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Oregon Cultural Trust making plans to disperse $26 million in federal funds to arts and cultural organizations and venues

ROGERSFinancial relief will be coming to arts and cultural organizations and venues during the COVID-19 pandemic and period of government restrictions, and it's just a matter of time before most of them receive the aid.

Oregon lawmakers approved $50 million in federal funds through the CARES Act, and more than half has yet to be distributed. The Oregon Cultural Trust's board of directors will meet Thursday, Aug. 6, to establish its plan to help organizations in 36 counties across the state.

Half already has been earmarked for organizations, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival ($4.7 million), Metro ($4.1 million, for Portland Center for the Performing Arts and other venues), Oregon Symphony ($1.75 million), Portland Opera and Portland Center Stage ($875,000 each), High Desert Museum ($700,000), Oregon Ballet Theatre ($630,000) and Pendleton Round-Up ($375,000). About 80 other venues/organizations will divide $9.7 million, including several Portland operations.

The some $26 million that the Oregon Cultural Trust will disperse responds to the dire need of organizations and venues, said Brian Rogers, the cultural trust's executive director. A May survey found that the majority of Oregon's arts and cultural organizations and venues are facing suspension of operations or permanent closure. The data and comments from 330 cultural nonprofits showed a projected collective loss of $40 million through June 30.

The problem is everybody struggling can't predict or plan for earned revenue because of government restrictions, including crowd size, Rogers said. Organizations have pivoted to online content, but it doesn't help the bottom line much.

Oregon Cultural Trust's staff is working on developing the dispersal program, which needs to meet U.S. Treasury guidelines.

Rogers said he expects "most" of the 1,400 cultural nonprofits affilated with the Oregon Cultural Trust, a partner of the Oregon Arts Commission, would be eligible for federal funds. The trust wants to help everybody, but it's taking into consideration the fiscal size of organizations.

As far as money per organization, "we have to look at the data, and how many people apply and at what request amount," Rogers said.

After the board meeting, distribution of money would likely happen the week of Sept. 7, Rogers said.

Beyond federal relief, two things need to happen, Rogers said: COVID-19 needs to be under control or contained, either through vaccine or treatments; and the extent of how much COVID-19 would still scare people away from venues must be considered.

"Organizations would start to reopen probably at a faster pace," he said, given those circumstances, "but the question is would people still be willing to attend an event with 1,000 people at it?

"If it's December, and COVID-19 is not contained, we're going to see more organizations suffering and changing and, in some cases, going out of business. They are cash-flow dependent.

"Organizations are looking for every type of support they can possibly get, from any source."

The Paycheck Protection Program has helped about half of the 330 survey respondents, but for many it's inadequate funding, he added.

Meanwhile, because of the influx of federal money, Oregon Cultural Trust has put on hold its plan to immediately seek to use $10 million of its $29 million permanent fund to help artists. That would need approval from the Oregon Legislature.

"It's still out there," Rogers said, "but not reviewed and acted on. The logic right now is with this $26 million (to disperse), let's see how that helps the field before we access the permanent fund."

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