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 Julia DeGraw, running for Portland City Council, Position 2. All responses are reprinted verbatim from what the candidates sent us.
RACC: In what specific ways have you supported arts and culture in Portland?
JD: Art has always played a big role in my life. I took piano lessons starting at eight years old and continued through college, acted in plays in high school, and sang in choirs throughout my youth and as an adult. Most recently, I was involved in a community choir that performed free shows for the public. My lifelong experience with the arts has taught me that no one should be denied access to art in all its forms, including live music.
I went to public school in the Portland Metro area, and I loved taking field trips to see shows at the Keller Auditorium. Through these visits, I developed a life-long love of plays and musicals. I still enjoy going to a show and attending the symphony when I have the time and budget to do so.
There are so many wonderful ways to experience art in our city. From murals on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to sculptures downtown, art helps define Portland’s unique character. I love taking in and supporting the easily accessible art this city offers in museums, galleries, theaters, and public spaces. As City Commissioner, I will work to ensure art is accessible and affordable for Portlanders.
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 Portland 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 Portland be doing to support this sector?
JD: Art benefits our community in unlimited ways. The arts reflect our societal and social experiences and present opportunities for change. Artists help us reimagine our world. Art can also help us better understand the most important issues of our time, like the climate crisis, racism, and inequality – understanding is the galvanizing force for change.
The Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) keeps an overwhelming number of our small, local art nonprofits afloat with its funding support. I would like to see the City increase its collaborations to ensure that RACC is providing the best service possible for our local arts and culture.
Portland has enjoyed a strong art culture for decades. Unfortunately, the artists who collectively created a kind of Portland brand that we know, love, and benefit from, are being squeezed out of the city as housing and other costs skyrocket.
Our city must do more to ensure that artists are able to afford to live and work here. The City needs to get serious about creating permanently affordable housing, providing artist and small, local business incubator spaces, and working more closely with local artists and schools to ensure more local art is on display and available to the public year round.
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?
JD: There is a dearth of affordable spaces for creators and artists to live and work. We must start to think outside the for-profit developer box to create permanently affordable housing. We should look toward community land trusts and other community ownership models, as well as launching a visionary public option for affordable home construction. Some new apartment construction could include living and working spaces for artists. The City should also make it easier for those committed to creating and providing affordable art-making spaces to do so.
As with most issues, artists of color, those from the LGBTQIA+ community, and those with low-incomes are often hit the hardest. These groups should be prioritized in solutions the City explores to support our arts and culture in Portland.
The City and Prosper Portland should break up some of the huge grants and contracts it gives to out-of-state companies into smaller, Portland-based, community-level projects. Funds could also go toward providing incubator spaces and a centralized resource center for small, local businesses, including arts-related businesses.
RACC: The city’s Arts Tax is disliked by some, while 62% of voters approved it. Thanks to the Arts Tax, every K-5 student in the City of Portland now as an art, music or dance teacher, and dozens of nonprofit arts organizations are expanding access to the arts by providing free and low-cost arts experiences for Portland residents. What changes to the Arts Tax, if any, would you want Portland City Council to consider?
JD: I support the Arts Tax. The current Arts Tax costs $850,000 to collect and administer and raises $10 million. It doesn’t meet the 5% threshold voters agreed to for the cost of collecting the tax. We must improve how the tax is collected and administered so that more money can go toward bringing the arts to Portlanders.
The need to fund the arts doesn’t stop at the Portland border. I support expanding the Arts Tax Metro-wide and making it a more progressive and equitable tax to reduce the burden on lower income Portlanders. If Metro follows a less collection-intensive path, everyone in Metro will benefit, which seems like a logical step to taking this kind of tax statewide.
I’m pleased that the current Arts Tax funds art programs at Portland schools. However, ideally, Portland Public Schools would receive adequate funding from the state – including for arts programs – which would allow more Arts Tax money to go to local artists and programs. For now, it is a good emergency life support system for arts in schools, but there is clearly room to improve the Arts Tax to help ensure it accomplishes what it was meant to do.
RACC: What are some of your other priorities for the City of Portland that would be of interest to artists, arts organizations and arts educators in our community?
JD: One of the reasons the arts have gotten short shrift in Portland is that our form of government is ineffective. For one thing, it isn’t representative of Portlanders. Due to Portland’s Jim Crow-era, at-large election system, all but one City Commissioner lives in Southwest Portland. I live east of 82nd Avenue, and if I were elected tomorrow, I’d be the only commissioner living east of Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard. Our at-large system, which requires candidates to win expensive city-wide elections, came from the Jim Crow era and was designed to exclude people of color, working and middle-class voters, and women.
We must end Portland’s at-large election system by creating City Council districts to achieve equitable representation for all Portlanders. We should also dismantle our current commission form of government, in which elected officials are more beholden to their bureaus and wealthy donors than they are to the people of this city.
The lack of representation is not just geographical. In a more democratic and representative system, all of Portland’s diverse communities – including artists, art organizations, and art educators – will have more power in the City’s decision-making and elections. The current city government structure consolidates power and lacks transparency and accountability. It is past time for us to shift to a more equitable City Council that prioritizes the people of this city over developers and corporate interests.