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With equity in mind, group will direct cash to smaller companies; executive Madison Cario says 'it's a necessary move to recalibrate and make sure we're generally supporting arts ecology'

COURTESY PHOTO - The Oregon Symphony is one of the large organizations that will see less funding from Regional Arts & Culture Council.After about three years of planning, the Regional Arts & Culture Council has decided to give more public money to little companies and less to the big "Portland Five," which includes Portland Center Stage, Oregon Symphony, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Portland Opera and the Portland Art Museum.

It's all in the name of equity to support everybody.

"It's a necessary move to recalibrate and make sure we're generally supporting arts ecology," says Madison Cario, new RACC executive director. "There are other monies that larger organizations can still compete for (called Investment Awards); we need to help the 'Portland Five' as well. How can we leverage this and bring more attention to the arts community as a whole?

"It was a good place for me to walk in and say, 'Yes, let's see if it works out,'" says Cario, who started Jan. 14 but who had a stated goal of making arts more equitable in Portland. "It's a three-year commitment. We're not just being a funder, but these are our partners."

It does follow a national trend, Cario says, of equitable public funding for arts in other municipalities, and aligns with the City of Portland's equity goals. "It's kind of a readjustment as our communities shift and change."

Every year RACC provides General Operating Support (GOS) to more than 50 arts organizations, made possible with City of Portland general fund investments, Arts Tax dollars, Multnomah County funds, and proceeds from RACC's workplace giving campaign, the Arts Impact Fund. In 2018-19, RACC gave $4.9 million.

From 2008-18, the five biggest Portland organizations received 58 percent of the money, based on operating budget. With a concerted effort toward spreading the money around, through what RACC calls its "equitable and progressive distribution funding model," 80 percent of RACC's GOS partners will see increases in the next year. The change amounts to about 1 percent of the "Portland Five" and other companies with large (more than $2 million) budgets, starting in 2021, Cario says.

COURTESY PHOTO - Madison Cario, the new RACC executive director, says that striving for equity in funding helps the arts ecology.At least one of the Portland Five entities feels just fine about the change.

"As a percentage, of course, that seems minor (1 percent)," says Cynthia Fuhrman, Portland Center Stage executive director. "But fundraising is always a challenge for arts organizations, so this change does have impact for us. We're grateful to have some time to strategize about how to address that impact."

Building an annual budget that addresses revenue allows for change in funding, she adds.

"I am in support of the model," Fuhrman says, of RACC. "This is important work for our community to take on, and it's important that action back up the conversations we've been having as a city and an arts ecology ... and how to ensure that the arts ecology here stays healthy."

"This is a sign that our community is growing in the right direction," says Seth Truby, Oregon Bravo Youth Orchestras executive director, who calls his company among the "overlooked and underfunded."

"(Bravo) has relied on RACC support every stage of our development. ... Last year we started receiving General Operating Support, and we are excited to see RACC's focus on equitable funding, which has the potential to increase engagement with creators and audiences who traditionally face barriers to participation in arts and culture."

Cario says "no one was surprised" about the changes in the Portland Five, because it's been a community conversation going on for many years. "There's some disappointment," Cario says. "But mostly, it's 'now what?'"

The pushback has come internally from the RACC board members and employees, Cario says. "Everyone has been gracious and thoughtful and honest. No one's taking it lightly. ... It's going to take trust and vision."

By equity, too, Cario says that minorities could benefit. RACC and Cario talk about how it's organizations led by white people with white audiences that historically receive the most funding.

"This was not a racial equity change as much as a change to operational budget size," Cario says. "But it does have these (racial equity) results. We still have some work to do to get racial diversity into the mix in smaller organizations. This is our first step, decoupling from budget size, and then we have to look at all kinds of diversity," whether it be racial, geographical, class-based, LGBTQ, etc., or the traditional arts like ballet versus crafts or creative tech.

"There's a whole bunch of people creating art who don't call themselves artists," Cario says.

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