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Federal money is intended to help large and small organizations survive pandemic shutdown.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Vault Theater in Hillsboro is receiving a portion of federal relief funds for coronavirus response.Two Washington County organizations are getting a boost from federal aid, although critics say too much of that money is being directed to Portland-based groups instead.

Lawmakers approved $50 million in federal funds in an attempt to help many of Oregon's arts and cultural organizations and performing venues survive the public shutdowns resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

About half the money will go to specific organizations — and more than $14 million of that $24 million allotment will be for organizations and venues in the Portland metropolitan area, including Hillsboro's Vault Theater and Forest Grove's Theatre in the Grove.

While those two are the only singled out for direct assistance in Washington County, other county-based groups and venues aren't necessarily out of luck. The remaining $26 million will be distributed by cultural coalitions in Oregon's 36 counties, which already get smaller amounts from the Oregon Cultural Trust that go to community groups.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said lawmakers have worked for months to find the best way to help these organizations — a few run by government, but most are nonprofit or private.

"What we are trying to do is give them a base level of funding so they can be here on the other side of this pandemic," she said Tuesday, July 14.

Thirty-seven of the 41 organizations in the Portland metro area that have money earmarked for them specifically are based in Portland proper.

The only dissenter on the 18-1 vote of the Legislative Emergency Board on July 14 was Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod of Lyons.

"It is very ladened in Portland," he said. "I am not thinking this is equitable by any stretch of the imagination. I am kind of bitter about it. We have to realize that this state isn't confined to just a couple of cities, and we have to start looking at rural Oregon."

House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby said Girod had a valid point — but she voted for the allocation. She said smaller organizations that do not receive direct state aid can seek help from the cultural coalitions in Oregon's 36 counties, whose volunteer boards know their communities best.

She also said it was a matter of survival.

"These are the things that make our communities unique and strong, that augment and support student learning, that allow for community conversations to happen, to build bridges and help us understand each other," Drazan said.

The money comes from the state's $1.4 billion share of federal aid from the CARES Act for coronavirus-related costs.

The top recipients are Oregon Shakespeare Festival, $4.7 million; Metro, $4.1 million (the agency runs the 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 in Bend, $700,000; Oregon Ballet Theater, $630,000; and the Pendleton Roundup, $375,000.

About 80 other venues will divide $9.7 million.

Theatre in the Grove will receive $25,900. The Vault Theater is getting $62,419.

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