Navigating Engagement and Art-making in Public Spaces

by Patricia Vázquez Gómez


Editor’s Note: In August, RACC co-hosted a workshop for emerging mural artists with Mural Arts Philadelphia, which was followed by our Art Spark summer event. We asked one of the participants, Patricia Vázquez Gómez, to share their experience and thoughts about mural making in the public realm with our readers.


How can we expand our notions and strategies in working with specific communities? Does working with communities makes an artwork better? What can we do to produce aesthetically vigorous and coherent work while we include a diversity of sensibilities? What is the role of murals in the transformation of our places and communities? How can murals go beyond the representation of issues and be catalysts of change?

These are some of the questions that I pondered during and after participating in a workshop organized by RACC and led by Shira Walinsky and Cathy Harris from Mural Arts Philadelphia. The session focused on strategies for community engagement and participation. Since 1984 Mural Arts Philadelphia has brought together communities and artists to “create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives”. The amount and variety of work coming from this organization is outstanding. I was impressed by Mural Arts’ community engagement infrastructure, and their evident savvy in matching artists with communities to produce powerful, vibrant and socially relevant murals. Creating artwork in collaboration with communities is increasingly encouraged, but it poses challenges that not all artists might feel prepared for or willing to take on. I worked as a community organizer and educator for 7 years; and working on art projects with people comes somewhat natural to me. But in my experience, engaging communities with care and intention always takes extra time and energy, resulting in a significant amount of unpaid work. Negotiating with wall owners is another difficulty I have run into. Very recently, I had a mural project cancelled, because the wall owner wanted something more “neutral” than my proposal of candid portraits of the diverse residents of the apartment complex where the mural was going to be painted. I felt hopeful in learning about Mural Arts, their clear vision for the visual landscape of a place and the resources they have developed to facilitate the public engagement aspects of mural making for artists.


Who gets to paint a mural? Why? What are the challenges that artists of color face in accessing public space for our projects? What kind of support do we need? What kind of resources exist? How is the current political climate influencing our decisions about what we decide to paint? Why public art? What makes a public space public?

After the workshop, we moved into an outside space, and despite the unusual wet and chilly August weather, the latest edition of Art Spark was lively and well attended. I felt honored to share microphone with Alex Chiu and Eatcho, two artists whose work I admire and whom I hadn’t yet had the pleasure to meet. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Molly Mendoza, a gifted illustrator and comic writer, and Tomás Valladares from the Portland Street Art Alliance, an organization I wish I had known of before. One of the most valuable and enjoyable aspects of Art Spark is the opportunity to learn from and about other artists. Happily, there are always new artists to meet in the seemingly small Portland’s arts community. We each spoke for a very brief time, but what I heard expanded my reflections on what it means to be public artists of color, inserted in a city where permits and regulation of public space compromise the urgency and spontaneity of artwork made for and with our communities. When one of the attendees asked which city of the world inspires us for its murals I first thought of the mural at the Women’s Building in San Francisco, one of my all time favorites, and of Mexico City, the city where I was born and raised, which is considered one of the most important referents in mural painting. But I also had to mention Oaxaca in southern Mexico, where an irreverent, socially and politically committed street art based on a strong and old tradition of printmaking is everywhere in the streets. I believe that the best street art happens in places where artists and communities feel ownership and have immediate access to public space. How we are going to defend the right to public space access in Portland, in the face of urban development that imposes stricter regulations while favoring specific aesthetics and a “hip” look is one of the questions many of my fellow artists are grappling with.



Patricia Vázquez Gómez works and lives between Portland and Mexico City. Her practice investigates the immigrant experience, social invisibility, the performative aspects of identity, the intersections between ethics and aesthetics and the social function of art through a variety of media that includes painting, printmaking, video and socially engaged art projects, The purpose and methodologies of her work are deeply informed by her experiences working in the immigrant rights and other social justice movements in the US. Patricia’s work can be explored at http://cargocollective.com/patriciavg⁠

Michihiro Kosuge’s installation Contemplative Place has been relocated to Leach Botanical Garden; public dedication event planned for September 6


Portland, Ore – The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), Leach Botanical Garden and Portland’s Russo Lee Gallery are pleased to announce a dedication event for Northwest sculptor Michihiro Kosuge’s Contemplative Place installation at Leach Botanical Garden. The dedication, which will be held in the Upper Garden at Leach on Friday, September 6 at 10:30 a.m., offers a unique opportunity to meet the artist and experience the scale and setting of the this newly relocated basalt stone installation in a lush forest setting.


About Contemplative Place: In 1996 artist Michihiro Kosuge designed and installed a striking set of carved and shaped stones in the northwest corner of East Portland’s Ed Benedict Park. The installation was designed to provide a place where park visitors could sit and quietly contemplate the relationship between the massive basalt blocks and the points of the compass marked by the tallest stones. The landscaped park setting around the stones worked in concert with the artist’s thoughtful layout to foster a sense of quietude and spirituality. The installation was also meant to provide a spot for the 911 call operators—who worked next door in Portland’s Emergency Communications Center—to decompress whenever needed. Changes in traffic volume along Powell Boulevard, and the subsequent placement of a skateboard park directly adjacent to Contemplative Place, led to conditions that worked directly against Kosuge’s intent.


The major renovation of Leach Botanical Garden which is now underway presented a remarkable opportunity to relocate this important work of public art to a spot where it can once again serve its original purpose. The wooded grove Contemplative Place now inhabits allows the installation to once again work in concert with its setting and provides for the addition of a significant work of public art to this marvelously evolving garden. Those who attend the dedication will also have a chance to learn more about the renovation of the Upper Garden at Leach.

About the Artist: Known for his sculpture and stone installations throughout the NW and beyond, Michihiro Kosuge was born in Tokyo and studied sculpture at Tokyo Sumida Technical School of Architecture. After coming to the United States in 1967, he continued to focus on sculpture and received an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1970. After moving to Portland in 1978 Kosuge began teaching at Portland State University. He remained at PSU until he retired from teaching in 2003 as Chair of the Department. Always prolific, Kosuge’s studio practice remains active  as witnessed by his current exhibition at Russo Lee Gallery which runs through August 31.

Dedication Time and Place: Join the artist, staff from Leach Botanical Garden, RACC, and the Russo Lee Gallery for the dedication of Contemplative Place in its new location at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, September 6.  Leach Botanical Garden is located at 6704 SE 122nd Avenue in Portland. The event will be held in the Upper Garden. Due to construction, parking is limited to the Creekside Parking lot with the dedication site accessed vis the Manor House entrance.

For more information about the event and the art, contact Keith Lachowicz klachowicz@racc.org. For information about parking visit the Leach Botanical Garden website or contact Jo Shintani, jshintani@leachgarden.org. You can find out more about the renovation of the Leach Upper Garden here.

Michihiro Kosuge’s Contemplative Place installed in its new location at Leach Botanical Garden




The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) provides grants for artists, nonprofit organizations and schools in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties; manages an internationally acclaimed public art program; raises money and awareness for the arts; convenes forums, networking events and other community gatherings; provides workshops and other forms of technical assistance for artists; and oversees a program to integrate arts and culture into the standard curriculum in public schools through The Right Brain Initiative. RACC values a diversity of artistic and cultural experiences and is working to build a community in which everyone can participate in culture, creativity and the arts. For more information visit racc.org.


MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Hawthorne, Director of Community Engagement, jhawthorne@racc.org, 503.823.5258.

Fresh Paint with Anke Gladnick

In a city known for murals, how do you get your foot (or art) through a door when you’re an emerging artist of color? Fresh Paint, a partnership between RACC’s Public Art Murals program and Open Signal, offers that door to have artist work in the public realm.

In this 2019 cycle of Fresh Paint, a selection of new emerging artists have the opportunity to paint a temporary mural on the exterior of the Open Signal building facing the highly-visible Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Each mural is up for a period of months until it is painted over in preparation for the next mural. But what’s unique about this program is that it doesn’t just provide a wall for a mural – the program offers resources to emerging artists that would not typically have access to, which then gives them space to explore working in the public sector and incorporating new approaches and skills in their artistic practice and experience.

As part of the artist team (which also includes Maria Rodriguez and Victor Gomez aka Bizar Gomez) that currently have their mural on Open Signal, Anke Gladnick is an illustrator who grew up in California and somehow found their way to Portland, Oregon. Through a mix of collaged analog and digital elements, Anke’s work is both visually and conceptually layered with a focus on the surreal and is inspired by dreams, nostalgia, and a sense of poignancy.

The artists’ mural is currently on display through September 30, 2019. We caught up with Anke after the completion of the mural to talk about the work and experience with Fresh Paint:

Tell us about the collaborative mural you created for this program. Can you walk us through your process of conceptualizing a mural and bringing it to life?
Since the three of us mostly have experience as editorial illustrators, we approached it as such when started conceptualizing it. We initially knew we wanted the image to communicate the idea of POC coming together in solidarity with each other. After a bit of brainstorming we eventually decided on what was the most important action in fostering empathy with those who have similar and yet different struggles; talking to each other.

The actual image came together pretty quickly once we knew what to illustrate. We divided up the image into three parts that would play up to each of our illustration “specialty”: Victor and I designed the figures while Maria designed the more conceptual, graphic elements that would tie everything together. After that, all that was left was the painting, and while our image was pretty much set at this point, we now had to deal with the logistics of actually creating a mural.

What was it like to paint your first mural on the Open Signal building?
It was such a positive experience! My absolute favorite part was seeing others engaging with the mural as we were in the process of creating it; people coming up to us to ask questions and leaving with words of encouragement and appreciation, seeing people stop and take pictures of the mural from the other side of the street, people driving by and yelling “great work!”… Art tends to be such a solitary pursuit that it’s refreshing to be creating in a public space and getting immediate feedback from others.

“Daybreak” -Personal Illustration

Since your Fresh Paint mural, what have you been up to? What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way since your first mural?
I think one of the biggest takeaways was learning how to manage such a big project and breaking it down step by step all the while persevering throughout the painting process. We all knew that painting a mural takes time since we had helped other people on their murals, but I don’t think we fully anticipated just how time-heavy and physically demanding painting a mural can be. If we were to do another mural, remembering all that would do wonders for our morale. We were so dejected after day one at how little we seemingly got done, but I think in retrospect we got a lot more done than we think. Art is a marathon, not a race!

As an emerging muralist, what thoughts or words do you want to offer emerging muralists/artists?
Your first mural is going to take much, much longer than you think! When we started the mural we thought we’d be finished in 2 days with the three of us working. After day two, we had just finished sketching it out and painted the wall blocking in maybe 3/4ths of it. Also, painting while standing on an A-frame is not so bad. Just hook one arm around the frame for safety.

What are you up to now? Where can we find you and your work?
Right now I’ve been currently working on a mix of editorial and comic projects, one of the biggest ones being Postcript , an upcoming comics anthology with a bunch of extremely talented comic artists who attend or recently graduated from PNCA and is the final book in the Unversed series of anthologies. The Kickstarter starts May 17th and you can find more info about Postscript and the other Unversed books at unversedcomics.com. You can always view my work online at my website or at most social media websites at “ankegladnick” (one of the perks of having an unusual name). Twitter/instagram/tumblr: @ankegladnick


Fresh Paint is a professional development program, now in its second year, that provides emerging artists of color the opportunity to paint a mural in a high-traffic setting for the first time. The goal is for each artist to learn new ways of creating art in a public space, as well as to build their portfolio. To learn more about the program, contact Salvador Mayoral IV (RACC)

Portland Parks & Recreation + Prosper Portland + RACC: Lents Fair

The Regional Arts and Culture Council, in partnership with Portland Parks & Recreation and Prosper Portland, have selected artist Molly Mendoza to create a mural in early 2020 on the exterior of a new bathroom facility in Lents Park. Molly has created a preliminary design of the mural (see image above) and is interested in hearing from the community in and around the Lents neighborhood to inform and inspire the final design.

We will be at the Lents Fair on Sunday August 11th from 11-4 PM with artist Molly Mendoza to seek feedback from members of the Lents community for an upcoming mural project at Lents Park. Molly will be drawing portraits of folks while listening to their stories about the Lents community. Come visit us!

If you are unable to join us, but would like to fill out a survey to contribute to the process, take the survey here!

If you have questions about this project, artist and process please feel free to contact Ella Marra-Ketelaar, 503.823.5891 and emarra-ketelaar@racc.org

Fresh Paint with Bizar Gomez

In a city known for murals, how do you get your foot (or art) through a door when you’re an emerging artist of color? Fresh Paint, a partnership between RACC’s Public Art Murals program and Open Signal, offers that door to have artist work in the public realm.

In this 2019 cycle of Fresh Paint, a selection of new emerging artist have the opportunity to paint a temporary mural on the exterior of the Open Signal building facing the highly-visible Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Each mural is up for a period of months until it is painted over in preparation for the next mural. But what’s unique about this program is that it doesn’t just provide a wall for a mural – the program offers resources to emerging artists that would not typically have access to, which then gives them space to explore working in the public sector and incorporating new approaches and skills in their artistic practice and experience.

Bizar Gomez  was raised in the desert of Phoenix, AZ and now living among the trees in Portland, OR. Gomez is an illustrator and painter who is doing all he can to continue existing. Working primarily in gouache, graphite, ink and digital media, his work involves mixing urban world iconography, dreamlike surrealism, stylized figures, and social consciousness to create interesting visuals and narratives. Gomez graduated from Pacific Northwest College of Art with a BFA in Illustration.

The trio’s mural is currently displaying through September 30, 2019. We caught up with Bizar after the completion of the mural to talk about the work and experience with Fresh Paint:

Tell us about the collaborative mural you created for this program. Can you walk us through your process of conceptualizing a mural and bringing it to life?

A gouache, color pencil and digital piece on the helplessness we feel when others ascribe identity to us by Bizar Gomez

“This Is You” -gouache, color pencil and digital -11″ x 14″

Once we decided we wanted to work together, the idea and design of the mural happened pretty organically. Even though our personal styles are very distinct between the three of us, there was still enough common ground in our approach and content that it was not difficult to create a composition that not only retained our own individuality, but also something that worked well as a whole.

What was it like to paint your first mural on the Open Signal building?

It was definitely fun, and once you got into the right flow of it, became very meditative. It was also pretty physical, and on most nights I found myself going straight to bed after a day of painting. We received a lot encouragement and support from the community and passersby as we were painting it, and it helped quite a bit to help us push through the day whenever fatigue began to get in the way.

Since your Fresh Paint mural, what have you been up to? What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way since your first mural?

Since the Fresh Paint mural, I’ve mostly been spending time looking for new mural opportunities, as well investing further in my freelance illustration career. I’ve learned that making murals can be demanding but rewarding, and that it is a very unique medium that reaches out to type of people who don’t normally seek art on their own. It’s also pushed me to consider other solutions to transfer line work to the walls. While projectors and grinding are commonly used, there are other methods such as using chalk powder and pounce tools that could better suit someone like me.


As an emerging muralist, what thoughts or words do you want to offer emerging muralists/artists?

A Self Portrait made for promotion Cactus Boy with graphite, ink, color pencil and digital 10

Self portrait “Cactus Boy” graphite, ink, color pencil and digital -10″ x 10.25″

Make an estimate of how long you think the mural will take to paint then multiply it by three, That’s how long it will actually take to finish the mural. Mural making takes a lot of planning even before you lay down the first coat of paint, and its important that you cross your t’s and dot your i’s accordingly in order to make painting it as painless as possible. It is worth it to better invest in the materials that you use, having a roller and a brush for every color can save you a lot of time and effort.

What are you up to now? Where can we find you and your work?

As of right now I am working on mostly personal work, developing things that I might want to explore in the future. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter or my website. You can also reach me through email at bizargomezart@gmail.com. I am always open to new projects, (Both mural or illustration) so if you have a project you think I would be a good fit for then please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.


Fresh Paint is a professional development program, now in its second year, that provides emerging artists of color the opportunity to paint a mural in a high-traffic setting for the first time. The goal is for each artist to learn new ways of creating art in a public space, as well as to build their portfolio. To learn more about the program, contact Salvador Mayoral IV (RACC)

Portland-based arts council seeks consultant(s) for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access (EDIA) work

Request for Proposals:

Portland-based arts council seeks consultant(s) for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access (EDIA) work


  • Issuing organization: The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), 411 NW Park Ave., Suite 101, Portland, OR 97209
  • Proposals will be accepted until July 15, 2019 at 5 p.m. PDT
  • This call is also available on our website: racc.org/edia-rfp


  1. General Information

PROJECT OBJECTIVE: RACC seeks to identify a consultant or team of consultants who can collaborate with staff and board to advance RACC’s equity and inclusion work, including:

  • Assessment: Providing methods and tools for assessing the current state of the organization;
  • Setting the Course: Supporting RACC staff and board to establish a clear equity vision and associated strategic goals, both internal and external;
  • HR Support: Applying RACC’s racial equity lens and best practices to RACC’s hiring process;
  • Frameworks & Skill Building: Providing intensive training to staff and board on equity and social justice, including training specifically for supervisors;
  • Facilitation: Facilitating meetings of the staff equity workgroup or comparable committee.

TIMELINE AND TERM: RACC intends to award a single contract as a result of this RFP by July 26. The contract term will extend through June 30, 2020, with options for additional work beyond.

DUE DATE FOR PROPOSALS:  July 15, 2019 at 5 p.m.

QUESTIONS? Contact Madison Cario, Executive Director, ed@racc.org, by July 8.

  1. Background

RACC was established as an independent nonprofit organization in 1995 following the nation’s first regional cultural plan known as Arts Plan 2000. RACC receives funding from a variety of public and private partners to serve artists, arts organizations, schools and residents throughout Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties. RACC’s largest funder by far (about $7M/year, including general fund dollars, percent-for-art projects and proceeds from the Arts Education and Access Fund, or arts tax) is the City of Portland, and RACC works to align our equity goals with those of the City’s Office of Equity and Human Rights.

RACC provides grants for artists and nonprofit organizations; manages an internationally acclaimed public art program; raises money and awareness for the arts through workplace giving; convenes forums, networking events and other community gatherings; provides workshops and other forms of technical assistance for artists and organizations; and integrates the arts into other curriculum subjects in public schools throughout the region (The Right Brain Initiative).

  • RACC’s Vision: An environment in which arts and culture flourish and prosper.
  • RACC’s Mission: To enrich our communities through arts and culture.
  • Core Values: We value freedom of artistic and cultural expression as a fundamental human right. We value a diversity of artistic and cultural experiences. We value a community in which everyone can participate in arts and culture. We value a community that celebrates and supports its artists, and its arts and cultural organizations. We value arts and culture as key elements in creating desirable places to live, work and visit.

In 2010, RACC began to articulate new goals for equity, diversity and inclusion, and began measuring the demographics of its staff, board, volunteers and grant recipients in order to set new goals for more equitable distribution of its resources. In 2015, the staff and board adopted an Equity Statement:

We believe that the arts have the power to change hearts and minds, and to inspire social change. Prejudice and privilege have created barriers that RACC must dismantle, systematically and strategically, until everyone in our community has equitable access to arts and culture.

We acknowledge that there is no one perfect way to achieve equity, but we are willing to take risks because there is much work to do. We are thoughtfully researching and implementing new methods of thinking within our organizational culture, starting with an in-depth assessment of our services, policies and procedures. We are seeking out and listening to voices that have not been heard, and fully engaging under-represented populations in dialogue that will help us improve.

We are committed to the full scope of this work and will hold ourselves accountable along the way—anything less would prove a disservice to ourselves and the communities we serve. RACC strives to be an organization that values and celebrates everyone’s life experiences, their voices and their histories. By consistently bringing new perspectives to our decision-making table, forming new relationships and alliances, and finding new ways to support creativity, RACC will be a strong, equitable and relevant organization. Throughout this process, we commit to humility, optimism and respect.

The RACC staff and board have participated in a number of trainings and have convened themselves in a variety of committee configurations over the years to move RACC’s equity work forward. There is a strong sense that we would like to organize our work more effectively, go deeper in dismantling the systems of oppression that exist at RACC, and capitalize on our true potential as changemakers for social justice in our community.

There is a desire to be more strategic, cohesive and consistent in our EDIA work at RACC. Past work has included workshops on structural racism and white dominant culture with Scott Winn (2013-2014); cultural competency assessments and implicit bias training with Figure 8 consulting (2015); focus groups with artists from underrepresented communities to identify barriers to access, facilitated by Resolutions Northwest (2016); a board and staff equity committee, led and facilitated by Resolutions Northwest (2016-17); and a self-facilitated Staff Equity Workgroup (SEW, 2017-19). RACC staff created a racial equity lens in 2017 and refined/simplified it in 2019.

In January 2019, Madison Cario was appointed RACC’s new executive director, affirming RACC’s commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion and access, adding the “A” to “EDI” to represent both physical accesses for people with disabilities and also underscoring RACC’s fundamental belief that everyone in our community should have access to culture, creativity and the arts.


III. Scope of Work

The consultant or consultant team’s tasks will include:

  • Assess the current state of the organization;
  • Articulate and differentiate the roles and responsibilities of the staff and the board in becoming a more equitable and inclusive organization;
  • Collaborate in revisiting the organization’s Equity Statement and help identify RACC’s EDIA vision, goals and priorities going forward;
  • Support RACC staff and board in establishing a clear equity vision and associated strategic goals;
  • Support Human Resources and leadership staff in analyzing practices, services and policies around hiring and retention, and in communicating issues of race and the advancement of equity.
  • Provide HR staff and leadership with coaching, consulting and training to build capacity to operationalize and promote equity and inclusion efforts;
  • Provide intensive training and connect staff and board to other resources for equity and social justice learning;
  • Facilitate meetings of the staff equity workgroup or comparable committee as appropriate;
  • Develop an onboarding process for new EDIA team members, and recommend changes as needed to RACC’s onboarding process for new staff and board members;
  • Develop an EDIA plan that is integrated with RACC’s org-wide strategic plan and informs RACC’s systems internally, RACC’s programs impacts externally, and RACC’s communications and community engagement strategies;
  • Help identify mechanisms for expanding RACC’s knowledge and for holding the organization accountable for progress, including the possibility of a Community Advisory Board and/or Equity and Inclusion Advisory Board;
  • Provide ongoing EDIA consultation and education to staff and board (including staff and board leadership) through the life of this contract;
  • Other tasks that may emerge as RACC moves through the process.

The consultant will work directly with:

  • RACC’s Executive Director;
  • RACC directors, managers and supervisors;
  • RACC HR staff;
  • RACC’s EDIA team or equivalent (RACC currently convenes a “Staff Equity Workgroup” of 15 staff members on a monthly basis. We anticipate that the consultant will bring recom-mendations about the ideal size and composition of this team to move the work forward.)
  • RACC staff as a whole;
  • RACC’s board leadership and board members;
  • Local government partners and community members as appropriate.
  1. Desired Qualifications

Competitive contractors will demonstrate:

  • An understanding of the structure of nonprofit organizations, including volunteer boards of directors, and how to best navigate inherent hierarchies and power structures;
  • An ability to collaborate with staff, board and community members in EDIA implementation;
  • An understanding of how race plays a role in the history of Portland specifically;
  • Experience training groups and coaching individuals;
  • An ability to develop trusting relationships with staff and board in order to operationalize EDIA work;
  • A commitment to transparency and guidance for communicating this critical work publicly;
  • Strong and effective facilitation skills;
  • A history of working with clients to develop strategic organizational EDIA plans.


  1. Timeline
  • Direct all questions regarding this RFP to ed@racc.org by July 8.
  • Due date: Proposals will be accepted through July 15, 2019 at 5:00 p.m. PDT
  • Planning committee awards contract by July 26, 2019
  • Work begins: August, 2019
  • Contract ends: June 30, 2020


  1. Information Required of Respondents

Please include in your proposal:

  • General description of planning activities recommended (no more than four pages);
  • Description and/or samples of the tool(s) you use to assess an organization’s status and competencies around EDIA work;
  • Work plan and timetable;
  • Budget;
  • Professional resumes of all individuals who will be involved in this project;
  • Three references, including contact information and a description of relationship;
  • Relevant work samples, including EDIA plans that you have designed or assisted with designing.


VIII. Proposal Submission

Please address proposals to:

  • Email address: ed@racc.org
  • Subject line: Call for EDIA consultants
  • Deadline: July 15, 2019 at 5:00 p.m. PDT



In celebration of Madison’s first 100 days

Two photos of the conversation participants.

In the top image, the four participants pose for a group shot just after finishing the recording of their conversation. From left to right they are: Jennifer Arnold, Madison Cario, Charlene Zidell, and Cheryl Green. Below that we see all four sitting around a round table, leaning in to their microphones and deep in conversation.

Madison Cario has been on the job here at RACC since January. In their first 100 days in Portland they met with over 100 creatives, electeds and community partners — and recently they reflected on that experience in a blog piece here on racc.org. In addition, they also sat down to chat with three of the people who inspired them. In this special audio presentation, Madison explores each individual’s creative identity, discusses connections across sectors, and brainstorms ways to better support artists and arts organizations in our region. Take a listen, we hope you’ll be just as inspired as Madison was!

Listen here:


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Interpretation services available, call 503-823-5011 or email info@racc.org
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Announcer:        Welcome to a special presentation of the Regional Arts and Culture Council. RACC is an organization that serves the Portland Metro area with resources for arts and culture. To find out more details about our services, visit racc.org. Today’s presentation is a conversation in celebration of the human connections that build pathways to arts and culture in our region. Our new executive director, Madison Cario, has been serving for more than 100 days and wanted to share some of the inspiring conversations about connection and access they witnessed during that time.

Madison:           Thank you and hello. I am so excited to be here in this room today. I’m excited to be in Portland pushing 110 days. And I’m really excited about sharing an opportunity, with my guests today who I’ll go around and name. But what’s happened to me for the last 100 days is that I have had, magical conversations with individuals all across the region and they share these beautiful stories. So when my team asked me to do a podcast to recount my hundred days and talk about the magic, all I thought about was two things. One was: YES! Of course I would love to do that. And two, the first thing that came to my mind were the faces and the stories that were shared with me. And I think it’d be a shame to not bring some of those creative collisions, to the forefront. I shouldn’t be the only one to hear those stories. So that’s why you’re all here today.

So I want you to do is tell our listeners who you are and what’s your name and what you identify as in terms of a maker and a creator. And what is one magical thing about you that maybe, maybe no one else knows?

Jen:                     Okay, I’ll start. I’m Jennifer Arnold. I’m a violist with Oregon symphony. I’ve been in the Oregon symphony for 14 years. and I work with a lot of RACC supported groups, 45th parallel, a lot of the youth orchestras in town.

Something fun about me, is that we were just talking about the royal baby. So I’m a royal enthusiast. Yeah. I’m one of those people who is always looking on the internet, like, Ooh, what’s happening with the royals? And then go down at Wikipedia hole. Yeah.

Madison:            That’s fantastic. Thank you Jennifer.

Cheryl:                My name is Cheryl Green. I am a documentary filmmaker and a freelance audio producer. I’m also a closed-captioner and audio describer. So, making my own content and other people’s content accessible. A magic skill of mine is that I can make my mind’s eye completely blank.

Madison:            That’s an amazing answer, can you teach me how to do that?

Cheryl:                Well, it’s actually from a brain injury, so it kind of is terrible, but like I can have complete like complete blankness. There’s an aspect where you’re unburdened because there’s nothing there. Now in the case of an unexpected question, you kind of, hmm, I’m blank. But then it’s also kind of peaceful in there.

Madison:            That’s great. Thank you. Cheryl.

Charlene:           I’m Charlene Zidell. part of the Zidell family. We have some property down at South waterfront that we had hoped to develop and included in that development was going to be an art ecosystem. We are not able to proceed with that development at this time, but we do have the office building that we were in before. So it’s 22,000 square feet, on the river with an amazing barge building next to it. And so we are working hard to figure out how to turn that into an arts hub. I am not an artist myself. Something people don’t know about me. They would if they ever heard me try and sing is that I’m tone deaf.

Madison:            That’s great. Thank you Charlene. So I want to tell you a little bit about why and how I selected the three of you and there’s many more. But I was thinking about the conversations that each of us had and they were there, each magical conversations. There’s a certain agenda and my came up on my calendar and, I knew or thought I knew the conversation I was getting into, but every single one of you surprised me in such a wonderful way. and so I want to just reflect on that story a little bit.

So, so Jennifer, came with the symphony and we had an amazing conversation and what stuck with me that, that you made very visible was the invisible, the invisible part of being a musician that’s part of our larger symphony. And that really resonated with me around this idea of making the invisible visible and also about access. I’m going to highlight each of the little magic, bubbles that you gave me and then I just want you to kind of reflect on that because that was really powerful and I have shared each of these magic moments out with staff and with others since that time. So thank you for bringing me that perspective.

And, Cheryl came to me through, an email full of gratitude for a, a small grant that she received from RACC to, work on a film. And in that process of showing that film and being there, her work as an audio describer became the stellar focus of attention. And I was really amazed by the framework and I’m moving from access to aesthetics and joy and understanding that audio description is also a creative process. And again, that really resonated with me. So thank you for reminding me, to think about in the process of access. So I appreciate that Cheryl.

And Charlene! Well, I thought that I was going to meet with you and, the head of our public art program to talk about work that was, in, and or near the yards. And, and then I was blown away by this vision and this journey of yours to create a public art space where things happen where multiple artists are living and working, not just together, but also alongside each other. And it was really again a wonderful story of access to the river—which you shared a personal story. And so again, each of you came to me through this idea of, showing off, making the invisible visible and inviting people into your work. So that’s why I wanted you all to meet. And I want you to, can you reflect on the reflection that I just gave you and how does that feel and does that happen? Are these the conversations that are happening in your, in your sphere and in your communities? And I’m just, what do you think about that?

Cheryl:                I had written to Helen… Daltoso?

Madison:            Correct.

Cheryl:                Because, I had gotten grants from RACC in the past to make films and this time I got a professional development grant to further my study in audio description. And let me define that because most people probably don’t know what that is. An audio describer is a trained narrator who orients people to the visuals in a movie, a TV show, dance theater, whatever it is. And it’s really geared toward access for blind audience members, people with visual impairments. Everybody can enjoy it, but it’s really designed to be a disability access. And in my grant I said, hey RACC, you got to fund me. I’m probably the only trained filmmaker who is also trained in audio description and that makes me magic and awesome and I can really serve the Portland area by consulting and doing audio description for others.

I got the grant and then I kind of was—as we do in grant proposals, I was puffing myself up a little bit—but then it ended up being true. And I have been consulting on audio description. I have been describing other people’s films, doing more of my own learning, the aesthetics of it, making it something that is much more than just compliance. And then I met you. I guess Helen passed my email to you Madison. And my reflection is that you passed my name along to Lisa Niedermeyer who works with Alice Sheppard, who is a dancer, who I have greatly admired for a while and is doing a disability focused work from a cultural perspective that I aspire to. And I have just a couple days ago submitted some audio description. They hired me and I audio described a dance piece that Alice and three other dancers who use wheelchairs do. That’s magic. I never could have connected to Alice Sheppard on my own.

Madison:            That’s fantastic.

Cheryl:                Thank you.

Madison:            That’s fantastic.

Jen:                     So for me, when we talked, my big thing is that in classical music there’s always this conversation around elitism and barriers and things like that. And I’ve never known that, actually. I come from a place where—Cleveland, Ohio, where young people were playing music of all colors in all socioeconomic backgrounds. And so I grew up in an environment where music was for everyone. Classical music was for everyone. And then as I get older, it feels like people, there’s a invisible barrier that people are starting to feel with the concert hall and other things that have nothing to do with the music. And I was, I really just wanted to come to that meeting with, with you and talk about, how we are musicians. They’re 76 musicians in the Oregon symphony and we are a part of this community.

We do all the things that community members do and we play concerts. And we played great concerts of all different varieties and that even though we’re in this one of the largest arts organizations in the state, and a proud to be, you know, full time, I mean, we’re, we’re able to do our job. We’re full time, full salaried, you know, members with benefits, living, you know, a life of in the arts. It’s just really important to remember that we’re not just this, “Bougie” for lack of a better term, you know, group of people that there’s all kinds of people in the Oregon symphony. There’s 76 of us and we come from all different backgrounds and we are Portlanders.

Madison:            That’s fantastic. Thank you. So we’ve already started to talk a little bit about these myths, right? Because I think that’s kind of my next question is, are there any other myths around the work that you do or have been doing or will be doing, that you’d like to tell all of Portland to kind of set the, set the record straight? So I think it’s important to hear it from the voices of the creators or in your case, Charlene is the curator and the organizer of space. That’s an important part of the arts ecology as well. What are those myths?

Jen:                     I mean, I can go on for the Oregon symphony. There’s so many.I mean that the symphony is made up of older white males, where that’s not true, I would say across the country, but especially the Oregon Symphony. Orchestras needed to do better. I spent a lot of time talking about diversity and thinking about diversity and Equity Inclusion and, all orchestras talk about this. But the Oregon symphony is really, has really embraced that for longer than people have been talking about it. Then I mean, just little things, just, yeah. That classical music isn’t for everyone–when it’s, it is, I mean, the music was written by all types of composers. You know, myths that, you know, conductors have to be male. I mean, people actually think these things, they write in and they say these things. And that our tickets are, our costs are high. I mean, we started like, I think $10 tickets, $20 tickets. And that can be high for people, but we also have $5 arts for all. we, we do some free community concerts. There’s all kinds of different levels.

Charlene:           As somebody who has space available. I’m, I’m trying to think about, you know, what a myth might be. So I’m not aware of myths such as Jen was just talking about, but what it makes me think about is, if you can call it a myth, that the way we have done things traditionally is the only way to do it. Yes. So I have always been intrigued by the fact that for whatever reason, coworking space does not exist or I’m not aware of it for the arts. And I’m not sure if that’s because different organizations are worried about protecting their donor list, whether it’s space has never been available or whether they just never thought about it. But for a long time now, I’ve been thinking about there, there should be a way, a coworking method of some sort for arts organizations so that they’re not all duplicating copy machines and telephones and that kind of thing. And the other part of that is that when you bring together cross disciplinary artists, what kind of magic might come out of that.

Cheryl:                I think one of the big myths I’ve come across as that, we don’t need to do make art accessible because for example, why would a deaf person care about a podcast? Blind people don’t go to the movies. Those are just two of a billion examples I could give. And you know, they, they really come out of just unexamined bias and not, I mean, if you really paid attention to that statement, no, there’s no podcast content out there a deaf person would care about. Hmm. Just really sit with that. How could that be possible? So, again, those are just two little examples, but they, but they, reflect reflect this larger belief that people who have access needs around deafness or disability don’t want to engage in the arts and media, the news, any of these things. And then the other one is that if these groups do that, they only want content related to their disability or being deaf.

So, I work with a lot of filmmakers as a captioner and audio describer, I am constantly trying to sell this idea to people, hey, if you had access, not only will you be following the law but you will grow your audience. More people can have your product if you make it accessible. And, and I find more enthusiasm comes from people who are doing disability related content than those who aren’t. And it, it is hard to get that across that regardless of, I mean it’s like what you said. No, the classical music is for anybody who wants it to play it or to listen to it. It really can be same as disability related content can be for non disabled people and disabled people can enjoy content on whatever other topic they’re interested in.

Madison:            That’s great. Thank you. Okay, so thank you for sharing.

Um, these are all really interesting and now that we know a little bit about each other, I want to start connecting the three of you a little bit more deeply. And, so I have a question about, with the little bit of knowledge you have about each other in the room, what kind of sparked for you, what are ideas, or dreams that you might have about how you see your work connecting with the other folks in the room? So, anything that’s popped into your mind as we’ve been talking?

Jen:                     So we had just talked about having, apparently there’s a, there’s a rapper out there who has, who I think he’s deaf actually. And we were talking about putting on a concert by this rapper. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Cheryl:                Yeah! I think I know of at least two deaf rappers, so, bring ’em!

Jen:                     RIght. Okay. Right. So we were talking about and what this would mean and not just bringing one, just not just doing one time, right. Bringing, more content like that to the symphony. And, so it just made me think of that and the fact that also one of my former students, his mother just did a documentary called Moonlight Sonata. Irene Taylor Brodsky—about, it’s called actually a moonlight sonata deafness in three movements. And talking about bringing that to the symphony and just having more, you know, just more things for everyone. I mean, you can never just limit yourself. The arts are for everyone. So just made me think of that connection.

Cheryl:                That’s great. Yeah. So we’ll talk afterwards. Yeah. Can’t wait. Interpreters, interpreters and that stuff. Yeah. Very Cool.

Charlene:           So I’ve not been familiar with the kind of work that Cheryl does and find it amazing and very intriguing. And so I immediately want to start figuring out how to share that with the rest of the world. And I think that often what happens is each art organization or artist for that matter has this group of people that they connect with. But then there’s everyone else who they don’t connect with.

And I look at myself, I’ve lived in Oregon my whole life. I just learned about Passin Art. They’ve been around for 34 years I think. And I was so amazed with the work that they did. So I’ve been telling everyone I know about that organization. It makes me sad to think of how much I don’t know. So I like to flip the access question on its head in a way and go, all right, so for people like me, I don’t have the knowledge and, and how can we do a better job of getting that information out to the community?

Madison:            That’s my next question. How can we collectively do better, as individuals and as organizations and as communities, right? We all have our networks. How can we start crossing those networks? I mean, this is a perfect example of, of starting that. What other ideas, what do you see happening elsewhere in other parts of the country or? I How do we collect those ideas and then maybe offer them up for others to, to take on and to lead.

Charlene:           So we’re thinking about a hub and spoke concept so that if you have like the center of gravity, you have the hub somewhere and that that hub intentionally connects out into different communities so people aren’t operating in their silos, but there’s actually some organization to it.

Madison:            That’s great. That’s how I envision RACC too. Like we do a lot of that and we’re going to keep doing that work but really start leveraging the, the center of RACC, which is the people not the building, as a resource to keep connecting the different communities that we work with. And that’ll be our, or a lot of our work over the next year is to raise up those networks and to connect, across platforms and in platforms. This time I’m talking about, you know, we have the grant making, we have public art and we have arts education and kind of where did they meet, right. And they meet in our bodies, right? They meet where we touch people. So we want to really focus on that. So that kind of fits with that hub and spoke idea that you’re talking about. Any other ideas for how we can “de-silo”, if that’s a word.

Jen:                     The way I actually am just trying to work on it personally is that I’m trying to broaden my personal network, doing meeting people, you know, that I’m in places that I’m like, wait, normally I don’t go, you know, not just trying new things, but actually talking to people and asking them what they do and telling them what I do. And then you get into really interesting conversations and that it becomes at 6 degrees of separation in Portland because even though Portland’s a city, it’s kind of a small town.

So for me it’s like, and I, and I think about that not just personally but also in terms of the Oregon Symphony. I always tell my colleagues and, and you know, people especially on the staff that, you know, when you’re looking for more diverse candidates or something and a lot of people already get hired, what with connection with some sort of connections or networking or whatever. Like look at your network. Do you have people that are diverse in your network? And if you can’t, if you don’t, start there, just start from that and broaden your network. Not even just from a job perspective, but a life perspective.

Madison:            That’s some great advice.

Charlene:           How about this really crazy idea? What if we create a “match.com” for community members and arts organizations and we take a day or we take a week and everybody gets matched up and we figure out how to do it without people having to buy expensive tickets.

Jen:                     Right.

Charlene:           And we see what happens.

Madison:            I love it.

Jen:                     I do too.

Madison:            Match making for the arts. Love it. So is it like a speed date…? Do we go Dutch?

Charlene:           Lot of lot of options.

Madison:            I love that. This one should be pretty easy. I want to know why you said Yes to this invitation to be on the podcast.

Charlene:           I said yes because I love meeting people and I love learning and for some reason I just assumed there’d be like 300 people here.

Cheryl:                And you wanted that.

Charlene:           I wanted the 300 cause I was going to sit in the back and listen and try and learn. And then when I found out that there were four of us, including Madison and I was supposed to come and say who I was… So it was out of ignorance, I guess is the answer to the question.

Madison:            Still. Yes. I’ll take it anyway I can get it. What about you? Jen…

Jen:                     For me is, it’s that public speaking makes me uncomfortable and I’m trying to conquer that issue, by talking it out like this.

Madison:            That’s fantastic.

Jen:                     Plus. Our conversation was wonderful, so I was like, You’re cool. I’m cool. Like, let’s keep doing it. So.

Cheryl:                It was, it was just obvious for me that I would want to come, because I wanted to thank you. Anyway, Madison. But now I get to thank you in front of other people that you initiated, meeting me and I was just coming in to say “thanks for the RACC grant. This is really fun” but like I said before, you, you just threw this creative paid opportunity right into my lap. You follow it through, you made the connection, you know, some people will say, oh I’m going to hook you up with this person and they don’t because they’re busy or forget. And despite that pile of something like 8,000 business cards you had on your table you said “these are from today,” I’m exaggerating only a little, you still made the time and you made the connection that you said you would. And that is boosting my career and is giving me more opportunities because describing dance is very hard audio description of dance as much harder than the documentary films I do.

And it was such a challenge to write and record that script and I loved it. It really stretched me. Spent a lot of time on thesaurus.com

Madison:            That’s fantastic.

Cheryl:                But yeah, I’m so grateful for the opportunity. The invitation to thank you publicly.

Madison:            Thank you. I’m honored

Madison:            What are strategies or ideas or frameworks that we can throw out to those who will listen to this conversation? You know, like how do I do that? How do you get to the yeses in your life with your work with other people, right. That outside “Yes”?

Jen:                     I think being genuine. I definitely think it’s important to follow through. But I also think it’s really nice to, for me if I, if I just come from a place of trying to be a good person and helping someone, whether it’s moving forward in their life or making a connection or whatever. I mean that’s just my personal goal and that translates also to, you know, my viola playing, how, how can I use my viola playing to help people feel better or to ease, you know, ease peoples souls, those kinds of things.

Charlene:           I think for me, I would say being transparent and listening, I know that I have so much to learn and certainly don’t have the answers, at least in terms of what we’re trying to do down in Zidell Yards. So I have to listen and try and figure out where the gaps are in the community to see if we can use physical space to help fill those gaps.

Cheryl:                I think for me, I don’t remember what I’ve said yes to. So I say yes to the next thing and then realize, oh, I already said yes to something because I can, I, I just really struggled to keep my day planner. It’s very confusing for me. So that’s my flippant answer. But it is true The less flippant answer is that I look at all of my opportunities as a gift. Okay. So you’ve made a film, this is a great film and you want to make it accessible and you were willing to pay? Oh my gosh, this is so cool that I’m going to get to participate to allowing people who have been marginalized and have been excluded from accessing art and media. I get to play a role in them coming in? Yes! And, and the same thing when I go into somebody’s home with my camera or my microphone, you’re going to let me film you? You’re going to tell me about yourself? What a gift! How did I get this honor? So that’s the, the less silly reason to how I get to, yes.

Madison:            That’s great. What’s something that, you would like to see the creative community here in Portland do together?

Madison:            Collectively in this room, I think we touch thousands of people in a given day. How’s that feel?

Cheryl:                That’s really humbling. I hadn’t even, I hadn’t thought about that even though I know, I mean my films, I don’t know, I’m not an award winning filmmaker, but my captions had been on PBS like six times and I’m always, you know, calling and texting friends. “My captions are on PBS, which I don’t remember which movie, but I saw, you know, the film maker posted one of my captions.” I mean, when I see these filmmakers posts, you know, I’m on America reframed, I’m on this. I’m like that. I like, I, my cheeks blush, I feel flush. “My captions!” I’m also, I am happy for these filmmakers. Of course it’s great content, but I just am beside myself when I think that people anywhere in the country might be able to flip those on and they’ve got quality captions and they can watch this film. Yeah, I mean, my cheeks get flushed every time that happens.

Charlene:           From my perspective, it’s about building community and it’s about humanity. And arts are the vehicle that are being used to make that happen. I think that the technology world that we all live in today, it’s easy for people to feel very disconnected. And so as we think about the space we want to create. . . We don’t want to create coworking space where people come in with their earphones on and their blinders and go in their office and don’t connect with other people. It’s about that connection.

So one thing that we have done to try and make that successful in our building is that in our policies, there is a policy that says every tenant in our building must do one free event for the community. And everybody that’s coming into that space knows this is about community. This is not about the place to put your computer and your desk. Yes, that’s part of it. But there’s a much bigger thing going on here. And again, it’s this cross disciplinary aspect that our artists as well as other kinds of professions, but that also brings in the public, you know, so it connects everybody in one way or another.

Jen:                     The reason I do it, and… the Oregon symphony is, is for everyone. And, and I really mean that because for me, growing up the arts, we’re just part of life. Everyone I knew had a piano in their house. What are they played it very well or not. and didn’t matter what income level, they just, you know, if they had a home, I should say they had a piano. there was a choir in like every school or band or some sort of art or dance program or something. So it never became, when you, I think when you grow up with, into it, you know, how like people say music is a language? That’s how music was for me. And the art in general. It was a language. it’s a vital part of life. That’s what I’m trying to say. The arts are a vital part of life, I’m one of those people who definitely the Arts is a right. And, and that’s why I do it. I think more so the, the personal aspect of my playing, viola playing, I love to play for me, but I love to play for people. Wwhether it’s in a concert form or in other forms, I just know that I’ve seen it on many, many occasions how… the reaction of people to music. And it’s not always a positive reaction. It can be, but it’s whatever emotion is coming out. and I think it’s important.

Charlene:           I have a question for Jan and I’m curious what made that happen in your growing up and how do we replicate that or get back to that?

Jen:                     Well, I think it’s maybe, I mean I was born in 1980 so I think maybe Ohio, Ohio’s a band country, so already you have larger bands. Music education was in most of the schools. So you do have that, but it’s kind of like, going back to Cleveland, it’s kind of like sports.

Cleveland Sports, they’re fanatics. Okay. I’m a Cleveland sports fanatic. People grow up coming out of the womb, you know, loving the Cleveland Browns, loving the Indians, whatever, the Cavs. And it’s just the same thing about music I think. I think it’s just like when you are four or five, you, you’re in that baby, you know, “mom and me” or “dad and me” program. and then it goes on from there, you know, and there are a lot of places that have funds, so if you don’t have the funds to take lessons or whatever, there are a lot of like nonprofits or organizations or even schools, you know, that will help you get that. The access. Here, I think there are a lot of places, but I think people just don’t know of those institutions. You know, the Oregon symphony, through a lot of their partnerships provides, private lessons free, you know, if they write grants and things like that. I run a teaching program for Alis Dot Middle School. we might start one next year at Bravo youth orchestras for their students. so there’s the resources out there so that students can have free lessons and things like that and instruments, and the teachers come to them. So it’s all that stuff’s taken care of. So it’s just, I think getting the word out in Portland in a different way. I think that’s the biggest issue. Like you were saying, the hub hub, you know, letting people know the resources.

Madison:            I just want to reflect a little bit of what I’ve heard in the last couple of answers because it’s really beautiful. So in reframing and thinking about the arts, what I’ve heard is, this is, this is a right, this access, right? It is about humanity. I’ve also heard humility in the cheeks blushing. And I’ve heard us talk about, arts has a language and a connector. And again, coming back to this issue of access and invitation. And also I want to end this reflection on, the desire that I hear and I’ve heard this in every meeting to, to bring art back to the center as a part of just everyday life. The everyday epics of life involves art and community and humanity, right? And so I think I’m hearing those themes come up over and over again. So, thank you for sharing and being so generous with your time.

Here’s a fun one for me. What’s one question you wished I asked you that I didn’t or that you always wish somebody would ask you and they just don’t ever ask that one question that you actually have that burning answer for?

Jen:                     I was hoping maybe we talk a little bit about, a little bit about and venues in Portland as an, as an artist. For me that’s, that’s one of the biggest struggles, venues and costs. And so that’s just a topic that maybe, maybe some other podcasts can talk about, you know.

Madison:            Well, we have time right now. What do we want to talk about this? Talk about venues. We are talking about? Access to? Affordability?

Jen:                     Access. Affordability. Yeah. I mean for, for some of the smaller nonprofits that I work with, like 45th parallel or a Fear No Music, some of the chamber groups, Classical Up Close. And I’m sure other arts organizations suffer from this, but like it is very hard to find a small performance venue that’s affordable with good seating, with good, I’m not even talking about acoustics, that’s not important, but you know,

Madison:            says the musician..

Jen:                     I know. Right. And for me that’s not even that important. I’ll play anywhere. But it’s, you know, other things like the right area, cause you have all kinds of issues. Is it on a bus line is it on, you know, near bike, bike friendly area? You know, can people get there? So, outskirts of town, you know, can we get to Gresham? Where’s a good performance space there? Things like that. so anyways, I constantly am. Am thinking about that performance venues,

Charlene:           Can you describe a small venue, the size of it?

Jen:                     Well, I would say anywhere between like 300 and 500 seats. I’m not even thinking a thousand. Something like that. In my case it’s chamber ensembles I’m always thinking of, but it could be for other projects as well. Bands, you know, you name it, but they’re so–they’re so costly here. Events spaces are costly here. So it’s just like if you’re a small, you know, you want to put on a concert here, it’s kind of expensive compared to at least where I came from.

Madison:            That’s a great point. you, So I want to call out too, cause again this is about access and power and knowledge and information. So, if you don’t know, there is a report that was put out by Commissioner Fish’s office, which kind of highlights both the problem and some ideas. There’s 24 solutions and things that the city would like to move on. RACC is a part of that conversation, but we’re one piece of a much, much larger conversation. I would encourage everyone to look at that. And then some other exciting news: I’m not sure if this group is familiar with Portland SpaceFinder?

So Portland’s SpaceFinders, is a, is a digital platform and it is, was created by Fractured Atlas in New York. And essentially what it is, is a place for folks who have space and folks who are looking for space to connect. It’s kind of like match.com from, oh my goodness, I need a rehearsal space tonight and it needs to fit this many people and so on and so forth. It has been a labor of love by two local artists who have kept it up and I think there’s about almost 200 spaces in there now. RACC is going to help and partner and bring that in house so we can keep adding to that. It gets to issues of “where is stuff?” Where stuff in east Portland in this place, like wherever I want to go with my work? It also is beginning the conversation around accessibility. So we’re looking at models that will allow artists who have used the space to provide feedback or say like, yes, I do agree this is accessible.

So this is one teeny, teeny, teeny, teeny, teeny daddy can’t see him making teeny, teeny, tiny shapes with my fingers. but when one small way to start to have a conversation, but it leaves a much larger conversation that involves many voices in a… I want to think about this group as the beginning of, of a mighty army and how do we convene, and I’m looking at your Charlene because Charlene has space and RACC has space. And if we start thinking about convening people… Okay, we can wait for city development to get to the point where, we’re really integral, which will happen. I believe that I mean Portland is a great town. However, in the interim we have lots of stuff we want to share. So I think there’s no lack of creative minds that I would love to see starting to come together, to, to brainstorm and to try some things. What if every gathering and every conversation comes away with some actionable small step towards providing space.

You each have some experience with the organization—RACC—and I am curious what your thoughts are in terms of something that you would like to see us do more of, do less of or do differently. I just love hearing the ideas from community that has been here a lot longer than 111 days.

Jen:                     Okay. I’ll go first. So actually I think I did not mention, but one of the reasons I actually attended the meeting as an interested party, with the Oregon symphony was because I actually realized I don’t know much about RACC. And that’s ridiculous. As someone who’s been involved with so many RACC funded groups. So I was just really interested in getting to know about more about RACC. And I’m learning more and more. For me it’s just, getting to know all the programs and the things that the organization does.

Madison:            I think that’s great. I think RACC also suffers from the, the “see the symphony, but not the musicians”. And RACC is RACC, right? Big RACC. And yet there’s beautiful, talented, passionate people who do amazing work every day. And so I think, again your story reminded me to bring that back to, the community of RACC and to make sure that we have faces and stories as well.

Cheryl:                I mean, yeah, get people who have gotten RACC grants but don’t know RACC very well in the room with the, the people who administer the grants or who read the grant applications. I mean I have both had my own films funded by RACC but also screaned my work with other organizations. They were the ones who got the grant. And I’m telling you, I look out there and there’s Helen in the audience and it is, I mean, I don’t know how to describe the feeling when you do this kind of impersonal bureaucratic thing of write a grant proposal and then you put your art together and there’s someone from RACC sitting in the audience. You came, you came! You’re so busy, you probably have 50 RACC funded events happening this weekend and you came to this one. And they don’t always come to all my screenings, but when RACC staff come to my screenings, you, you feel like a person, you feel like a person connecting and not just, “I typed up these words and you liked the words that I typed and you gave me money.” You mentioned transactional before. Having RACC staff come to your events and meet you and shake your hands and congratulate you, and then getting to be on a podcast with RACC. Like the transactional nature is not there. It’s the relational thing.

Jen:                     I’ll add something. Actually, it made, I think I was thinking about this the other day. So I went online and was looking at the RACC board just because I tried to see if there was anyone I knew from our audience. and I didn’t know anyone, but I was interested in knowing because it was very much corporate, like I worked for this corporation, but I was interested in knowing maybe what arts institutions they’re interested in, what arts, you know, just from a little, you know, a little what could RACC do better, but just as a little thing, you know,

Madison:            That’s a fantastic suggestion, right? Re-humanize us not just where we work and our titles, but who we are and what we love and how we connect. And that’s what the point of this podcast was.

So I want to thank each of you for your time, for sharing your stories and your energy, not just with me, but with the larger community of wherever this presentation goes. So, thank you again for your time. Thank you.

Announcer:                     Thank you for listening today. We hope you enjoyed the conversation with our wonderful guests. We want to hear from you! So please visit racc.org/talkback to share feedback and comments. If you like what you heard and are interested in supporting arts and culture in your community, we’d love for you to join us! For more information on our work services, events, and opportunities, Find us on Facebook and Instagram or visit racc.org

Fresh Paint with Maria Rodriguez

In a city known for murals, how do you get your foot (or art) through a door when you’re an emerging artist of color? Fresh Paint, a partnership between RACC’s Public Art Murals program and Open Signal, offers that door to have artist work in the public realm.

In this 2019 cycle of Fresh Paint, a selection of new emerging artist have the opportunity to paint a temporary mural on the exterior of the Open Signal building facing the highly-visible Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Each mural is up for a period of months until it is painted over in preparation for the next mural. But what’s unique about this program is that it doesn’t just provide a wall for a mural – the program offers resources to emerging artists that would not typically have access to, which then gives them space to explore working in the public sector and incorporating new approaches and skills in their artistic practice and experience.

Maria Rodriguez AKA Sparkykneecap (one of three collaborators of the current mural “Let’s talk”) is a Mexican-American artist living in Portland, OR getting her BFA in illustration at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Through shape and color she often explores themes of identity, culture, and nostalgia while also creating work that is playful and lighthearted.

The trio’s mural is currently displaying through September 30, 2019. We caught up with Maria after the completion of the mural to talk about the work and experience with Fresh Paint:

Tell us about the collaborative mural you created for this program. Can you walk us through your process of conceptualizing a mural and bringing it to life?

We are all artists of color and some of us queer so it was important to use this opportunity to create something that spoke to not only our experiences but the importance of having a conversation across different groups of people. And most importantly being empathetic and understanding when talking about the ways we experience the world. We agreed from the beginning that we wanted to do a piece about that. At first I was hesitant about collaborating because of how different our work is but we made it work. All of our styles are quite different and I think it’s safe to say that we all enjoy the conceptual part of illustration so once we all had our pieces and put them together we created this beautiful Frankenstein of a mural.

Abuelita’s Heart, illustration

What was it like to paint your first mural on the Open Signal building?

I don’t think I anticipated how hard it would be. The first couple days were rough. We had to grid our image and because we were so excited, not being able to lay down big blocks of paint was discouraging. Once we got the ball rolling and it started taking shape it was so cool to see and the responses from people walking by was also really encouraging and I’m so glad we had the opportunity. I also love that I got to work with two of my closest friends.

Ramen Alley, illustration

Since your Fresh Paint mural, what have you been up to? What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way since your first mural?

I’m still a student. I’m in my final year at PNCA and I’ve been working on my final thesis project. I was working on my thesis while we were painting this mural so time management was key. It continues to be something I work on.

As an emerging muralist, what thoughts or words do you want to offer emerging muralists/artists?

I’d say to invest in some nice brushes cause it makes all the difference and it feels so nice when you make a clean stroke. I’d also say to not be afraid to ask for help when you need it cause murals are hard work.

What are you up to now? Where can we find you and your work?

I’m just entering the professional art world so I’m trying to look for work and maybe thinking about another mural. But while all that unfolds you can catch me doodling in my sketchbook. You can follow me on Instagram @sparkykneecap or check my website at sparkykneecap.com .


Fresh Paint is a professional development program, now in its second year, that provides emerging artists of color the opportunity to paint a mural in a high-traffic setting for the first time. The goal is for each artist to learn new ways of creating art in a public space, as well as to build their portfolio. To learn more about the program, contact Salvador Mayoral IV (RACC)

RACC launches new Project Grants category: Catalyst

>>The goal is to provide a new entry point and a simpler application for artists and organizations that have not yet received a RACC project grant.


One of RACC’s most important responsibilities is to help facilitate the creation of new art, and to support the public’s access to culture and creativity. Every year, RACC invests hundreds of thousands of dollars through Project Grants, which are available three times annually — and the next deadline is coming up on June 5.

RACC encourages applications from Individual artists and nonprofit organizations in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties to support the creation or presentation of performances, exhibits, and other publicly accessible creative endeavors. We will award grants of up to $7,000 in every artistic discipline — including dance, music, theater, visual art, media arts, multi-disciplinary and more.

New this year, RACC has created a special category of Project Grants specifically designed for applicants who have never received a RACC Project Grant. This new Catalyst category features a shorter and simpler application, and all Catalyst grants are fixed at $3,000 each. These grants also come with enhanced RACC staff support to help recipients administer their grants.

Our goal for this new Catalyst category is to provide new grant applicants with a helpful first experience with RACC – which in turn can help them successfully apply for other RACC grants in the future and build their grantwriting skills. We are also working intentionally to support first-time grant awardees in successfully implementing their projects and meeting all the administrative requirements.

We invite community members to come learn more about RACC’s Project Grant program, including this new Catalyst category, at one of four upcoming information sessions.

For more information on RACC’s Project Grant Program, visit www.racc.org/grants/project-grants.



Walkouts for comprehensive funding for education

“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.” – Kofi Annan

On Wednesday, May 8, a large number of teachers across Oregon will be walking out of classrooms in an organized action calling for the state to fully fund education. Here in the Portland area, a significant portion of those classrooms are served by The Right Brain Initiative, a program of RACC, as well as classrooms led by arts specialists funded in part by dollars from the Arts Tax, facilitated by RACC. While RACC is not a recipient of state educational funding, we do work with 11 school districts to help provide a holistic, quality education for over 40,000 students.

Via Right Brain and various arts education and community outreach efforts, RACC endeavors to shape a community that ensures a rich education in and through the arts for every K-12 student in the Portland metro area. Ultimately, this is a hope that extends beyond the borders of our programmatic reach as we believe in quality education for all, particularly in this state we are proud to serve. While we are committed to our ongoing work partnering with districts to increase student engagement and achievement, we are also practically aware that it requires money to achieve these goals.

We urge the state to seriously consider comprehensive funding for education that secures the future of Oregon students and thus the future of our state and our citizenry. Every single day our team and the wider RACC community sees our children full of energy, wisdom, potential, and hope. Given the opportunity, they will surely change the world. A significant, renewed investment in K-12 education in Oregon is an investment in these children, and in our collective future. RACC is proud to stand alongside our students, and we look to our legislators to join us in ensuring a rich, transformative educational experience for every child.

Oregon lawmakers are expected to vote on the Student Success Act in the next couple of weeks. If you believe that schools should be able to afford to give students small class sizes and programs, like arts and physical education, tell your lawmakers to invest in students.

100 Days: Executive Director Madison Cario reflecting back and looking ahead

Reflecting Back and Looking Ahead


Hello. April 25 marked my first 100 days. Phew! As promised when stepping into this role, I’m pausing after this 100 day mark to share some of what I’ve learned and answer ‘What’s Next?’

Clockwise from right to left: RACC PDX City Hall in support of Trans Day of Visibility; City of Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, Madison Cario and Multnomah County’ Commissioner Susheela Jayapal; White Bird Dance and Phó Van Fresh; and Art + Coffee meet up.

I’ve so enjoyed that most days were spent outside of my RACC office as I explored the city to meet with people in person (and yes, thanks to the community invitations and coordination of my team, I managed to meet well over 100 creatives in person as pledged when I arrived). Folks gathered at RACC’s Monday morning Art+Coffee meet ups, working lunches hosted by board members, and meetings with elected officials and community partners. I’ve witnessed moving performances, exhibits, forums, celebrations, and fundraisers. I invited you to suggest restaurants, urban trails, public art, and galleries, to tell me about your experiences in the Portland arts and creative community, and to invite me to events. And you did just that. This Google map shows some of where your invitations led me. There’s still more exploring to be done, including visits to Clackamas and Washington Counties, where I am headed in May.

Throughout these interactions with you, I’ve gained valuable insight into what can be better celebrated within our region as well as aspects of our community that are concerning. I am incredibly grateful for everyone who entrusted me with time, perspective, and emotional labor. So… here we go. After 100 days into my role here is what I’m prioritizing as next.


What is Next for RACC?

While we have taken action externally to center equity in funding and programs, I’m publicly prioritizing RACC’s internal work. Some details. Even before I arrived in Portlandfor more than a decade, in fact RACC staff and board have been advocating and creating pathways to improve equity in all our services and programs including grantmaking, public art, and arts education. Soon after I arrived, RACC announced substantial changes to our grantmaking; an effort to address historical and systematic inequities. While we will continue focusing on equity externally, concerns have been expressed within RACC which illustrate the fact that we also have some important internal equity work that needs our attention.We have been promoting equity work externally without digging deep enough into it ourselves. I am committed to this work and to communicating our learnings and progress with the community at large.

Foundational actions towards this include:

Create a unifying equity vision and plan. This spring and summer, RACC will create and implement an organization-wide equity plan. It will be a living document built to both measure our progress and to set clear goals for the future.

Add the A to DEI.  (Access, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) We are ready to partner with the City and the disability community to ensure that Access is a key part of all future Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion work within the arts community. It’s time to celebrate the generative power of disability and ensure that all residents across the region have access to culture, creativity and the arts.its Disabled citizens make up 25% of the U.S. population, and yet this group remains invisible or shut out throughout many communities. 


For decades, RACC has been fortunate enough to receive the majority of its funding through the City of Portland. Over this period of time, the city and the arts and culture communities have changed and expanded, and we need to find new resources and new ways to support this growth.

Foundational action towards this include:

Futures Planning. This spring, we will embark upon a comprehensive strategic planning process, using a futures planning framework. Driven by the questions: What does the future of Portland and its citizenry look like, and how might RACC serve this future? What are the needs, trends and personas of the future of people? Futures Planning will help us examine what is possible. We are approaching this work with a refined equity lens and will be soliciting community input throughout the process. Please let me know it you’d like to join us in these important conversations.


What is Next for You?

Across the region I continually heard the need for people to be connected to resources beyond financial support. In the future, I imagine that you will come to RACC to learn about and be connected to resources. In my mind, I see RACC as a modern-day switchboard and resource center where people can gather together to share and learn from each other.


II. CONTRIBUTE TO Portland Stories
Show up and Share. There is a critical need for visionary cultural planning in Portland. The city is changing rapidly, artists and arts organizations are being displaced, and historically underserved communities are often overlooked by traditional systems of support. The first step towards developing a comprehensive culture plan is to take an inventory of our current arts, culture, and creative assets. To connect and thrive, we need to be able to see each other —literally—and get a better sense of what we already have within the region (otherwise referred to as a cultural asset map). In order to do this, we need you, your voice, your stories, and your knowledge about what we have, where it is, and, of course, what we need to sustain and grow this brilliant and diverse community. I invite you to participate in our upcoming cultural asset mapping efforts this summer. Stay tuned for more information!


An Invitation
These past few months have been enlightening and illuminating. This is because of YOU. Please keep connecting with me and with RACC. I am always open to ideas, reflections, and plans. Email me at mcario@racc.org or interact with me on Instagram as I continue my journeys around our area.

And come to an event! Here’s some great ones.

  • My next Art+Coffee  will be on May 6 from 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. at Taborspace Coffee, 5441 SE Belmont St, Portland OR 97215.
  • RACC’s next Art&Power conversation on Gender & Sexuality is May 23rd.


I am grateful for the past 100+ days and looking forward to important work and new adventures for RACC and our region.


Madison Cario

Executive Director

Fresh Paint brings new mural to Northeast Portland

Artists Maria Rodriguez, Bizar Gomez and Anke Gladnick have finished painting a new mural on the exterior wall of Open Signal: Portland Community Media Center on NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard at Graham Street in Portland. “Let’s talk” is the fifth temporary mural created in the last two years as part of the Fresh Paint program, a partnership between Open Signal and the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC).

“We observe that in today’s political atmosphere, as more marginalized groups are speaking out about their plights and injustices towards them, there is a tendency for us to focus on the problems that only affect us most directly,” the artists said. “We get tunnel vision and don’t always look at the struggles faced by others outside of the spheres of identity that we occupy, be it race, nationality, sexuality, gender, etc.

“It is important to communicate to others that our fight is not more important than someone else’s fight, that rising tides lifts all boats and that through intra-community building, we can create positive change for everyone. With this in mind, we created this mural we that illustrates a scene [that] displays and encourages the growth that can occur when marginalized groups open up dialogues between themselves.”

The mural will remain on display through September 30, 2019. Two additional murals will be painted through Fresh Paint by artists Munta Mpwo and Limei Lai in October 2019 and April 2020.


About the Artists

Anke Gladnick is an illustrator who grew up in California and somehow found their way to Portland, Oregon. Through a mix of collaged analog and digital elements, Anke’s work is both visually and conceptually layered with a focus on the surreal and is inspired by dreams, nostalgia, and a sense of poignancy.

Raised in the desert of Phoenix, AZ and now living among the trees in Portland, OR.
Bizar Gomez is an illustrator and painter who is doing all he can to continue existing. Working primarily in Gouache, Graphite, Ink and digital media, his work involves mixing urban world iconography, dreamlike surrealism, stylized figures,and social consciousness to create interesting visuals and narratives.

Maria Rodriguez is a Mexican-American artist living in Portland, OR getting her BFA in illustration at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Through shape and color she often explores themes of identity, culture, and nostalgia while also creating work that is playful and light hearted.



Media Contact
Yousef Hatlani, Marketing Manager, Open Signal  |  yousef [at] opensignalpdx.org  |  (503) 536-7622
Jeff Hawthorne, Director of Community Engagement, Regional Arts & Culture Council  | jhawthorne [at] racc.org  | (503) 823-5258


Fresh Paint is a professional development program, now in its second year, that provides emerging artists of color the opportunity to paint a mural in a high-traffic setting for the first time. The goal is for each artist to learn new ways of creating art in a public space, as well as to build their portfolio. 

Portable Works Collection: New Artworks for the Gladys McCoy Building

New Artworks for the Gladys McCoy Building

The new Multnomah County Health Department Headquarters

PORTLAND, ORE —The Regional Arts & Culture Council is proud to announce the purchase of 99 new small to medium scale artworks from 57 artists for display in the new Gladys McCoy Building, the Multnomah County Health Department Headquarters at 619 NW Sixth Avenue. Artworks for the building have been selected by a community panel to reflect qualities of Lightness, Openness & Optimism. The lobby artwork is by artist Francesco Simeti and the 99 smaller scale artworks by 57 local artists will hang in floors 2-9 when the building opens on April 9.

These artworks are new additions to the Portable Works Collection, which consists of over 1,200 works on paper, paintings, prints and textiles.  RACC will publish images and basic information about the artworks once everything has been catalogued and framed.  Many artists who are new to the collection have been included in this purchase.  These artworks are part of the Multnomah County 2% for Public Art program managed by RACC and generated through the construction of the new building. An artist reception will take place in late Spring – early Summer 2019.

*image above: Connection of Love, William Hernandez, 2018


2019 Portable Artwork Purchase Artists (*indicates new artist to the collection)


Adam Sorensen* Aja Ngo* Akram Sarraj*
Alyson Provax* Amy Bernstein* Andrei Engelman*
Anna Daedalus* Anna Gray & Ryan Wilson Paulsen* Anshula Tayal*
Baba Wague Diakite Barb Burwell* Bayann Alkhatib*
Beth Yazhari* Brittany Vega* Chet Malinow*
Cyrus Nahab* Dino Matt* Ellen McFadden*
Erika Rier* Grant Hottle* Haruka Ostley*
Hobbs Waters* Hsin-Yi Huang* Ivan Salcido*
Joanna Kaufman* Larry Yes* Latoya Lovely*
Laura Heit* Lisa Onstad* Michael Loen*
Michelle Ross Miroslav Lovric* Naomi Shigeta
Natasha Bacca* Pat Boas Patrice Cameron*
Peter Blanchard* Petra Sairanen* Phyllis Trowbridge*
Poppy Dully* Quire Leah Hugon* Rachel Wolf*
Rebecca Rodela* Renee Zangara Ridwana Rahman*
Ruth Lantz Sade Beasley* Samir Khurshid*
Sarah Bouwsma* Sarah Meadows* Shawn Demarest
Shobha Jetmalani* Shu-Ju Wang Stacy Lovejoy*
Tamara English* Tia Factor* William Hernandez*



As part of the Art & Power conversation series of 2019, we have asked an artist from each panel to expand on their experience based on the discussion topic they participated in. These “essays” are critical companions to each Art & Power and are meant to move the conversation beyond the spaces that hosted them. They serve as another storytelling platform to further illuminate the ways in which arts and culture intersect with critical social issues through the eyes of these artists.

Art & Power: Restorative Justice was hosted at KSMoCA on February 21st. The panel was moderated by Anna Vo and included local artists Janessa Narciso, Elijah Hasan, and Jesus Torralba. We are pleased to share Janessa’s perspective with the RACC community.


By Victoria Janessa Narciso (Ms. J)
Art & restorative justice : the impact, the intersection of it, why there’s a need for it


I revisit the page in my journal where I wrote all their names. First and last. Etched them into the pages. Remembrance.

Pages later, next to my sketch of fern leaves and swirls, I write:

“they’re stretching me
molding me. Flowers.”

That was over a year ago. I find myself turning the days over in my hands and sifting through the soil it sure is muddy, sure is rocky – there’s a lotta fertilizing that takes place – but when you witness these buds form that you’ve seen grow from the start … the rainstorms are all worth it.

I fully began my revelation with the word ART at the tender age of 24.

Still unearthing my relationship to it.

See, the thing is, I’m actually not artistically-inclined. At least not practically speaking. You’re talking to a D+ to C average Pictionary player. Everything changed when a world of art showed me that an artist doesn’t have to exclusively work on paper. Scribbled lines, conversations, dance moves… my artform can be as subtle as the pant-sock-combo I sport for the day. Art transformed me. Accessibility to artists and their work kicked my creative spirit into gear.

Once I felt inspired to express my own thoughts and feelings, my whole life started flourishing. I felt connected to my happiness and harnessed an attachment to my own ability to create.

One may consider my line of work a field of landmines and forest fires. Perpetual grays and tears of betrayal. Clouds of confusion and a myriad of misunderstandings. Welcome to The Land of Middle School – Enter If You Dare.

Eleven through thirteen year olds are on this brink of pure genius colliding with their downright absolute need to do whatever they please – that makes for this ironic calamity of a reflection of life right-in-ya face.

Aren’t these the adolescent years in particular where we felt the most confused? These years, in which students rebel against rules the most? Isn’t it a wonderfully gritty, beautiful mess? Challenging power dynamics alongside this uncanny, innate reflex to commit emotional arson.

All this shaken and stirred, right along with the larger oppressive system that is traditional school discipline structures, and we’re in for a spicy, conflicting cocktail.

Working within the confines of an institution brings me pain and persistence. Stepping into work each day is a day behind enemy lines.

I teach my kids about how vital it is to have critical social-emotional skills. We break down our connectedness to each other through our dilemmas. “Why can’t this be a core class that everyone has to take, like math or science, Ms. J?” they ask. When low-income, underserved schools across the nation are suffering harrowing school cultures, this poses a serious, unanswered question. Inadequate funding and large class sizes decapitate the pressing need for community building amongst students and their authority figures alike. Extensive data proves the unequal disciplinary treatment of marginalized students within our country, including disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color.

Students are not only challenged within their educational environment, we have to consider the injustices they and their families face outside the realm of school: generational poverty, discrimination, food scarcity. Gulp down the last sip of this toxic tonic and what we’re really left with is historically severe inaccessibility to resources.

People with money have access to EVERYTHING and ANYTHING. People with money can afford, create, and offer an assortment of opportunities for themselves and their kin. We’d like an order of JUSTICE, served straight up – and hold the White, please.

I wrestle with the term “restorative justice,” because it implies the need to return, or bring us back to something.

I also wrestle with the word “art,” because one’s very existence is the making of a masterpiece itself.

We need, rather, transformative connection. Rethinking our practices and reinvention of the wheel. My mission is this. Connecting with myself, my mistakes, my abundances, my learning – thereby better connecting with my friends and family, my students.

Art is a vehicle for these connections. Expressing ourselves in whatever fashion suits us. Seeing real-life examples of all creative forms of expression. Doing so allows us to open up, discuss, share our (disagreeing) thoughts and ideas. AND THE KIDS HAVE SOMETHIN’ TO SAY. Outlets must be created for our youth to have more non-confrontational opportunities for dialogue – accessibility to art does this.

I know someone who wears a pin that one of their friends made, depicting my belief in all this perfectly.

In bold, black letters it reads, “Can’t Blame The Youth.”  Can’t we – even as adults – still be the very same, “problematic” youth never given the outlet to fully calibrate our pitfalls? What happens when we lack expressive direction?

Our circumstances and opportunities (or lack thereof), directly influence our pathways. As someone who has the capacity (the privilege) to dig up adversaries, weed out discrepancies, and by nature tend to and nurture the souls around me, I find it futile to direct our attention to anywhere but ourselves. WE gotta do the work.

Our fruit will be the future for our children.


Janessa Narciso is a dot connector, magic believer, and Mama to an 9 year-old ninja warrior. Currently living and working in N Portland, she is a middle school mentor and teaches a life skills and leadership class after-school. In 2015 she joined an arts and open mic collective, Deep Underground (DUG), formed and led by three other women of color. Their work is dedicated to creating spaces that provide a sense of safety and freedom for the black and brown community in this city. Since their formation, DUG has thrown concerts, film screenings, and large scale events. Together, they have also developed youth programming for student-centered groups: “The Freshest Kids” and “Crucial Bonding.” Janessa firmly believes in the strength of sisters and community; sees the representation of yourself as art; art as activism; and especially stresses the importance of learning outside of school walls. Eventually, she’d like to bring her daydreams to life and turn her journal(s) into a book while having a home base for youth-driven projects.  


Black Life Experiential Research Group Pursuing Change Through Art and Radical Geography

by Bruce Poinsette


(This is the second of two articles about artist-in-residence projects that RACC manages through the Percent for Public Art Program for the City of Portland.)

Spend a few minutes with Dr. Lisa Bates and Sharita Towne and the two women will have you questioning everything you’ve ever learned about the role of Black creativity in America. For the transdisciplinary artist and urban planner duo, the Black imagination is a tool for tangible change that they’re putting into action through their collaboration as the Black Life Experiential Research Group.

“The Black imagination isn’t about distraction,” says Towne. “We’re not using it to distract us from our reality. Our imagination is an underground railroad of meanings that is actually about derailing oppression. It’s in our imagination that we find a means of escape.”

Officially described as an “interdisciplinary collaborative for inquiry and activism at the intersection of art, urban planning, and radical geography,” BLERG is a think tank that Towne and Bates began developing in the spring of 2017. With the support of the Regional Arts & Culture Council, BLERG is currently participating in an artist-in-residence program focused on the Humboldt neighborhood. Utilizing a variety of different artistic mediums, collaborators, and spaces, the project seeks to both build community and redefine the narrative around Black life in Portland. BLERG-related projects include a DIY newspaper called the “Black Life Sentinel,” collaborative events with local Black artists such as “This is a Black Spatial Imaginary,” ongoing oral history interviews with longtime residents of the Humboldt neighborhood and community, and collaborative learning experiences with students at Jefferson High School.

Towne and Bates are keenly aware that the term “think tank” evokes thoughts of a disconnected, sterilized approach. Bates specifically references the work of geographer Clive Woods when she notes that statistics and metrics like the “achievement gap” and measurements of “blight” have long been used to dehumanize Black communities. Yet, instead of running away from these analytical tools, she and Towne are working to repurpose them to serve Black Portlanders. 

“He (Woods) asked the question, ‘Are we academic coroners? Is this just an autopsy over and over again?’ And then he turns and asks, ‘Isn’t it the same scalpel in the hands of a coroner that’s in the hands of a surgeon?,’” recalls Bates. “So how can we take these tools, instruments, and ways that we study and think and wield them with a different intention?

“How do you talk about struggle and oppression, but also talk about resilience and joy? How do we talk about how Black life continues in those conditions?”

Towne adds, “When Black people get together, be it across discipline or geographies, something shakes loose inside of us. New possibilities are born out of that. With a think tank, we’re not just interested in producing a dry, analytical report. We’re interested in producing an experience that is just as much ours as it is the people who end up collaborating with us to make it or the people who witness it and carry it forward in whatever work they might do that benefits Black life.”

In many ways, Towne and Bates’ vision for BLERG is informed by their past experiences in the areas of art, activism, and urban planning. Towne is transdisciplinary artist and educator who has spent significant time not just in Portland, but also Salem, Tacoma, and Sacramento. She has won a host of awards and produced a number of exhibitions throughout the country. Some of her recent local projects include the film workshop De-Gentrifying Portland and Our City in Stereo exhibition.

Bates, meanwhile, is professional urban planner and activist scholar. Like Towne, Bates has won awards for her work, which has included research stints not just in Portland, but post-Katrina New Orleans and Chicago. She has worked with a multitude of public agencies in Portland to develop equity plans and strategies, including previously serving on the board of directors for the Portland Housing Center.

Considering Bates and Towne’s mutual interest in exploring the roots of gentrification and studying Black space, it was only a matter of time before their paths crossed at the Portland City Club a little over a year prior to the creation of BLERG. After hitting it off, the two quickly developed a vision for a project. Among other things, one of their primary goals was to pivot the larger cultural narrative from Black Lives Matter to “Black Life Matters.” Specifically, they wanted to move away from just discussing the Black experience within the narrow prisms of racial oppression and state-sponsored violence, and instead focus on the entirety of what it means to be Black in Portland. For Bates and Towne, this meant celebrating Black life as an everyday experience and discussing historical Black places as a matter of geography.

Black Life Sentinel Issue One

Black Life Sentinel Issue One

One example of how this ideal manifests in their work is the “Black Life Sentinel.” The DIY newspaper, which is a collaboration with the Portland African American Leadership Forum, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, and the Regional Arts & Culture Council, dedicates each issue to a specific subject of concern for Portland’s Black community. In the latest edition, the paper took on urban renewal. Specifically, the theme of the issue, as well as the title of an editorial by Bates and Towne, was “Is more urban renewal what North/Northeast Portland needs?” In addition to the editorial, the paper contains both current and historic pictures of North/Northeast Portland’s Black community, interviews and testimonials from Black residents, a copy of PAALF’s vision for valuing Black lives, a glossary of urban renewal-related terms, and even a copy of a press release and separate document from the City of Portland making the case for urban renewal.

With the assistance of PAALF, Towne and Bates distribute the papers through word of mouth. Bates says she was genuinely surprised to find out how many people were unaware that the City was considering expanding its urban renewal efforts. For her, it signaled a clear deficit in media coverage.

“Where is this being reported or talked about at?,” says Bates. “Is it not being framed or connected in away that makes sense to people? What happened here? Me, being in urban planning and being attuned to the urban renewal area here, I knew all about that. I just thought everybody knew about it because it’s a big deal and it’s this super historically significant site. And then I started talking to people and handing them papers, and they knew nothing about it.”

While she was surprised by the collective lack of knowledge about current urban renewal plans, Bates understands that the subject in general isn’t particularly accessible for most people. In addition to being considered “boring,” she says it is often depressing. Specifically, the constant research on exclusion, exploitation, displacement, and predatory lending weighs on her.

“It’s just all of these layers upon layers of ways that policy and planning and urban renewal have defined Black people and spaces with Black people in them as defective and unacceptable, then did things to those people to contain, remove, and acculturate them in some harsh way,” says Bates. “But it’s also extremely depressing and in some ways, a weird project for urban planning. Urban planning is inherently future looking. Urban planning is supposed to be about the 25 year plan.

“But what are the tools that would let us imagine a different future? All of the basic tools we have in planning just involve projecting forward from a baseline, assuming the baseline is okay. But if none of this is okay at all because we now understand where we came from, then what would be the thing? So you have to start getting into something that would be way more about the imagination and creative problem solving. It can’t just be learning how to do a population projection. It can’t just be the mainstream tools of real estate site analysis because that’s already got all the bad stuff baked into it.”

BLERG taps into the aforementioned creative problem solving in a variety of ways, including rethinking the very foundation of their approach. Perhaps the best example of this is their collaboration with Jefferson High School, which is part of a larger RACC-sponsored artist-in-residency in the Humboldt Neighborhood.

Black Life Sentinel Issue One

Inside Black Life Sentinel Issue One

For this portion of the project, Towne and Bates work with a Jefferson Senior Inquiry class that explores race and social justice. They visit the class anywhere from twice a month to twice a week. Unlike other courses that seek to engage students with local artists, they make a point of not going into the classroom with a set plan. Instead, they work with the teachers and participate in the activities the students are already doing. They also spend a lot of time simply listening and conversing with students to gauge their perspectives. Four months in, while they don’t have any set projects, a number of students have agreed to work with BLERG on oral history interviews with their family members. Others are currently working with Towne and Bates on gallery presentations set for this spring.

“It can sometimes feel meandering or time consuming for artists or people outside of the school,” says Towne. “At the same time, I think it’s important in a place like Jeff to not arrive with a formula that you want to plug them into as variables. I think Jeff is a high school that is often sensationalized in ways that those youth don’t need to be enduring in their high school experience and in the history of this neighborhood and community. We’re really interested in being there and seeing how we share inquiry and give each other life. That way, we can see what shakes loose out of the soundboarding of our shared stake in Black life in this place.”

Sarah Dougher, a local musician and Portland State University professor who helps teach Senior Inquiry at Jefferson, echoes Towne’s sentiments. She says she’s been particularly impressed with how Towne and Bates give students space and encouragement.

“One thing that is really meaningful for our students is when people come in and spend the time to get to know them and to develop relationships with them,” says Dougher. “Most of the time when an artist or writer comes in, students are put in a position to automatically like and trust what that person is doing. One thing that Sharita and Lisa do is understand that is actually not a given. Building relationships with students is part of what makes the learning happen. This means actually spending a lot of time in the classroom with us and doing what we’re doing.”

While the Jefferson collaboration doesn’t yet have a centralized project, one BLERG activity that Dougher says was especially impactful for her students was the “Curation Station” project. As part of this activity, Towne and Bates invited six artists of color representing a variety of different mediums to speak to students. The artists ranged from graphic designers to traditional museum curators. In the weeks following “Curation Station,” Jefferson students even chose one of the presenters to be the keynote speaker for their Black History Month Symposium.

Going forward, Dougher hopes the BLERG collaboration can serve as a model for expanding and developing similar projects at other schools. While she admits that between Jefferson, PSU, and BLERG, it requires an inordinate amount of planning and resources, she believes Towne and Bates’ deliberate, responsive approach is still very much worth the investment. Dougher believes this approach is especially important for introducing students to careers they may not otherwise engage with in a meaningful way.

“It sets up situations for students to interact with different kind of adults, particularly weird adults like artists,” says Dougher. “Most of the adults coming into a school setting are not like that.”

“For me, it’s not ‘Some young people of color saw a role model.’ That’s gross,” adds Bates. “It’s about someone seeing something that made them think about what they’re doing with their work in a different way.”

Black Life Sentinel Issue One

Inside Black Life Sentinel Issue One

In many ways, this undefined approach to working with Jefferson students is reflective of the BLERG project as a whole. By taking on a transdisciplinary approach that encompasses various artistic mediums, as well as community partners and spaces, Towne says it gives the project the advantage of being hard to contain.

“If I’m hitting something as hard and embedded as the white spatial imaginary of Portland and what it has done to generation after generation–if I’m hitting it with all these things in such a massive way, it creates these fissures that can be used in different ways to get to the meat of it and break it apart,” says Towne. “Whereas if it’s one particular angle, I find it’s very easy to get preoccupied with the medium or get preoccupied with the art. But when you use all these different things, it lifts us out of that. Then we can talk about the conceptual underpinning of what we’re dealing with rather than the cool video we saw.”

Going forward, Towne and Bates are working with a local library partner to host more programming that focuses on family and community history in the Humboldt neighborhood. As with all their other programming and activities, the ultimate goal is to create and expand opportunities for different members of Portland’s Black community to engage with each other. Despite the historic apprehension on the part of the City towards most Black organizing, Towne points out that the benefits of this engagement go far beyond the Black community.

“It’s out of that mutuality and solidarity of Black spaces that we see an emergence of the prescription to society’s problems,” says Towne. “As a Black Oregonian seeing and witnessing what that has meant to generation after generation of my family, the values we infuse into space and the way that we take care of people is something that really informs this project.

“When you look at North and Northeast Portland, you see the Black spatial imaginary also included Pacific Islanders. It included Vietnamese refugees. It included all of these people. And that’s what I think I’m interested in. I want people to realize that when we’re centering Blackness, it’s not to exclude anybody, ever. It’s just to acknowledge the way that our values have permeated into the landscape of this place and benefited a lot of people, even in moments of the most devastating segregatory policies of the 20th century.”


¹The presentations will be held at PCC Paragon Gallery from Apr. 4-25.
Derrais (d.a.) Carter, Roshani Thakore, Melanie Stevens, Black Life Experiential Research Group (Sharita Towne and Lisa K. Bates), Kayela J, and Ashley Stull Meyers.
The Humboldt Neighborhood Artist-in-Residence project is a partnership between PCC Cascade, the City of Portland and RACC and made possible with funding from PCC Cascade and City Percent for Art funds from neighborhood street improvements. “It’s cool because it does allow for people to really get into the community and not just put up a tombstone that says, ‘They Black community was here,’” says committee member Donovan Smith. “It really allows them to dig in and find out what the community that’s here needs and reflect that back through different artistic avenues. I also like that they’re going through these different cycles so each artist has the chance to build off the work that came from the artist and residence before them.”


BRUCE POINSETTE  is a versatile freelance writer, copy/content editor, editorialist, and speaker. Poinsette versatile work ranges from content creation to speechwriting. He has authored over 100 articles in five Portland area publications, including The Skanner, The Oregonian, Street Roots, Flossin’ Media, and We Out Here Magazine;  in the collegiate curricula at Portland State University and University of Oregon. As a speaker, Poinsette has made presentations and participated in panels at various churches, K-12 schools, and universities. Poinsette has also conducted workshops on the journalistic interview. Find out more about Bruce and his work here.


March 2019 Night Lights: The Midnight Variety Hour

Our final Night Lights, RACC’s outdoor public art series, is wrapping up its 2018-19 season with The Midnight Variety Hour (MVH) – Night Lights Edition  March 7, at 6pm.  For RACC’s Night Lights Program, MVH will present a video program with live music, sound and vocals.

MVH deconstructs the world of live television and the essence of the variety hour creating a dream-like memory of tv shows. Through the build up of layers and patterns of imagery and sound, MVH creates a landscape of distorted time and space. Some of the elements used in their live performances have included pre-recorded and live video, foley sounds, tap shoes, microphones, acoustic instruments, drums, synthesizers, and dance. Distinct sections of improvisation emerge through the tension and release of accumulated instrumentation, dance, and video.

All works will take place at the north wall of the Regional Arts & Culture Council office at 411 NW Park Ave, Portland OR (on the corner of NW Glisan St and NW Park Ave).


Night Lights is a monthly public art event that celebrates the intersection of digital technology, art, and place. Happening outdoors on the First Thursdays of fall and winter months, this multimedia art series presents local artists’ new works, combining large-scale video projection with other art forms such as movement and sound. Works are projected for several hours starting at dusk on the north wall of Regional Arts and Culture Council’s office at 411 NW Park Ave, Portland, OR.

Midnight Variety Hour (MVH) is a collaborative project consisting of five multi-disciplinary dancers, performers, musicians, and filmmakers (Maura Campbell-Balkits, Sean Christiansen, Kelly Rauer, Fern Wiley, and Leah Wilmoth).  Learn more about them here midnightvarietyhour.





RACC announces a more equitable funding plan for arts organizations in Portland


>> A major funder of arts and culture responds to existing disparities with a progressive investment model


(Portland, Ore.) – The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), one of the city’s largest arts funders, is announcing significant changes to the way it invests in more than 50 arts and culture organizations in Portland.  To address the historic disparity of its existing funding model, and to nurture a more diverse arts ecosystem, RACC will distribute its General Operating Support (GOS) dollars more equitably. These changes, which are in alignment with the City of Portland’s equity goals and national best practices, will result in funding increases for 80% of RACC’s GOS partners next year.

“This is something to celebrate,” said RACC Executive Director Madison Cario.  “Intentional and strategic conversations are taking place locally and nationally about the way we invest in our communities. I am proud that RACC is taking this step and putting the organization’s theories of inclusion, diversity, equity and access into action.”

Every year, RACC provides millions of dollars in unrestricted funds (known as General Operating Support, or GOS) to 54 arts organizations in Portland, made possible with City of Portland general fund investments, Arts Tax dollars, Multnomah County funds, and proceeds from RACC’s workplace giving campaign, the Arts Impact Fund. RACC awarded a total of $4.9 million to these groups in FY18-19.

From 2008 to 2018, 57% of all RACC GOS funds have been awarded to the region’s five largest organizations: Oregon Ballet Theater, Oregon Symphony, Portland Art Museum, Portland Center Stage and Portland Opera. This disparity is common nationally as well; a 2017 study from Helicon Collaborative found that 2% of arts organizations across the country receive 58% of all contributed income. Nationally, those organizations tend to have large budgets, focus on Western European artforms, and attract predominantly white, middle to upper-class audiences.

Going forward, rather than using a formula to grant funds as a percentage of an arts organization’s budget, RACC has adopted a more equitable and progressive distribution funding model. This means that small to midsize arts organizations will receive additional funding and some of Portland’s largest cultural institutions will receive less funding than in past years. In addition to a guaranteed RACC Base Award every year, all groups, regardless of size, will have additional opportunities to receive Investment Awards based on their community impact and other measurable outcomes.  At least $1 million will be distributed as Investment Awards in FY2019-20.

As a result of the changes approved unanimously by the RACC board on February 6, RACC anticipates that more than 80% of RACC GOS partners will receive a larger grant award in 2020. Five to seven of the city’s largest organizations (about 12% of RACC GOS partners, those with budgets of over $2 million) will likely receive less funding starting in 2021—an impact that represents less than 1% of their annual budgets. RACC also supports arts organizations in Clackamas and Washington Counties, and many smaller organizations in Portland, but those groups are not impacted by these changes.

“For organizations like ours who bring the arts where they have generally been overlooked and underfunded, this is a sign that our community is growing in the right direction,” says Seth Truby, Executive Director of Oregon BRAVO Youth Orchestras, an organization that provides tuition-free after-school orchestral music programs.

“As a young organization, BRAVO has relied on RACC support every stage of our development,” Truby continues. “From critical strategic advice and administrative support in our first years to a project grant that helped us expand our programming in our fourth year, RACC support has been a critical part of our path to organizational stability. Last year we started receiving General Operating Support, and we are excited to see RACC’s focus on equitable funding, which has the potential to increase engagement with creators and audiences who traditionally face barriers to participation in arts and culture.”

RACC Board Chair Linda McGeady notes, “These changes, led by our Grants Review Committee, culminate several years of thoughtful work by the RACC staff and board. We understand that this new model creates challenges for some of our city’s largest arts organizations, and for that reason we will continue funding them at their current levels for another year. We are committed to helping our city’s largest cultural institutions reach out to new communities, and we are confident that they will have continued success for generations to come.”

“I’m proud of RACC for responding to longstanding disparities, and excited to see this effort toward greater equity come to fruition.” said the City Arts Commissioner, Chloe Eudaly. “We’re changing the structure of arts funding and redistributing resources in a manner that will directly benefit Portland’s small and midsized arts organizations, increase the diversity of organizations and patrons served, and better reflect our vibrant arts and culture landscape.”

For more information about these changes and RACC’s General Operating Support program, visit racc.org/grants/general-operating-support-grants/.




The Regional Arts & Culture Council is a local arts agency serving 1.8 million residents in the Portland, Oregon metro region including Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. RACC provides grants and technical assistance for artists and nonprofit organizations, with more than 5,000 grants totaling $44 million in the past two decades. RACC also manages a widely-celebrated public art collection of more than 2,200 artworks for the City of Portland and Multnomah County; conducts employee giving campaigns that have raised more than $8.5 million for local arts organizations since 2007; organizes networking events, forums and workshops; and integrates the arts into the broader curriculum for K-8 students through The Right Brain Initiative, serving more than 27,000 students a year. Online at www.racc.org.


MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Hawthorne, Director of Community Engagement, jhawthorne@racc.org, 503.823.5258.

We’re updating our General Operating Support program

Changes to General Operating Support

This post has been updated to reflect the final changes to the GOS program adopted by the RACC Board of Directors on February 6. All current GOS partner organizations have received an email communication from RACC updating them on these changes and indicating Base Award and Investment Award information for FY19-20. If you have questions about how these changes will impact your organization, or if you did not receive an email notification, please contact your Grants Officer. RACC’s Press Release regarding these changes in available here.

Starting in Fiscal Year 19-20, RACC will be adopting a new structure for its General Operating Support (GOS) program. This structure revises the allocation strategy for distribution of GOS funds, and makes us more nimble, inclusive, and strategic. These changes will mean our workplace giving and grants teams work closer together to increase the impact of RACC’s support for GOS organizations. Please see the details below on what is changing, why it is changing, and get your questions answered.

What’s changing?

  • Beginning in FY19-20 RACC will be adopting a new structure for the General Operating Support grant program. Grant awards will be split into two parts – the Base Award and Investment Awards.
  • The Base Award is a stable, predictable allocation for which organizations can budget and plan. Base Awards are set in tiers based on the size of an organization’s budget. As long as organizations continue to meet eligibility requirements and submit annual reports, they can count on receiving a Base Award. In Fy19-20, RACC expects to award approximately $2 million in Base Awards.
  • Investment Awards will be granted through a competitive process in three categories –Community Impact, Operations, and Artistic Work. Each organization will have the opportunity to receive Investment Award funds in addition to their Base Award, depending on how they score in the review process. You can learn more about how the Investment categories will be evaluated here. In FY19-20, RACC expects to award approximately $1 million in Investment Awards.

What’s staying the same?

Eligibility requirements for GOS will not be changing. The membership structure of the program will also continue, but be re-framed as partnership rather than membership.

Why is it changing?

These structure changes make us more flexible, inclusive, representative, and strategic in our funding. Over the last six years, the revenue generated from the Arts Education and Access Fund (commonly known as the Arts Tax) has varied widely. While collections have improved significantly over the years, it remains challenging to predict the amount of funding RACC will receive and when it will arrive. In summer 2017, RACC’s Grants Review Committee began a process to revise the GOS program to be flexible and allow us to more quickly and easily invest this fluctuating revenue in the community.

In addition to addressing the instability of arts tax revenue, the new structure will allow RACC to both provide stability through Base Awards, while also offering additional support for organizations based on their operational health, artistic programming, and community benefit.

Finally, as part of our equity work, RACC is committed to acknowledging the historic disparity of our funding model and the changing demographics of our region. The proposed changes to the GOS program will allow RACC to more clearly and effectively encourage equity work in all our partner organizations, and also pave the way for additional organizations led by historically underserved communities to become GOS partners.

When is it changing?

These changes will take effect starting in FY2019-20, which begins July 1, 2019. Current GOS partners will continue to report annually at one of the three reporting deadlines, and as previously communicated, they will receive the same allocation in FY2018-19 as in the past two years. Reports will continue to be accepted in three cycles with deadlines in November, February, and May.


When will my organization receive our Base Award? What about our Investment Award?
GOS Partner Reports will continue to be accepted at three deadlines each year in November, February, and May. Base Awards will be distributed as soon as the review of your report is complete – typically 8-12 weeks after the report is due. Investment Awards will be distributed one-time annually at the end of RACC’s fiscal year in June.

Why was my organization placed in this tier?
RACC has placed organizations in tiers based on your average eligible income over your last three fiscal years. Eligible income is your total unrestricted revenue less: revenue for programs outside RACC’s service region, revenue from programs provided in spaces that are not ADA accessible, non-arts earned income, and in-kind revenue. A table of base award amounts by tier is available here.

How much revenue from RACC should I include in my budget?
We strongly recommend that Partner Organizations budget to receive their Base Award each year. The Base Award is specifically designed to be consistent and reliable, and is a good conservative figure to use when creating your organization’s budget. Investment Awards may vary significantly between years and we don’t recommend that organizations budget around them.

How will Investment Awards be determined?
Investment Awards will be determined based on an organization’s score in our three investment areas. You can read more about how we evaluate these areas in the Investment Award Framework. We currently expect Investment Awards to range in size from $5,000 to $40,000. These award amounts will be set entirely based on score and are not related to the budget size of the organization. We will provide more detail and reporting guidelines to partner organizations when updated Partner Report forms are released in summer 2019. If you have questions about Investment Awards, please contact your RACC grants officer for more information.

How will RACC evaluate equity work in GOS partners?
Rather than having a separate Investment Award or category for equity work, RACC will be evaluating equity work in all three Investment Award categories – Community Impact, Operations, and Artistic Work. For example, the diversity of an organization’s staff and board is one indicator of operational health. The GOS report will continue to include demographic questions.

What happened to Work for Art funding?
Work for Art has evolved to become RACC’s Arts Impact Fund. Funds raised through their campaigns will be awarded as part of each organizations annual Investment Award.

How will these changes impact organizations based in Washington or Clackamas Counties?
Organizations based in Washington and Clackamas counties do not receive funding from Portland’s Arts Education & Access Fund and will not be impacted by most of these changes. These organizations will see changes to the GOS report forms, but will continue to receive county funding as a Base Award. They will not be eligible to receive Investment Awards.


Who to contact with more questions:

Quinn MacNichol, Grants Specialist | qmacnichol@racc.org | 503.832.2928




“Blightxploitation” Seeks to Change the Landscape of Art and Civic Engagement

by Bruce Poinsette

Art is a powerful tool for communicating complex ideas. When utilized effectively, art doesn’t just help us better understand the world, it also enables us to make real change. Such has been the case with Cleo Davis and Kayin Talton-Davis, two artists in residence with the Portland Archives & Records Center (PARC).

Long frustrated by shallow discussions on gentrification in an overtly anti-Black climate, the husband and wife team were selected by RACC last year to work with PARC staff to illuminate public records and examine historical documents that reveal how seemingly subtle things like forfeiture laws and nuisance ordinances were weaponized against Portland’s Black community. Their research ultimately led to their name for the exhibit and their term for the Black experience in Portland: Blightxploitation.

Cleo Davis says that “gentrification” and other terms he’s heard to describe Portland’s growth and development do not sufficiently represent the experience of Black Portlanders.  “White folks gentrifying white folks and white cultures gentrifying white cultures, it’s a little bit different,” he says. “I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt, it’s not costly, and that it doesn’t displace people. But not on a level it does us, because there’s a type of urban cultural ethnic cleansing that occurs with us that doesn’t occur with other groups.”

Blightxploitation is what happened to us,” Davis says. “You blighted us. You brought in ‘urban renewal’ and ‘economic development’ and all these new terms and then ‘gentrification.’ It was a whole process. Pretty much all the way from slavery–Jim Crow laws were Blightxploitation. The goal of the term is to get us to look deeper into the policies and the social norms that are created to work against us.”

Their installations, which are on display at City Hall and PARC through February, feature a combination of historical documents and artifacts, including a city planning commission map, a newspaper article about Black residents displaced by Emanuel Hospital, pictures of properties marked for blight, and a re-creation of the Black Sambo logo from a restaurant called the Coon Chicken Inn. The City Hall installation also features original artworks, including a print with a sign reads “Blightxploitation: 1859, 1943, 1987, 1991- Now,” and depicts three invading flying saucers labeled “Legacy Emanuel,” “Portland Development Commission,” and “Housing Authority of Portland.”

The artists say their goal is to elevate the discussion around gentrification and to empower others—especially those affected by mass displacement in Portland’s Black community—to fight back using the same zoning codes and institutional tools that were utilized to fracture the community.


Illuminating city archives through art

“Not enough of the community know we exist,” says City Archives lead reference archivist Mary Hansen. “Although it can be a lot of bureaucratic papers, bureaucratic papers can be really interesting in a lot of ways. From city council minutes to records about building plans or things like that. There are all kinds of different resources here and a lot of people don’t know they exist or that they have ready access to them.”

To help illuminate these resources, PARC worked with RACC to create a call for artists to work in residence to explore issues of civic engagement, civil rights, housing, and public works projects using the archival collections at PARC. The stated goal of the project was to “help build bridges between archives and new audiences, encouraging a deeper understanding of how archives are integral to the processes of understanding, identifying, empowering, rectifying, and evolving.”

Cleo Davis and Kayin Talton-Davis took note of the opportunity, and have had experience with City Archives before. In 2014, they were working on another RACC-sponsored public art installation, the Black Williams Project, a celebration of the rich cultural heritage and history of the Black families who used to live on Williams Avenue in Northeast Portland. While very much satisfied with the outcome of the project, the artists felt like there was more to talk about. Specifically they wanted to highlight the largely covert efforts taken to end what they saw as Portland’s Black Renaissance.

This desire brought Davis to the City Archives, where he hoped to find photos of his grandmother’s home. The City of Portland had targeted the home with seizure attempts for years during the 1980s and early 90s — ultimately failing in their attempts to condemn the Davis home as a crime property. Among other things, this took a considerably negative toll on Davis’s grandmother’s health.

But when Cleo visited the city archives back then, he found a “sterile” environment with glass doors and a security desk requiring photo ID—he was immediately skeptical. Things only got worse when he asked for information on discrimination and archivists told him he needed to be much more specific by utilizing local government terminology. Likening the environment to Fort Knox, Davis admits the whole experience rubbed him the wrong way and he had no intention of ever going back.

And yet, when he saw the artist residency opportunity, Cleo was intrigued. “I just thought this would be a good way to continue to make art,” he says. “And honestly, I thought I pretty much already had my research done based on my community work on the Williams Avenue project. Now I can see that I was naïve. I came here in 2014 looking for a general overview. That’s not what this place is. I now understand that this is a place of research.”

Davis family at City Hall.

Once they were selected as the PARC artists in residence, Cleo and Kayin started working closely with Hansen and other PARC staff. They quickly learned how to translate terms they were familiar with—such as “red tagging” and “zebra tagging”—into the official language of city records like “urban renewal” and “civil forfeiture,” which ultimately helped them find the public documents they were looking for.

Cleo began visiting the City Archives on an almost daily basis. He and Hansen describe the process as a partnership, one in which they both continued to learn new things about the City’s history of systemically targeting its Black community. He likens the city archives to book out of sequence. “If you just cut the pages out of a book and scrambled them up, it would just be files,” he says. “Here, it’s just a bunch of cut up books. You may think they do not relate to one another, but they relate. There are ways of understanding that they relate. Date, time, location. There are so many names, so many factors. Once I understood that, I was kind of addicted. It was like chess. It was like figuring out the pieces.”

One thing that stood out for the artists was the city’s decades-long campaign against supposed “blight.” From the 1940s through the 1990s, the City seized numerous Black-owned homes and/or targeted them with fines and intimidation, forcing many families to move, all under the guise of “urban renewal.” According to an official document from the Portland Bureau of Buildings from 1962, blight included roof leaks, loose steps, doors that “stick,” uncovered trash, and even seemingly ambiguous charges such as “needs paint” and “needs clean up.” Some homes were even targeted for having items like clawfoot tubs, which are now considered antiques.

“Artists do the same kind of research that everyone does,” Hansen says, “but what they do with that information is very different. It’s not a scholarly paper. It’s not an essay.” Instead, Davis and his wife used the documentation they found on blight to create fake movie posters, including one titled “Attack on Albina” with the aforementioned flying saucers. “It’s just kind of brilliant with the flying saucers coming down,” Hansen says. “With my mind, it’s like I remember scanning those pictures.”


Other community impacts

Hansen notes that Davis’s display has drawn some particularly emotional reactions from some passersby. Some people get viscerally upset by it and head straight to the elevator, she says. Beyond sparking people’s emotions, Hansen hopes artist residencies like these increase civic engagement. In fact, Davis’s initial inquiries about his grandmother’s home gave her the opportunity to put that idea into practice.

Specifically, Hansen’s curiosity led her to a Sanborn Insurance map from the early 1900s that detailed the zoning information of Davis’s grandmother’s home and surrounding properties. What she found was that the entire area was designated as a residential zone, even though the property next to the house has long been utilized for commercial purposes.

Following this revelation, Cleo Davis and his wife successfully petitioned the City to change the zoning on his grandmother’s old home so it could also be used as a commercial property. “If it wasn’t for this project, I wouldn’t have had the skills to argue for the housing zoning change,” he says.

Video timelaps by Sarah Smith

In the process, he noticed an abandoned house next door and decided this would be an opportunity to repurpose it as well. He now hopes to transform the historic Mayo House into a project called the “Art-Chive,” which will support and house creative works detailing the Black experience in Portland from the perspective of longtime residents, people simply passing through the city, and everyone in between.

On January 16, Portland City Council waived the fees associated with moving the Mayo House to the Davis’ property and approved the rezoning that the artists advocated for. On the foggy morning of January 27, the house was moved.

Ultimately, RACC and the city hope projects like Blightxploitation will inspire more people to take similar action. “When you have the information, you can do stuff with it,” Hansen says. “There’s a lot of different ways people can engage with the government. It belongs to all of us.”


Editor’s Notes:

The Artist in Residence series at PARC is funded through the City ofPortland’s Percent for Art allocation that was set aside when the PARC moved to its new home on the PSU campus at 1800 SW 6th Avenue, suite 550. PARC’s Research Room is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM, and Wednesdays and Thursdays from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM.

This is the third of six planned residencies. RACC manages this program along with other Percent for Art projects funded by the City of Portland and Multnomah County. For more information on other PARC residency projects, visit: Sabina Haque and Kaia Sand 

BRUCE POINSETTE  is a versatile freelance writer, copy/content editor, editorialist, and speaker. Poinsette versatile work ranges from content creation to speechwriting. He has authored over 100 articles in five Portland area publications, including The Skanner, The Oregonian, Street Roots, Flossin’ Media, and We Out Here Magazine;  in the collegiate curricula at Portland State University and University of Oregon. As a speaker, Poinsette has made presentations and participated in panels at various churches, K-12 schools, and universities. Poinsette has also conducted workshops on the journalistic interview. Find out more about Bruce and his work here.

Changes are happening with Work for Art

Changes to the Work for Art program

Over the past 18 months, the Work for Art team has been deeply evaluating the 12- year- old program with an end goal of transforming our work into something that will yield greater impact and scalability. At the end of August, we’ll retire the Work for Art brand, and run our workplace giving as a part of Arts Advocacy at RACC. This is a nod to our growing collaborative work with RACC’s Grants and Communications teams over the past year. Although the City of Portland eliminated its annual $200,000 matching challenge contribution to the campaign, we view this as a prime opportunity to build and promote a stronger public-private movement – in partnership with you – to advocate for our arts and culture community in more meaningful ways. Read more about the changes we’re making to our workplace giving program here.

RACC’s grants program is implementing changes alongside with these Work for Art changes that will affect GOS organizations. Click here to see those changes.

What’s changing?

  • RACC will continue its workplace giving program. The Work for Art brand will retire on 8/31/2018.
  • The Work for Art team will be part of Arts Advocacy at RACC. This team will collaborate with RACC Grants and Communications staff to build and promote a public-private movement in support of our region’s arts and culture ecosystem.
  • Donors through RACC’s workplace giving program will have the option to contribute to the Arts Impact Fund, which replaces the Arts Community Fund and the Arts Education Fund.
  • Fall 2018 will be the final separate allocation of workplace giving donations to GOS groups. Beginning FY19-20, workplace giving donations will no longer be a separate allocation from the amount that RACC distributes as grant awards. RACC will collect donations to the Arts Impact Fund over a full campaign/fiscal year, then disburse these funds to the spectrum of RACC grant programs that support arts organizations, including General Operating Support and Project Grant awards.
  • As a part of City Council’s approval of 5% reductions across bureaus, beginning FY18-19, RACC will no longer receive the $200,000 donor match incentive from the City of Portland.

What’s staying?

  • Donors will still be able to designate a portion or all of their gift through RACC’s workplace giving program to any 501(c)(3) arts organization based in Clackamas, Multnomah, or Washington County. RACC will continue to distribute designated gifts quarterly.
  • Donors who contribute $60+ annually will continue to receive The Arts Card.

We’re also making changes to our grants program that will affect GOS organizations. Please click here to read the changes.

Why is it changing?

The Work for Art team spent the last 18 months deeply evaluating the 12 year old program with an end goal of transforming our work into something that will result in greater impact and scalability.

Retiring the Work for Art brand empowers our Arts Advocacy, Grants, Community Engagement, and Communications teams to unite and strengthen RACC’s role in supporting our arts and culture ecosystem.

Workplace giving as a whole is changing due to technological advancements and generational shifts. We have already begun our work to attune to these changes, streamline our processes, and expand our capacity to grow. Our current projects include

  • a new pledge site that immediately sends donors acknowledgement and tax receipt information
  • an online artist directory that directly connects partner companies with arts opportunities and experiences
  • phased progress toward a digital Arts Card to enhance user experience
  • strategic and collaborative work with our combined campaign colleagues at Black United Fund, Children’s Trust Fund, EarthShare, Habitat for Humanity, and United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, to advance our relevancy and marketability in the business community.

We understand RACC can do more to provide value and resources beyond money to help you better serve your communities. Working with you, we aim to demonstrate how crucial arts and culture organizations are to the livability of our communities.

In addition to changes to the Work for Art Program, we’re making changes to our grants program that will affect GOS organizations. Please click here to read why these changes are happening.



How are Fall 2018 workplace giving allocations looking?
Although we have yet to complete reconciliation of FY17-18 donations, we estimate that the campaign total decreased by about 24% from FY16-17. Our Fall and Spring campaigns were generally down across the board. While it fostered a positive buzz, we retired the Battle of the Bands in 2018 as we realized the amount of money and awareness raised did not substantiate the staff time and resources used to produce the event. We are eager to partner with you to advocate for our arts and culture community in more meaningful ways.

How about beyond Fiscal Year 18-19?
The combination of several internal changes and external factors (detailed above in “Why is it Changing?”) makes it challenging for us to accurately project our future workplace giving campaign totals at this time. We believe that the new direction we are taking will contribute to the growth of our workplace giving and arts advocacy efforts. We also believe it will open the door to other ways that we can add value and measure our success – beyond a campaign total. We will be testing, measuring, and evaluating new strategies as we partner with you to build a public-private movement in support of arts and culture.

Why is the Arts Education Fund going away?
Donors will continue to have the ability to support arts education under the new model. We decided to channel donations into one fund that benefits a wide variety of arts and culture organizations, which include those that provide substantial arts education programming. The Arts Education Fund constituted a small percentage of our annual campaign totals. We believe that this is largely due to the functional limitations of donor pledge portals that many of our partner companies use. For example, our two largest campaigns use an online giving platform that does not provide donors a straight forward way to select from multiple funds under one organization.

Should my organization remove Work for Art recognition?
Please remove all Work for Art logos and related text. However, please continue to recognize RACC in accordance with your current GOS acknowledgement requirements.  We understand you may have already printed some materials with Work for Art recognition for your upcoming season – that’s ok! Our new printed and online materials will clearly demonstrate the sunset of the Work for Art brand, and we will have online re-directs in place. We are thinking about how to best include credit to our workplace donors and partner companies through your RACC recognition, and we will update you on any changes prior to FY19-20 grant allocations.

What about the Work for Art pens?
Perhaps the time has finally come to get some cool RACC branded pens.

We’re making changes to our grants program that will affect GOS organizations. Click here to get your frequently asked questions answered.

Who to contact with more questions:

Alison Bailey, Business Partnership Manager | abailey@racc.org | 503.823.5424