of a community and be present in a place," Douglas said. "I love working with people."
So following a national search, Douglas, 45, emerged as the new chief executive officer at MetroEast. In her short time with the nonprofit media organization, Douglas has been working with staff to create a roadmap into the future.
"We are so excited to have Tomi join the MetroEast team," said Shannon Chisom, MetroEast board president. "Her background in the nonprofit arts world and in the government sector will add the missing piece to the puzzle that is MetroEast."
MetroEast is a nonprofit community media hub based in Gresham. The organization educates the public on how to leverage media and technology to create meaningful content. They host trainings, have equipment for rent, and maintain a fleet of media outlets to promote projects, from cable to YouTube.
"This role feels like a dream — MetroEast is an interesting organization I am excited to be a part of," Douglas said.
Douglas wants to help guide MetroEast into what is an uncertain future for media companies. In her short time at the helm, she has been working to identify new revenue sources and develop new programming that will cement the nonprofit group as a staple of the community in the decades to come.
For Douglas, MetroEast is about more than its six cable channels. It is a place where creatives can thrive.
"People have access to incredible tools and training here," Douglas said. "It's about enabling people to tell their stories."
Douglas has always been an Oregon girl.
She grew up in Molalla, a community she described as not having a lot of resources available, so helping uplift people has always been in the back of her mind. Art has been another constant in her life, especially after a sixth grade field trip to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival — a place where she would later work.
Douglas was the Cultural Services Director for the city of Eugene and oversaw the city's arts and culture portfolio including venue management, public art, performing arts programming and community event producing. She also coordinated all regional cultural tourism and policy matters.
Before that, Douglas served the city of Portland as former mayor Sam Adams' culture and communications policy advisor and had previous executive management and arts programming roles at landmark institutions such as MoPOP in Seattle and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
And like most in the field of arts, she had to do a stint on the East Coast, serving as the executive director of the New York City Gay Chorus.
But no matter where her career path took her, there was always something connecting Douglas back to her home state.
"I always knew I would end up back here," she said.
Douglas was drawn to MetroEast because of it being a collision of different places she has worked in the past — nonprofit, government, and arts and culture. Her first official day was Sept. 25.
She will soon be moving into a place in Corbett, and it has been a whirlwind in exploring her new home and organization.
"Out here feels like the next frontier," Douglas said.
Douglas' choice to take the job in Gresham was validated one of her first mornings strolling into MetroEast's headquarters, 829 N.E. Eighth St.
The building was filled to the brim with local creatives all working on unique and interesting projects. There were independent film makers, students, businesses, in-house producers, government officials and others, all taking advantage of the equipment and expertise available through the organization.
"This is unique — you don't normally see all this with a community media organization," Douglas said. "MetroEast is a special place."
There are challenges facing Douglas as she steps into her new role. It is a difficult time for media organizations, as looming changes put traditional funding methods on shaky ground. In the past, MetroEast thrived on cable franchise fees, but with more families cutting cords, the organization will have to get creative.
"A lot of people care about the future of this place," Douglas said. "We need to start operating more like a traditional nonprofit with fundraising and other revenue streams."
That is one of the first things Douglas is tackling, though meetings with the talented MetroEast staff have also addressed other ideas. The group is investigating creating more tentpole programs, like the popular "Community Hotlines," as a way to draw viewers. Douglas doesn't want those programs to follow a cookie-cutter formula, but instead bring something new and useful to the table.
Some ideas that have been bandied about are a cooking program or animal show.
"Everyone in this building is creative," Douglas said. "We need to invest in our people."
MetroEast is about more than just programming. The organization will continue to fight for diversity, inclusion and digital equity.
MetroEast has a unique ability to promote online job searching and free digital trainings. They want to continue working with seniors and youth, bringing the digital age to anyone without a stable connection. One idea being kicked around is that of a MetroEast Digital Bus, which would be a mobile way to connect vulnerable populations with technology and lessons.
"We don't want folks to be left behind in the digital divide," Douglas said. "We are solving community problems — more than just art and stories."
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