RACC’s evolution continues

By Jeff Hawthorne, Interim Executive Director

The Regional Arts & Culture Council is an ever-changing organization, leading initiatives that help artists and arts organizations thrive in the Portland metro area, and using arts and culture as powerful tools to respond to a wide variety of community needs. Once a city bureau, RACC became an independent 501(c)(3) organization in 1995 so that we could, among other things, be more entrepreneurial in pursuing our mission of enriching the community through arts and culture. Since that time, and under the leadership of Eloise Damrosch, RACC has expanded its services and its relevance in dramatic ways – today we are serving more people and having a greater impact on our community than ever before.

Most people know RACC for its extensive history of providing grants and services for artists and arts organizations in three counties, and managing a vast public art collection for Portland and Multnomah County. We significantly expanded our advocacy role in 2005 by launching Work for Art, a workplace giving program that now raises $750,000/year for local arts organizations, and we responded to a critical decline in arts education in 2007 by pairing teaching artists with classrooms teachers to help them integrate the arts into other classroom subjects. Ten years later The Right Brain Initiative is serving more than 26,000 K-8 students/year, and research shows that participants have dramatically improved test scores in reading, math, and English language proficiency.

In 2012, Portland voters reaffirmed the importance of arts education and healthy arts organizations when 62% of them approved the arts tax. This innovative dedicated funding stream raises more than $10 million a year – enough money for every school in Portland to have an art, music or dance teacher, and significantly increasing the funds that RACC has available to invest in General Operating Support and Project Grants – though persistently $2 million short of what organizers (including RACC) had planned. RACC is working to not only fill this gap, but to explore funding from other sources, and to ensure that all of our resources are distributed equitably – and that means setting aside funding for emerging organizations, culturally specific organizations, and other vital community groups that deliver extraordinary arts and culture offerings in our community but may not have benefited from RACC funding in the past.  Our arts and culture ecosystem is evolving, and RACC must continue to evolve along with it.

Which brings us to the search for a new Executive Director. Our board, chaired by Mike Golub, and our search committee, led by Steve Rosenbaum, have been working diligently to ensure that the entire search process, from the job description to our final selection, reflects the organization’s values and priorities – placing equity, inclusion and diversity at the center. I am proud of the work these volunteers have done to gather input from the community and staff, and to build a comprehensive new job description that will intrigue, inspire and entice the right candidates.

There is so much for our new Executive Director to build on. The staff is hard at work transforming our organization to be more accessible, and actively adapting our programs to eliminate barriers and deliver services more equitably. From our new “Fresh Paint” collaboration with Open Signal that develops emerging muralists from communities of color, to the user-friendly adjustments we have made to our Project Grant program … from our new capacity building initiative for culturally specific organizations, to the new emphasis we are placing on emerging leaders of color in our Art of Leadership Program, we hope you are seeing – and benefitting from – the continued evolution of RACC. We know there is much more work to do, including the need for clear direction and decisive action on the affordability crisis that is wreaking havoc on our artists and arts organizations, which is why we are excited about the prospects of a new leader with innovative ideas, a commitment to collaboration, and a strong passion for this work.

We expect that the Executive Director search will officially launch next month with the publication of a new job description, and you can follow the committee’s process in the meantime by checking out the public updates that are posted at racc.org/executive-director-search-update. In a post dated July 14, the committee announced that they have finalized the following core competencies they are looking for in a new Executive Director:

  • Equity, Inclusion & Diversity
  • Executive Level Management
  • Change Management
  • Commitment to the Arts

The committee lists Communication, Advocacy, Fundraising, and Grantmaking experience as secondary competencies, and they continue to welcome input by emailing EDsearch@racc.org.

Meanwhile, the RACC staff and board remain hard at work, and there’s plenty more progress coming your way in the months ahead. RACC’s continued evolution is certain, and the next 12 months will be especially exciting. Please be in touch if you have any comments, questions, suggestions or concerns along the way!