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 Susheela Jayapal, running for Multnomah County Commissioner, District 2. All responses are reprinted verbatim from what the candidates sent us.
RACC: In what specific ways have you supported arts and culture in Multnomah County?
SJ: I have spent more than 15 years working with community organizations to serve and advocate for our public schools, reproductive rights and healthcare, social services — and the arts. I served for eight years on the board of directors of Literary Arts, which serves readers and writers of all ages in the Portland metropolitan region, including two years as Board Chair; and for three years on the board of directors of the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC). At Literary Arts, I chaired the search for its current Executive Director, and led the board through the acquisition of Wordstock, its first new program in 20 years, as well as through a $1.5 million endowment campaign that significantly enhanced Literary Arts’ reach and capacity. At RACC, I drove a successful effort to restructure grant-making programs in order to invest and build capacity in culturally specific arts organizations and programs serving communities of color and other underserved communities. And, throughout, I have supported arts and culture in Multnomah County as a participant and audience member across a variety of art forms and experiences.
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 Multnomah County 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 Multnomah County be doing to support this sector?
SJ: I believe that arts and culture are an essential component of community health and well-being, both as a vehicle for personal expression and discovery, and as a vehicle for community-building and social change. The arts allow us as individuals a fuller range of expression and understanding; the same is true for us as communities. In a time when a range of forces — social media, consumerism, fear and uncertainty — pull us apart, arts and culture continue to bring us together and build shared understanding, within our respective communities and across communities. Multnomah County’s mission is to serve the most vulnerable among us. We must think of arts and culture as an integral part of that service, and try to weave arts programming and access into all that we do.
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?
SJ: Housing affordability has to be the number one priority for us as a region. We need to tackle the complex set of issues presented from a variety of angles — there is no one answer — and to develop regional, not just city- or county-wide solutions. We need to build more affordable housing, including permanently affordable housing and supportive housing; rehabilitate and preserve existing affordable housing; and prevent additional displacement and homelessness by helping people stay in housing they already have, whether through short-term rent assistance or longer-term housing voucher programs. I’ll also support renter protections, and advocate at the state level for the changes needed to allow local jurisdictions to enact such protections.
With respect to creative spaces, the City of Portland has developed a menu of promising ideas, including creating public/private partnerships to acquire property for creative uses or ownership by arts organizations; disposition of surplus property for such uses; and partnering with culturally specific organizations to create community arts and performance spaces. I’ll advocate for exploration of these ideas and participation by Multnomah County.
RACC: How can RACC and Multnomah County do a better job of providing arts experiences for East County and other underrepresented communities?
SJ: In order to do a better job of providing arts experiences for underrepresented communities, we need to let them not just inform, but lead our decision-making. We need to ask how they want to be served, and act on the responses. This likely means providing experiences and opportunities in neighborhoods where people from those communities live, rather than asking them to travel downtown for those experiences; and situating arts experiences in contexts that are culturally appropriate — providing family or intergenerational opportunities, for example, or food, or formats that are more informal than those provided in mainstream contexts. We also need to invest directly in artists and arts organizations that come from those communities.
Finally, a needs assessment recently conducted by the Immigrant and Refugee Community of Oregon identified community gathering spaces as a high priority for several of the communities it serves; this is likely true for other communities as well. This relates to the idea of partnering with culturally specific organizations to create community arts and performance spaces, mentioned in my response to Question 3, and would address the objectives of both creating arts spaces and better serving underrepresented communities.
RACC: What are some of your other priorities for Multnomah County that would be of interest to artists, arts organizations and arts educators in our community?
SJ: I believe the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) system, which is funded and managed by Multnomah County, is an enormous asset that we need to continue to invest in and deepen. Current programming includes after-school arts enrichment; I’m interested in supporting and enhancing these programs, including by building more connections with in-school curricula and staff, by tailoring programming to the specific school communities, and by more intentionally engaging not only students but families and the wider community in SUN programming.