The Culture of Oregon

Cultural Development Plan for the State of Oregon

Pam Wolkoff

Are Oregonians in danger of losing their cultural assets and identity? Kim Stafford [special advisor to the Joint Interim Task Force on Cultural Development] fears we are, "For Oregon is beautiful, and fragile, and her people live deep in cultural heritage that could soon be gone. We preserve wilderness in the high country; we make laws to preserve farmland; we brag about the beauty of Oregon. But how do we save our cultural identity before we become a faceless port in a global economy? I am talking about the lore and language of Oregon people of all kinds — Indian, pioneer, immigrant, child. Ranchers, loggers, old-ways fisher folk. I am not talking about some kind of vague aesthetic loss, but the deep wound you feel when essential things are killed. There are cultural imperatives among us like rare birds our children may never hear sing.

Excerpt from the introduction,
The Culture of Oregon

Though its government funding for arts and culture has consistently ranked among the lowest in the United States, Oregon has developed a comprehensive statewide cultural plan and trust fund to preserve and sustain its arts and culture to the tune of approximately $250 million over ten years. The proposed plan is summarized in the spirited public report, The Culture of Oregon, published in January 2001 by the Joint Interim Task Force on Cultural Development.

A snapshot in time, the report captures Oregon's cultural plan poised for legislative consumption. The first chapter is wisely devoted to the genesis of this venture. The inspiring story of public leadership is sure to become part of arts and culture lore and, one hopes, an example to other states. In 1998 Governor Kitzhaber convened the Oregon Arts and Culture Summit, and soon afterward he — along with Oregon's legislative leadership — appointed the Task Force. With the help of the Montana-based ArtsMarket consulting group, the Task Force succeeded in creating a blueprint for supporting Oregon arts and culture.

The second chapter describes the goals. At the core of Oregon's plan is a three-fold mission: to fortify current and build new “cultural capital;” to increase access to arts and cultural opportunities for all Oregonians; and to contribute to the “quality of life in the state and well being of its citizenry” by making culture a vital part of community life. To accomplish this mission, the plan recommends creating “The Oregon Cultural Trust,” to be operated by the Secretary of State. The Trust will coordinate efforts between the “Core Partner Agencies” (state and private agencies of the arts, humanities, history, heritage, and historic preservation), provide community grants, and measure outcomes.

Over ten years, the Oregon Cultural Trust expects to raise approximately $160 million for an endowment (they hope to raise up to $500 million eventually) and as much as $91.7 million in new funds to distribute in the following ways: 1) the Trust will receive 7.5 percent for operations and cultural planning/activities; 2) one-third of the remaining funds will be allocated to the Core Partner Agencies (adding to “existing baseline agency funding”) to execute the Oregon Cultural Plan; and 3) two-thirds will support the Trust's matching grant programs — the Cultural Development Fund and the Community Cultural Participation Program. The Cultural Development Fund will strive to preserve cultural traditions, stabilize organizations, and commission new work. The Community Cultural Participation Program will help communities and tribes to develop and implement cultural plans.

The Task Force proposes several mechanisms to finance the Trust, which are described in the third chapter of The Culture of Oregon. A fundamentally public initiative, the fund for the Oregon Cultural Trust would rely on converting state properties, offering personal and income tax credits, and selling vanity license plates. The Task Force also hopes to secure grants from national funding sources and challenge the private sector to “respond with its own mechanism to match public monies,” although these goals were not factored into the financial model for the Trust.

The final section of The Culture of Oregon closes strategically with the names of everyone who participated in the one-on-one interviews, community forums, and written surveys. Dedicating thirteen pages to these private citizens attests to how much the Task Force valued their involvement and provides a complementary bookend to the early chapter acknowledging Oregon's government leadership.

As an afterword, the publication was so effective in communicating the magnitude of the plan's community support that on July 3, 2001 the Oregon Legislature easily passed a bill (HB2923) to generate funding for the newly titled Oregon Trust for Cultural Development. “The bill couldn't have passed without The Culture of Oregon,” claims Task Force support staff. Indeed, legislators from both parties used the evidence of strong constituent support in their remarks to encourage the bill's passage. “HB 2923 is the culmination of a great effort by a great number of individuals. It reflects the tremendous effort by the Cultural Task Force...which traveled all over the state and met thousands of citizens concerned about the state of our arts, culture, and historic preservation,” remarked Rep. Ben Westlund (R-Tumalo). “The Cultural Trust is an idea that was built from the grassroots from every corner of our state,” declared Senator Lee Beyer (D-Springfield). The Culture of Oregon effectively helped achieve this major milestone in realizing the Oregon Cultural Plan. As a result, the Trust could begin to take shape as early as October 2001. Information about the current status of the Oregon Trust for Cultural Development and PDF downloads of the The Culture of Oregon are available at The Oregon Trust for Cultural Development website.

Pam Wolkoff is Director of Programs, Arts and Conservation, Flintridge Foundation