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 Loretta Smith, running for Portland City Council, Position 3. All responses are reprinted verbatim from what the candidates sent us.
RACC: In what specific ways have you supported arts and culture in Portland?
LS: As County Commissioner I’ve regularly supported and voted for more funding for the arts. From ensuring we follow the percent for the arts program, to seeking more dedicated funding for arts in our schools, I’ve been a consistent supporter of increasing access and funding for the arts, especially within our underserved and historically disadvantaged communities. I’m a strong supporter and champion of the Literary Arts program at our Multnomah County Library connecting our young people with local artists and exposing them to the benefits of being involved in the arts. I’ve also regularly sponsored Black Women for Peace’s yearly P.E.A.C.E. festival which champions young men and women to be catalysts for peace in their communities by focusing on performing arts and cultural exchange.
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?
LS: The arts and our creative class in general are incredibly important, not only to our quality of life but also to our local economy. Portland’s vibrant arts community is something that attracts people and businesses from all over the world. In many ways it’s because we have worked to foster such a great community for artists, musicians, performers, designers, and makers that we’ve seen so much of the growth we’ve experienced in the past decade. The City of Portland should do all it can to promote and maintain our creative culture. We should be looking for more ways to ensure that the benefits that come from being tied into a creative community are shared by everyone in Portland by working to increase equity and inclusion in the arts within our underserved and historically disadvantaged communities.
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?
LS: There’s no question that addressing our affordability problems must be a top priority for everyone on Council. The only way we are going to solve this problem is by taking a holistic approach to housing and affordability. We need to build more at all levels, so we can relieve the burden on the affordable housing stock. By ensuring we have enough housing at all income levels we can protect our affordable housing stock from being poached by the market. We also should look at innovative ways to increase our affordable housing stock without building new units. I’ve been told that often times the cost to build new affordable housing is prohibitive, and when it is added to a mixed project it can lead to increased costs for everyone. One thing I’ve been working on is utilizing the MULTE (Multiple-Unit Limited Tax Exemption) program to provide an offset for new development when they take existing units and convert them to affordable pricing. This would promote the production of more housing across the board while immediately increasing our stock of affordable housing.
I also want the City to help property owners clean up the 900 documented brownfield sites in the City of Portland with the stipulation that the land be used for new affordable mixed use properties. We could provide some one-time only funding dollars, and low cost loans to promote the cleanups. This would also help to increase the stable of affordable housing we would have in the more central city areas, rather than pushing all affordable projects to the outer east. With Brownfield cleanups and Land banking we use the City’s resources to grab properties before they enter the speculative market and promote affordability in housing, mixed live/work space for the creative class, and affordable work space for small businesses. I also think we could utilize and perhaps expand the Portland Inclusive Startup Fund to engage more arts based businesses to lay down roots or expand in our communities.
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?
LS: I support the tax and don’t think we should revisit it at this time. A majority of Portlanders voted for it and I’m glad we did. I’ve been a consistent champion for our youth, and providing them with opportunities and outlets like arts, music, and dance instruction is a necessity if we want to see them succeed. I also believe that increasing and expanding access to the arts to underserved communities opens new doors for innovation and opportunity for those who have been historically disadvantaged. If anything I would love to see us go further, partnering with businesses in the creative sector and non-profits to get more of our young people directly active and participating in the arts. Increasing equity and inclusion in how we promote the arts is also something I would like to see some more focus on. Expanding access is a great first step, but I’d like to see more Portlanders of color actively engaged and encouraged to make art, tell their stories, and help make our creative culture richer through their participation.
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?
LS: Without a doubt our affordability crisis is a top priority for everyone, and I think keeping an eye on how we ensure that we are providing affordable live/work spaces for our creative community is a must. This also touches on issues around those experiencing houselessness as increasing economic instability and increased rents has put many on our streets. We need to increase our stock of housing at all levels, seek innovative solutions to promote new affordable housing, and provide adequate shelter space with connected services to help those struggling with addiction or mental health crises.
We also need to bring more living wage jobs to Portland and provide more opportunities for women and people of color to start new businesses within their communities. I helped to start the Portland Inclusive Startup Fund to do just that, and on Portland City Council I plan to do more to help support our entrepreneurs and small business owners. I know this is important for artists and our creative community because so many of them are participating in that space. The City should partner with them and harness the great work they are doing, providing them with whatever assistance we can to help them grow their businesses and get more people in their communities involved.