Amanda Fritz responds

Commissioner Amanda Fritz (Candidate for Portland Commissioner, Position 1) responded April 4, 2016:

1) In what specific ways have you supported arts and culture in Portland?

The environment that nurtures Portland’s vaunted arts and culture scene reaches across many aspects of our city and its government, and I have worked hard to foster livability in multiple areas.  I have been a reliable vote for arts and culture funding.  Arts and culture is not only a core component of Portland’s identity and desirability, it is an important employment sector for businesses and jobs. “Starving artists” should not be starving — they should be supported as valued entrepreneurs and workers key to our economy, and Portland’s success as a vibrant, desirable community.

I supported the creation of the Arts Tax with Mayor Adams, and voted to refer it to the ballot for approval. I have defended it and worked to implement it since voters passed it.  I have also voted for ongoing funding of approximately $5 million per year for RACC, in General Fund resources.  Within my assigned bureaus, I am making sure that signage and public art projects in new parks reflect the culture and heritage of the neighborhood, and I am exploring options for revitalization of community resources such as the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center and the Community Music Center.

I also support the arts and culture community by working hard for lower-income Portland residents (see #3, below). Many artists and related nonprofit employees earn far less in the arts than they would doing similar work in another sector. A vibrant arts community needs funding for its larger institutional presenters, and also for individual artists and small organizations. Portland is bursting with creativity. To enable that creativity to grow — and to keep artists here — I am striving to provide a functioning city infrastructure of low- and middle-income housing, transportation, parks, and opportunities for cultural events at the city and neighborhood levels.

On a personal level, my family has a long history of investment in the Portland arts and culture community.  My daughter studied in Wilson High School’s drama and choir programs, and was awarded Female Singer of the Year after performing the National Anthem at her graduation in Veterans Memorial Coliseum. She majored in theater at Southern Oregon University and Willamette University. My husband was a gifted photographer who helped local artists, performers, and craftspeople document their work; some of his photos appeared in magazines like Portland Monthly. Dr. Steven Fritz was Vice Chair on the Board of the nonprofit organization New Oregon Arts & Letters (NOAL), actively helping to stage performances, document shows, and raise funds. Steve was also an active participant in the local Burning Man arts community. Steve’s art still hangs in my City Hall office along with that of other local artists, and I continue our family’s support of NOAL and related projects.

(2) Artists and arts organizations add measurable value to our region’s economy, our education system and our quality of life, and yet there are a number of pressing needs in our community that often compete for attention and investment.  What is Portland’s proper role in supporting arts and culture in the region?

Portland is fulfilling its obligation and honor to fund jobs in arts and culture via dedication of General Fund money, and providing arts and music education in public schools via the Arts Fund resources.  The City is responsible for ownership, maintenance and improvement of the “Portland Five” major theaters, and we must find ways to renovate and sustain these venues.  Public funding of creativity and innovation is also important, and new artists, performers, and smaller nonprofit venues and groups must be supported in addition to institutions like the Ballet and Opera.  We must also ensure creative spaces remain open and affordable for artists, as density, housing, and commercial pressures squeeze out musicians, visual artists, and performers.  That said, Portland cannot and should not bear all the funding for our wonderful arts community, when the suburbs enjoy the benefits but don’t contribute to providing living wages for arts and culture jobs.  The Mayor and City Council must work with community advocates to encourage other jurisdictions to pay their fair share.

(3) The region’s affordability is a serious concern for all of us, including artists and arts-related businesses. What are your plans for making housing and creative spaces more affordable?

With my support, the City has tripled funding for housing in my seven years in office; led the effort to lift the State ban on inclusionary zoning; and designed innovative programs to cut red tape. I support A Home for Everyone, the plan coordinated with the County to house half of the current houseless population within two years.  We must take care of every Portlander, especially veterans, seniors, people experiencing disabilities, and families struggling to survive on very low incomes.

The affordable housing crisis is partly a problem of supply and demand. There are not enough affordable homes for people making 0-30% of median family income, including many artists. Local government must focus limited public support resources on those most in need. If re-elected, I will continue to work with my colleagues to prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors, and to identify new dedicated revenue sources for affordable housing. I will also support incentives and regulations requiring developers to share responsibility for making Portland accessible to all. I will work to find additional revenue sources for affordable housing.

In my next term, I will be happy to meet with local arts leaders seeking creative ideas for encouraging business owners and developers to share their space and wealth with lower-income artists and with arts nonprofits. In addition to philanthropic donations for capital improvements, I would like to see corporations sponsoring an Artist-in-Residence program.  Managed by RACC or another entity, such a program could provide a few dozen living and studio spaces around Portland for low-income artists.  The City can also encourage businesses and government agencies to let organizations use large spaces for presenting artistic work.  As close-in warehouse spaces are being purchased by developers and turned into condos, organizations like Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) struggle to continue to be able to enliven old warehouse spaces with their annual, internationally acclaimed Time-Based Art (TBA) performance Festival. The City should encourage businesses to support the arts. Subsidized low-income arts housing should be pursued, like the Milepost 5 project near NE 82nd that I supported Mayor Adams in championing.   We should also encourage more home-based businesses, to increase affordability and reduce congestion by allowing more people to work out of their home.

Where the arts go, gentrification follows. I would like to see developers providing for the arts as they reap the financial benefits of gentrification. I am open to ideas on how to make this happen.  Making the connection between affordable housing, services for lower income Portlanders, and the burgeoning arts scene is smart for Portland’s ongoing creativity and livability. I will continue my leadership on pushing the Council to spend taxpayers’ money wisely, while always asking the question, “Who pays, who benefits, and is that fair?”

(4) Are there other unmet needs when it comes to shaping Portland’s arts and culture policy for the future? If so, what steps would you take to help ensure those needs are met, and how should they be funded?

I appreciate RACC’s attention to and progress in addressing issues of equity and access in arts and culture policies and funding.  There is much more to do in this area.  Audiences and funded individuals/organizations still tend to exhibit the historic attention to serving white Portlanders.  We have much to do to celebrate and support multicultural arts performers and organizations. I will continue to press for accountability on racial equity from all City agencies and partners.  Within the bureaus I’ve been assigned, I haven’t asked for additional funding for equity work.  I have prioritized existing resources to close the gaps and address past disparities.  I expect no less from partners, especially those including RACC whose board members and staff share my commitment to creating a just and vibrant multicultural Portland.

(5) The Arts Education & Access Fund, or arts tax, has delivered on its promise of providing arts specialists for all K-5 schools in Portland, but the fund hasn’t generated enough revenue to support as many grants for arts and culture organizations as envisioned. If elected, would you take any steps to modify the arts tax, improve administration of it, and/or fulfill the voters’ vision of supporting arts education and access through other means? 

I would support reforming the Arts Tax to make it less regressive.  It is unfair that people who make $1,000 per year pay the same rate as those who make $1 million or more annually.  I will be reluctant to refer changes to voters if the entire program might go away.  My children who live in Portland — a teacher and a retail worker, who each make less than the median income — support paying the Arts Tax.  They appreciated having arts education and opportunities when they were in our neighborhood public schools.

The City can improve administration and education related to the tax. I will support efforts to increase awareness of what it does, and compliance with the duty to pay it.  Increasing compliance from the current rate of approximately 70% would provide more funds for grants to arts and culture organizations without any changes requiring a referral to the ballot.  Although administration of the Arts Tax is done by the Revenue Bureau, which is and will be within the Mayor’s assigned bureaus, I will continue to use my frequent attendance at community events as opportunities to increase awareness of Portlanders’ responsibilities and benefits related to the tax.

The key issue in arts and culture funding is getting Lake Oswego, Hillsboro, Beaverton and other nearby cities to step up to contribute to the vibrant Portland arts culture that their residents enjoy but don’t help fund.   Of the $5.5 million in public resources funding RACC, the taxpayers of Portland contribute $5 million – and that’s not counting the Arts Tax.  I have done my part as a member of the Portland City Council, and I want to continue to do so.  The taxpayers of Portland are doing theirs.  It’s time for other elected officials and taxpayers to step up.

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