Council gets handle on arts spending
WHAT IS HAPPENING? The City Council will consider updating the criteria for spending funds generated by the city's 2% for Art Program on Wednesday, June 10. The ordinance sponsored by Commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Nick Fish expands eligible uses of the funds, prioritizes underserved communities, and clarifies city accountability for the spending of the funds, which is overseen by the Regional Arts and Culture Council.
WHAT IS THE ISSUE? The proposed new criteria is one of several steps the council is taking in recent years to assert more control over arts spending. It is one of the recommendations of the Arts Affordability Plan crafted by Fish and approved by the council in February 2018. It also addresses concerns raised in a May 2018 audit of RACC by the City Auditor's Office.
RACC is a semi-autonomous organization with its own board of directors. It receives and spends funds from a variety of city sources, including the controversial Arts Tax intended to help fund school art teachers and arts organizations.
Although the audit did not find any misspending or misconduct by RACC, it noted that large, well-established arts organizations received most of the funds, while relatively little went to small groups more likely to serve minority communities. It also found the city had no clear goals for arts and culture.
The audit prompted Fish, who was the council's liaison to RACC at the time, to schedule a work session to discuss the findings. The council agreed that it wanted a larger share of the city's funds to benefit the smaller organizations. Mayor Ted Wheeler subsequently appointed Eudaly to be the RACC liaison.
WHAT CHANGES ARE UNDERWAY? When the affordability plan was approved and the audit was released, RACC was in transition. Its director had left and a permanent replacement had not been named. Madison Cario, the Inaugural Director of the Office of the Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology, was hired last November.
Following the hiring, RACC's board agreed to begin changing its spending, starting in the fiscal year that began July 1. Current recipients will receive base budgets that will be reduced in the fiscal year, freeing up more funds that can be spent on smaller organizations.
The 2% for Art Program dedicates 2% of eligible construction project costs to public art. That has historically meant sculptures and other pieces downtown, where most city projects take place. The proposed ordinance would expand eligible uses to include creative space and artists-in-residence programs and encourages the funds be spent in historically underserved communities, including North and Northeast Portland. It also clarifies that the city bureau doing the project decides what type of public art their funds will support.
WHAT CAN I DO? You can find the proposed ordinance as Item 667 on this week's council agenda on the city's website at portlandoregon.gov. You can also find contact information for all council members on the website.