Oregon Arts Commission

The Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project: Examining the culture

The Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission have founded a new website that focuses on art in the state

At this moment, any effort to preserve our shared culture is a noteworthy event. This is especially true of the arts parts of the culture. As Oregon Arts Commission’s Meagan Atiyeh noted at a symposium that introduced one such effort, the Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project, the state’s media has abandoned its commitment to full-time critics writing about the arts. And that means that both contemporary conversations about the arts and future investigation of our culture are/will be limited. What happens to a culture that doesn’t understand its past or its present? We are perilously close to finding out.

Backed by the considerable resources of The Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission—more than $50,000 since early 2014, according to Atiyeh, not including lots of staff time—the project intends to be an informal archive and an online magazine that takes the measure of the visual arts in the state. “The partners’ shared wish is to create an accessible, permanent, virtual collection documenting Oregon’s visual arts landscape,” the mission statement says, “and, to continue the metaphor, the interconnected realms of artist, institution, patron, curator, arts writer… which become that ecology.”

Ryan Pierce, From the Pockets of the Wanderer, 2014. Flashe on canvas over panel. Courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland

According to Atiyeh (in an email interview), the website hopes to reach a broad public. “We designed a site that I hope can be rewarding for a highly invested artist or a curator who is looking for research materials and also a casual arts viewer in Oregon (or any spot on the globe, honestly).”


Kill the NEA? What it might mean

The new administration wants to kill federal arts and cultural funding. That would squeeze every corner of the country, including Oregon.

One thing about the new administration: It’s moving at lightning speed. And it’s doing pretty much what the new president said it would. So while all the firings and hirings and executive orders and pipeline reboots and refugee get-the-boots swirl around us, it makes sense to believe that the administration wasn’t kidding when it targeted the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and federal backing of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the garbage dump. Expect the effort to begin soon, while the administration still has its congressional party votes mostly in line. And expect potential allies in Congress to be engaged in other, bigger fights.

Which is not to say the shutdowns are a done deal. Down-in-the-trenches activism matters. There’s always the chance that these relatively small targets will get lost in the shuffle. And there’s always the chance that the effort to kill them will be weak, while the administration aims most of its firepower at bigger issues, and enough congressional Republicans will see casting a vote to protect a couple of small-potatoes programs as a handy way to show they are independent. On the other hand, these national cultural programs have long been targets of the Republican right, which could see this as its best moment to just get rid of them.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 production of Qui Nguyen’s “Vietgone,” with actor Jeena Yi, was funded partly by the National Endowment for the Arts. Photo: Jenny Graham

So it’s prudent to start to think about what life without the NEA and NEH might be like. (Most of the CPB’s budget is already independent, and it could probably make up most of what it stands to lose from private donors.) The New York Times’s Graham Bowley has a good rundown on the federal picture in his piece What If Trump Really Does End Money for the Arts? And Bob Keefer of Eugene Weekly takes a look at possible consequences in Oregon in his piece Trump Endangers NEA Funding for Local Arts. (Oregon Arts Commission leaders were meeting Thursday to decide what to say publicly and how to say it.)


Missing the Sun? Here’s some Art!

Abigail McNamara at Duplex, Alaskan Fisherman Photography at Hartman, Terry Atkinson at YU and more...

Now that Portland has entered the time of year when we rarely see the sun’s light or feel its warmth, I thought I’d bring to your attention the installation by Abigail McNamara at Duplex Gallery. Over the past few weeks she’s been installing her site-specific work directly onto the gallery walls, and her imitation gold leaf has the same sheen and malleability as the real deal. Gold has long been a sacred material. First recognized for how the metallic qualities resembled the sun, its symbolism expanded to include heavenly realms and divine figures, and its meanings continue to grow to fit contemporary life’s needs.

The artist at work

The artist at work

A graduate of Lewis and Clark College, McNamara’s early work reflected her interest in natural processes. Nowadays she’s more likely to investigate the boundaries between natural and human patterns through maps of suburban sprawl, charts of population shifts, and the binary language of data. Her use of gold, as a natural material with deep cultural significance, is an appropriate medium to explore how nature mediates culture and vice versa.  These themes of growth and decay combined with a meticulous craft techniques create the foundation for her time-based art.

Her creative practice has moved into the realm of performance as she’s installed her work over the past month while the public has been able to stop by, watch, and ask questions. The time and resources for this ambitious, interdisciplinary project have been made possible thanks to a Career Opportunity Grant from the Oregon Arts Commission. A First Thursday reception, November 6 from 6-9pm, will mark the end of the artist’s creative process, and the start of when viewers can bask in in her completed work. Abigail McNamara will be on view at Duplex Gallery, at 219 NW Couch St, through November 21st.



Roger Kukes, Land Labyrinth (Green).

Roger Kukes, Land Labyrinth (Green), acrylic on paper.

Augen – For dystopian landscapes full of ecological destruction, nuclear warfare, and the clash between native and colonial cultures, look no further than Theater of the Land. Roger Kukes will fill that quiet hole in your heart and make it swell with doubt as to whether civilization as we know it will survive the converging crises you’re mostly content to ignore day in and day out. I could make some comparison to the hellish landscapes of Hieronymus Bosch and the manifest destiny of 19th century American Landscape painting, but you don’t need art history to know we don’t live in an ideal world. Then again, maybe it’ll give you some hope to see your nightmare looking back at you.


Katherine Mead, Kite Craft, mixed media collage.

Katherine Mead, Kite Craft, mixed media collage.

Gallery6pdx – For lighter but still stimulating looking, check out Field+Frame. Katherine Mead’s mixed-media collages use architecture motifs to frame landscapes in ways that play with perspective. Though less content driven, Mead’s compositions demonstrate the power of juxtaposition when handled by a mature artist.


Corey Arnold, Fight or Flight, archival pigment print.

Corey Arnold, Fight or Flight, archival pigment print.

Hartman – In coining utopia as “no-place”, Sir Thomas Moore located our “good-place” on the farthest fringes of civilization.  Corey Arnold’s newest body of work, Wildlife, is a series of compelling images of life on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness. Arnold has long been captivated and continues to be influenced by the natural world in his work as a fisherman and a photographer.



APAK, Secret Sanctuary (detail), gouache on wood.

APAK, Secret Sanctuary (detail), gouache on wood.

Hellion – November is your last month to catch a show at Hellion before they take a two month hiatus from exhibiting. So hurry over to see In the Toy Box and Dreams within Dreams before the month is out. Remember the awkwardness of middle school? Well Ikumi Nakada does and creates soft, illustrative style images of boys and girls on the onset of puberty. These works will help sooth your shameful memories of that time. For lush, imaginative paintings of a magical far-off word, husband-wife team APAK has you covered.


Image not available for Terry Atkinson, Greaser, mixed media and oil.

Image not available for Terry Atkinson, Greaser, mixed media and oil.

YUTerry Atkinson is an exceptionally influential British conceptual artist who founded the artists group Art and Language. Without a doubt you’ve seen derivative works by PNCA grads for years. After enduring all that you might as well go see the internationally famous version at Yale Union this month so you can say you did. On display are early works fabricated for the first time on site. Atkinson calls them Greasers, but most people understand them as paintings. Be sure to bring a rigorous class analysis of the art world with you for their opening reception on Saturday, November 8th from 3-5pm.




Finally, here are the links to two great maps of the many galleries and art institutions of Portland that have great shows beyond the scope of this humble guide:

Portland Art Dealers Association Galleries and Alliance Members

Duplex Collective’s Gallery Guide

Don’t forget to mention the shows you’re looking forward to below in the comments!

Brian Rogers

Brian Rogers

The new executive director of the Oregon Arts Commission and the Oregon Cultural Trust will be Brian Rogers, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts for 16 years before moving on to consulting work in 2013, the agencies have announced.

“We’re delighted by this appointment,” said Julie Vigeland, chair of the Arts Commission, and Bob Speltz, chair of the Cultural Trust board of directors. “Brian is an experienced leader and arts administrator who is clearly adept at systems and strategy. We believe he will be a persuasive and compelling advocate for the arts, heritage and humanities.

Business Oregon Director Sean Robbins actually made the hire, and Rogers will report to Robbins in the bureaucratic chain of command in Salem.

Rogers’ performance at the candidates’ community forum in Portland on Monday was very impressive. His demeanor is quiet and calming; his answers to questions were considered; and he has encountered many of the problems Oregon’s arts agencies face already. Pennsylvania has the same rural-urban divide, a polarized political environment, and the problems in fairness that large arts organizations competing with smaller ones produce. And he’s worked on administrative problems, designing an eGrant for Pennsylvania in 1995(!) with Carnegie Mellon University, for example, peer review protocols, technical assistance programs, and outreach programs that tripled the number of applicants for Arts Council grants in Pennsylvania.

Perhaps even more important, his philosophical approach seemed a good fit for Oregon. Asked about “cultural literacy,” his assumption was that the term means different things in different places and approaching people “where they are” is critical for arts agencies, rather than having a cultural canon to push. Asked about what arguments in support of the arts he’d bring to the table when talking to the governor or the legislature he said, “Rule one is never argue with the governor.”

When ArtsWatch gets the chance, we’ll have a sit-down with Rogers to talk it ALL over. The other finalists included Greg Netzer, former ED of Portland’s Wordstock festival, and Joyce Bonomini. Rogers will begin in July.

Finalists selected to lead the Cultural Trust and Arts Commission

The three candidates for executive director of the state's arts agencies speak in Portland

Oregon in the 1911 Brittanica encyclopedia/Wikimedia

Oregon in the 1911 Brittanica encyclopedia/Wikimedia

Last week, the Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Cultural Trust invited the public to meet their three executive director finalists in meetings in both Portland and Salem on Monday, and then named them earlier this morning before the first, the Portland meeting at the Oregon Historical Society.


Oregon Arts Commission adds members, extends ED search

Lawrence Fong and Michael Dalton join the commission and it extends its search for a new executive director.

New Oregon Arts Commission commissioner Lawrence Fong  is on the board of the Morris Graves Foundation./Courtesy Morris Graves Foundation

New Oregon Arts Commission commissioner Lawrence Fong is on the board of the Morris Graves Foundation./Courtesy Morris Graves Foundation

The Oregon Arts Commission added two new commissioners to its roster, bringing the number up to eight, which is one short of a full complement.The resignations of five commissioners over the firing of former executive director Christine D’Arcy last fall (in two waves, the last one in February) created a commissioner deficit, which is now mostly filled.

The two new commissioners are Lawrence Fong and Michael Dalton. Dalton was an educator of educators, serving as a professor in Oregon State University’s College of Education. He is the board chair of the Da Vinci Days Festival in Corvallis (which argues for his understanding of the benefits that come from blending arts and sciences), and he is also the board chair of the Newport Symphony. Fong was associate director and curator of American art from 1996 until 2009 at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, and before joining that museum in 1989, he was collections manager at the Portland Art Museum. He now serves on the board of the Morris Graves Foundation.

They will join the conversation around the role and structure of the arts commission, which has begun under board chair Julie Vigeland, and will extend to a “big think” by the Cultural Advocacy Coalition to help the governor develop arts policy initiatives. At least that’s what I think it is. So far, that process hasn’t been very public, though April Baer’s State of Wonder on OPB addressed it with the CAC’s Chris Coleman and Christine Drazan.

Speaking of the executive director position, which Shannon Planchon is filling on an interim basis, the search for a permanent leader has been extended. Applications will now be accepted at www.oregonjobs.org through Monday, April 28. Read the complete job posting here. Questions should be directed to Twyla Lawson, the state’s executive recruiter, at twyla.lawson@state.or.us,

Three more Oregon Arts Commissioners resign

The Oregon Arts Commission still deals with repercussions from the firing of its executive director

Michele Russo, "Bathers," 1960/Portland Art Museum ©1960 Michele Russo

Michele Russo, “Bathers,” 1960/Portland Art Museum ©1960 Michele Russo

Late last week I heard that three more commissioners had resigned from the Oregon Arts Commission—Jean Boyer Cowling of Medford, Maurizio Valerio of Union and Roger Hull of Salem. This mass resignation might have pushed me into the journalistic equivalent of the Red Zone. Yet MORE trouble at the arts commission? But in interviews with OregonLive’s David Stabler and Barbara Curtin of the Statesman Journal, Hull, the only departing commissioner who was reachable, apparently, said he was leaving because of old business.

“I was uncomfortable with the circumstances surrounding the termination of Chris D’Arcy,” Hull told Curtin. “After thinking about it for a while, and watching the makeup of the arts commission evolve, I decided it was time for newer members to take the leadership of the discussions and that I would step aside.”

Stabler quoted from Cowling’s resignation letter to the governor:

“I strongly disagree that Ms. D’Arcy’s termination was warranted but I recognize that any evaluation of an executive director’s performance can be disputed. My concern is board governance. It appears that a few people, including the Oregon Arts Commission chair, were actively involved in this termination. Unfortunately, this action occurred without notice to or consultation with the commission.”

Christine D’Arcy was fired by Business Oregon’s Tim McCabe back in October after 19 years at the commission. In the state bureaucracy, the arts commission executive director reports to the head of the agency charged with economic development in the state. The board chairs of both the little arts agencies  D’Arcy supervised, Julie Vigeland of the arts commission and Bob Speltz of the Oregon Cultural Trust, signed off on the decision, but the final decision was McCabe’s: the arts commission does not hire or fire its executive director. Two arts commission commissioners resigned immediately, Henry Sayre and Royal Nebeker, and they were replaced (and another opening filled) by three new commissioners.

At the time I wrote two stories analyzing the situation. The first argued that the twisted bureaucratic circumstances of the executive director of the arts commission and cultural trust made the position essentially impossible: too many legislative and government bureaucracy masters on top of two separate citizen commissions. Only the fact that the arts were almost invisible and powerless in state government made the position survivable at all. But the commissions’ invisibility and relative powerlessness made the executive director a target for the arts community, which wanted more aggressive policy formulation and representation in Salem than was possible. A more aggressive executive director would have found herself in the cross-hairs of various administrations and legislatures over the years. (In the second, I argued for a much more visible, policy leadership position on the governor’s staff, a Secretary of the Arts, and a revised, more democratic, citizen involvement in policy development.)

That analysis, however, doesn’t explain personal friendships and loyalties on the commission. Or for that matter different policy ideas. If Vigeland and Speltz are hoping their commissions can have more impact in the future (and my conversations with Vigeland suggest they do), figuring out how that can happen and in what areas will be debatable. So, change in the commission was inevitable, I think, and inevitably painful. (I think D’Arcy’s contribution to the arts in the state is gigantic, and I always found her to be personable: My first reaction to the news last fall was surprise and sadness.)

Anyway, this would be an interesting time to be an Oregon arts commissioner, and if you feel the call, then you can apply online. The commission is also surveying the public to help figure out what qualities are most important in an executive director, and that survey is also online. I just filled it out myself.


The unrelated painting by the late Portland painter Michele Russo, above, comes from the Portland Art Museum’s digital collection.



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