Portland Auditor: Clearer Goals, Strong Leadership, Better Results


On May 22, 2018, RACC participated in a Portland City Council work session with Portland Auditor Mary Hull Caballero and her staff as they presented their findings from a 9-month performance audit of the organization.  This is the first ever audit of RACC, and was requested last summer by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Nick Fish. The audit presented an opportunity to examine the relationship between RACC and the City as we negotiate a new five-year service agreement with the City.

While the audit was intended to assess RACC’s performance, the report findings indicated the assessment was difficult because the City does not have clear goals for arts and culture. To improve arts and culture services, the audit suggests clarifying the City’s goals and RACC’s strategy to address these goals. As a result, the auditor delivered five specific recommendations as part of their report:

  1. The Arts Commissioner and the Mayor should work with the Arts Council, City leaders, City agencies involved with arts and- culture, and community stakeholders to: (a) Assess the state of arts and culture in Portland; (b) Identify needs; (c) Develop clear goals, vision, and strategy for arts and culture for City Council adoption.
  2. The Arts Council should conduct a strategic planning process to clarify the organization’s mission, goals and vision for arts and culture. Update bylaws to reflect governing agreements.
  3. City Council should review the intergovernmental agreement with the Arts Council, and in conjunction with other jurisdictions party to it, recommend changes that reflect the appropriate level of board representation and funding from each jurisdiction.
  4. The Arts Commissioner, Mayor, and the Arts Council’s Executive Director should update the contract, consistent with the City’s goals for arts and culture.
  5. The Arts Commissioner and Mayor should appoint a contract administration professional to: (a) Monitor compliance with the contract; (b) Provide technical assistance on performance measurement and reporting to the Arts Council; (c) Review the annual budget submitted by the Arts Council; (d) Develop a consistent mechanism to track all City funding to the Arts Council; (e) Develop procedures for the Art Council’s reporting so that there is consistency over time.


An important clarification:

One statistic reported by the Auditor has created confusion on City Council, and has been mischaracterized by the press. The auditor calculated RACC’s internal expenses, including “salaries, staff training and rent,” as 33% of our overall budget of $11.2 million, but failed to provide any context for that number, leaving the impression that RACC’s internal expenses are excessively high. Working with the auditor’s staff and perusing public records at https://www.portlandoregon.gov/cbo/72512 , we were able to determine that RACC’s “internal expenses” are, in fact, very low compared to the city’s own bureaus. Portland Parks and Recreation has internal expenses of 40%, the Water Bureau is 51%, Equity and Human Rights is 84%, the Auditor is 85% and Fire is 86% — just to name a few. We believe that internal investments, including personnel, are essential to move the city’s agenda forward, but it is important for people to understand that “internal expenses” are not the same as “management and overhead” expenses.

RACC’s independent financial audit confirms that 15% of our budget is spent on management, overhead and fundraising, while 85% of RACC’s budget goes toward program delivery. This includes RACC’s grant awards and public art commissions, of course, but also community engagement staff who actively connect people in underrepresented communities to our services and other arts experiences in town; arts education coaches who train classroom teachers to integrate the arts into their curriculum; and public art maintenance technicians who keep the city’s public art collection in tip-top shape.


Moving forward:

Notwithstanding the City Auditor’s misleading calculations, RACC supports the recommendations in the Auditor’s report. As reflected in interim executive director Jeff Hawthorne’s recent op-ed piece, we look forward to helping the City identify clear goals for arts and culture. In the meantime, RACC continues to strengthen our leadership role within the arts and culture arena.

  • RACC has awarded more than 5,000 grants totaling $44 million in the past 23 years.
  • Our nationally-recognized Public Art Program manages a widely-celebrated public art collection of more than 2,000 artworks for the City of Portland and Multnomah County, and grows artist capacity through programs and resources
  • Through our workplace giving campaigns, we have raised more than $8 million for local arts organizations
  • RACC organizes networking events, forums, and workshops for thousands of artists every year
  • Under our Arts Education programs, RACC builds capacity for teaching artists, educators, and curriculum developers to integrate arts into the K-8 subjects in the region, serving more than 27,000 students a year.
  • For the past three years, RACC has been keenly focused on identifying barriers in arts access and pathways to better serve underrepresented communities. Our 2015 Equity Statement articulates the organization’s equity philosophy and frames how we operate, and we have conducted focus groups to understand barriers to access. More recently, our 2017-18 Community Engagement Plan lays out our strategies to equitably expand outreach, collaboration, and resource distribution efforts. Additionally, we have been developing new programming that fills in gaps in arts participation by artists from marginalized communities, with our Art & Power conversation series as an example.

For more information on these and other RACC program accomplishments, visit RACC’s online annual report for 2017.

We look forward to collaborating with the Mayor, the Arts Commissioner and City staff to implement these recommendations and better support culture, creativity, innovation and the arts in our community.