The City of Portland has hired Giyen Kim to serve as the new City Arts Program Manager.
With a public service career spanning nearly two decades, Giyen’s diverse background includes work in affordable housing, environmental conservation, policy development, homeless response, marketing and emergency management. She also brings a strong interest in the arts and a commitment to creating access to art in every part of the city.
Giyen’s passion for serving the community began at Capitol Hill Housing, where she oversaw the day-to-day management of the organization’s $100M affordable housing portfolio and increased access to housing by revising housing eligibility requirements that disproportionately impacted communities of color. In 2009, Giyen transitioned to the environmental sector as the Operations Director for Forterra, a nonprofit organization working to create a more sustainable future for all by securing and protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of urban, rural and wild spaces. There, she co-chaired the organization’s first conversation on diversity and equity, and later as Director of Marketing and Development, oversaw a rebranding effort which pivoted a traditional land conservancy into a regional organization that advocated for smart growth as an impetus for preserving of natural landscapes. She also organized Forterra’s first “Art and the Environment” series, connecting Forterra’s donors and stakeholders with local artists and makers.
Most recently, Giyen worked for the City of Seattle, where she was a Strategic Advisor for Seattle IT and a Business Analyst for Seattle Public Utilities. She also served as part of the Mayor’s homeless response team, where she coordinated interagency outreach and mitigation efforts. We asked Giyen a few questions to help introduce her to the local arts community.
RACC: Welcome to your new position! How are you approaching the role of City Arts Manager?
Giyen: I am approaching this role in the same way as I approach most things in my life—listen and be curious about people and how things work.
You recently moved here from Seattle, but you grew up on the Southern Oregon Coast and have lived in Portland before. Can you tell us a little bit about your observations of Portland, and how it compares to Seattle?
This is the most frequently asked question since I’ve moved here! Portland is a breathtaking city, and my observation of Portlanders is that they are exceedingly nice. People say good morning to strangers on the street—which doesn’t always happen in Seattle—and I enjoy connecting with neighbors this way. Since it’s only been a few weeks, comparing the two cities is hard. What I will say is that while Portland and Seattle face such similar challenges around issues like affordability, gentrification, and homelessness—the approach to addressing them appears different. Part of it is having so many jurisdictions in one small geographic footprint and part of it is that the DNA of this region is to think outside the box.
How do you define “culture” and “the arts”?
I personally define “the arts” in the broadest sense—as vehicle to tell stories and as a means of creative self-expression. This could mean Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D-Minor, as well as Humble by Kendrick Lamar. I approach the definition of “culture” in the same broad way. Culture articulates a set of values and behaviors that evokes a sense of belonging for a community or subsection of a community. This is where I see art intersect with culture in a very powerful way. I can still remember when I saw the first painting of an Asian depicted in a modern everyday setting, instead of what’s typically displayed in museums. It made me weepy and emotional to see it. Seeing my story represented in a piece of modern art gave me a sense of place, safety and belonging.
That said, as the City Arts Manager, it’s not for me to define what arts and culture is to Portland. It’s my job to help facilitate the conversation and ensure that everyone is at the table to have that discussion.
Is there anything particular that you’re looking forward to doing in Portland?
I am really excited to see some public art. It’s silly, but I have a goal of seeing every piece in the City’s vast art collection!
What can you tell us about the city’s priorities for arts and culture in the next 6-12 months, and how you’ll be spending your first year.
My first year will be focused on developing relationships and understanding the priorities of the arts community and the metro region. I am not going assume strategies that have worked in Seattle, will work in Portland. There will be a period of outreach and getting to know this City’s vibrant arts culture and deepening my understanding of RACC’s vision and strategy.
I take my role as a steward of public dollars very seriously. I want to ensure that the residents of Portland are getting value from their investment and I want to figure out new ways that we can articulate how the City and RACC are supporting a more vibrant, innovative and inclusive arts and culture scene that accessible to all ages.
And of course, making progress on any outstanding audit items is a huge priority.
Many folks in the local arts community are eager to meet you. Where can they find you, how can they get ahold of you?
I am very eager to meet with the local arts community! Now that I’ve settled in, I am really looking forward to immersing myself in this special community and really understanding the opportunities that are out there. The best way to reach me is at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s meet for coffee or a walk around your neighborhood.
Thank you, Giyen!