For the spring 2018 primary election, RACC distributed a questionnaire to all candidates running for Portland City Council; Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington County Boards of Commissioners; and Metro Council. Each candidate was asked five questions on March 13 or 14, and given the opportunity to respond by March 30 when this story was first published. RACC will continue to publish responses from candidates even after the deadline has passed.
Here are the responses provided by Christine Lewis, running for Metro Council, District 4. All responses are reprinted verbatim from what the candidates sent us.
RACC: In what specific ways have you supported arts and culture in the Portland metro region?
CL: Portland’s creative energy and vibrant culture were important factors in my decision to make the region my home after completing school here.
I grew up dancing, performing in plays and musicals, constructing stage sets, and operating the light board for numerous productions. I understand firsthand how important the arts are for youth to connect to community and find their voice. One of my favorite Portland organizations, p:ear, provides arts education for homeless youth, and I have supported p:ear with my personal financial support, volunteer time, and by purchasing a youth-produced painting for my home (the proceeds going back to the artist).
I serve as a member of the Portland Opera’s Ambassador Board, where I have the opportunity to connect a younger audience to the art form and to the diverse and dynamic company. We spearhead the Young Patron Society and plan social events to bring music and artists outside of their traditional venues. Aside from opera, I regularly attend shows across the spectrum of the performing arts, from ballet to experimental theater. I have a deep respect for visual artists as well, and try to purchase local work and support emerging artists.
Finally, I have worked in local and state government in offices that have supported the arts, from increasing funding for RACC at Multnomah County to the increase in incentives for film and video production when I worked for the Speaker of the House. A thriving arts scene helps expose area residents to new manners of thinking and promotes democratic and creative expression within the public sphere.
RACC: Artists and arts organizations add measurable value to our region’s economy, our education system and our quality of life. Yet there are a number of pressing needs in our communities that often compete with arts and culture for attention and investment. How would YOU describe the importance of arts and culture in our community, and what should Metro be doing to support this sector?
CL: My mother was a museum curator, my mother-in-law teaches art at a public middle school, and my father-in-law has made his career in the film and television industry. Arts and culture organizations are significant employers and important players in our region’s tourism economy.
Arts and cultural activities increase the health, vitality, and resilience of communities. The arts should not be competing with the pressing needs of our communities, but should be viewed as a component or complementary to these needs.
The arts can play a key role in promoting public health, restorative justice, and youth engagement. I recently had the opportunity to take a tour and visit with leaders with the Philadelphia Murals Project Public, a national model for addressing community needs and changing neighborhoods through art. Art that germinates with community input has the ability to transform neighborhoods and promote community wellness. Metro plays a critical role in placemaking, and public art and cultural venues are a critical component of designing community spaces. I am supportive of public art as a way to foster community conversations as part of the planning process, and will bring focus on the arts to Metro.
Nonprofit arts organizations employ over 11,000 people in the region and generate $330 million in annual economic activity. These numbers would be larger if creative for-profit companies were part of the economic study. Arts and culture are a major factor in our region’s livability. Artists and arts leaders should be at the table along with other significant business sectors when crafting public policy.
RACC: The region’s affordability is a serious concern for everyone in our community. What are your plans for making housing and creative spaces more affordable for artists, nonprofit arts organizations and arts-related businesses?
CL: The region’s affordability crisis is continuing to grow more pronounced, but many in our community, including artists, have been long-affected by the increased costs of market rate housing and creative space. We need more housing affordable at all income levels, and as the campaign manager of Portland’s historic and successful 2016 housing measure I have experience working with diverse stakeholders to find workable solutions for housing. Additionally, we should have data on housing availability and development in the pipeline available for the entire region, so that we can be strategic in working to meet the housing need, knowing that the solutions will look different in different communities.
As neighborhoods change we should commit to preserving creative spaces for artists and arts organizations. With an eye to Metro’s 2nd District, there is definitely a need for more creative space to support artists and organizations in Clackamas County.
More directly, I would like to see Metro take a more active role assisting with the financing of capital needs of non-profit arts organizations. This could be done at little to no cost to Metro through tax-exempt conduit bond financing, which in essence conveys a tax-exempt interest rate to these organizations without creating a liability for Metro. I would like to see more coordination between Metro and the Oregon Facilities Authority on this front, possibly with Metro serving as an “agent” for these organizations.
RACC: How can RACC and Metro do a better job of providing arts experiences for underrepresented populations, including rural communities, people of color, people with disabilities and underserved neighborhoods?
CL: In order to better reach audiences of underrepresented populations, we need to support and highlight art produced by and in those communities. RACC has led by example by taking intentional steps to diversify its leadership and board. The move to integrate the Arts Equity Grant criteria into the general grant process is particularly significant from the Metro perspective since Clackamas and Washington Counties will now have access to these targeted funds.
Finally, marketing with diversity in mind can help bring in new audiences, particularly if accessibility information is easy to locate and barriers to entry are minimized, including pricing. RACC and Metro can help subsidize arts in the community, bringing artists and performances into venues that are comfortable and accessible to the populations we know we need to better serve.
RACC: What are some of your other priorities for Metro that would be of interest to artists, arts organizations and arts educators in our community?
CL: Today our region is facing a lot of challenges. We are at a true turning point. Now, more than ever, we need a Metro Council that connects with and convenes local governments, businesses, constituents, and communities who are all too often otherwise left out. I will bring a focus on housing and transportation and working on livability and sustainability across the region. For our artistic community to thrive, we need to foster safe and affordable spaces, reliable support systems, and a prosperity sufficient to meet basic human needs. Artistic expression — especially that which has a significant cultural voice — is not often enough wooed by private sector investment. It is therefore up to community leaders and coveners like Metro to create those avenues for investment in the arts: financially and in terms of a supportive infrastructure that encourages and allows for creativity. This is our region’s brand, and a large part of what makes our region special.