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The group discusses informal culture and how to ensure public involvement during process to finalize an arts and culture strategy

COURTESY PHOTO: WL-WV SCHOOL DISTRICT - The city of Wilsonville is assessing how the development of a new performing arts center at Wilsonville High School could affect its own plans to enhance arts and culture in town.

The city of Wilsonville's newly created task force to advise strategies for improving arts and culture in town met for the first time Wednesday, June 24. The meeting mostly consisted of introductions and an outline of the work to be done rather than strategic nuts and bolts, but a few notable tidbits were addressed.

Public Affairs Director Mark Ottenad said the survey work the city conducted in 2018 to inform the arts and culture strategy was insufficient, which is why it is conducting two new surveys.

The cultural assets inventory survey will ask residents about current cultural offerings in town, and a municipal cultural survey will ask representatives from other cities and organizations how they buoyed arts and culture in their communities.

Another reason for further examination, Ottenad said, was the passage of the 2019 West Linn-Wilsonville School District bond measure that includes a project to build a new performing arts center at Wilsonville High School.

The city had identified fostering the development of its own performing arts center as a possibility in the initial phase of the project. It's yet to be determined whether the school district's facility reduces the likelihood that the city would invest in another facility, Ottenad said.

And the public affairs director said the municipal survey will help stakeholders better assess this project.

"How do you fund the capital expenditures if you have a facility? How do you fund the operational cost, manage it, organize it?" Ottenad said in an interview. "Phase 1 (of the project) revealed a lot of questions around these core issues."

Bill Flood, the consultant recently hired by the city to facilitate this plan, said that both formal and informal art are important components of cultural vibrancy and that he didn't have a feel yet for the informal scene in Wilsonville.

"This (the cultural assets survey) isn't just a survey to identify nonprofit organizations in town, even though they are a super important part of arts and culture ecology, but more deeply to figure out what makes Wilsonville special around what I call informal culture," he said. "On city websites I couldn't get a sense of local culture in Wilsonville."

Flood added that where people hang out, what kinds of music they play and what languages they speak are part of an informal cultural makeup.

The city is planning to form a number of committees through this process including a Steering Committee, a Youth Advisory Committee, an Arts Cultural Assets Inventory Committee, a Humanities/Literary Arts Cultural Assets Inventory Committee and a Heritage/History Cultural Assets Inventory Committee. All of these groups will help inform the overall strategy.

"Drawn from the task force, a smaller core steering committee provides more specific, immediate feedback to the staff and consultant during strategy development," the meeting packet reads.

During the meeting, a few task force members discussed the importance and potential challenges associated with ensuring that youth play a role in the process.

Wilsonville High art teacher Angennette Escobar was optimistic that youth would want to participate, referencing popular cultural events at the school including the Day of the Dead celebration.

"I feel like there is going to be no problem to get youth to meaningfully engage in our city especially when it comes to art and culture. This is high on their minds and they really want to be involved," she said.

One task force member was worried only people who already are immersed in art in town will complete the cultural assets inventory survey, which could skew the overall results.

Ottenad said the city could post weekly questions on the Let's Talk Wilsonville website and email the questions to the hundreds of people who are registered to the site.

Members also wanted staff to make sure online surveys were available in Spanish so that Spanish speakers could more easily participate. Ottenad said this idea could be challenging from a technical standpoint but said staff would look into it.

The task force will meet again July 21 and Aug. 25 and Ottenad said the cultural assets inventory survey would be released by next week.

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