‘The Territory’

What’s jazz got to do with it?

Darrell Grant: Art, environment and politics in the Elliott State Forest

By LYNN DARROCH

On April 1, pianist, composer and Portland State University Professor Darrell Grant led a collaborative performance with fellow Oregon-based musicians to celebrate the Elliott State Forest and advocate for keeping it in public ownership. Their effort came at the invitation of Forest advocates from Coos County in advance of a vote by the Oregon Land Board, scheduled for May 9, that will determine whether or not to sell the Forest’s 82,500 acres for $202.8 million to help fund public schools.

Grant wanted to find out if art can influence that decision.

Entering the Elliott State Forest/Photo by Lynn Darroch

“I want to publicly acknowledge the land as a source of creative inspiration for so many of us lucky enough to live here,” Grant said, explaining what moved him to haul a piano up and down 15 miles of logging roads. His latest album, “The Territory,” makes explicit that connection in nine movements that capture, in sound, the terrain and shared history from which he believes local art draws its flavor.

He had other reasons for going into the Forest, too. “As a person of color,” he continued, “I want the Land Board to know that this is my forest too … as much my legacy to future generations of Oregonians as anyone’s. And, as much as Oregon’s underserved children deserve a quality education, they also deserve to retain their rights to their forests.”

Darrell Grant – ” The Territory” World Premiere July, 6, 2013, Mvt 9: “New Land” from DGM Media on Vimeo.

In pursuit of those goals, he said, “I am compelled to explore the possibility that there are ways to achieve change other than…protest, resistance and political threat.”

And the Elliott State Forest has generated plenty of those political threats of late. Required by law to manage the Forest to produce revenue for public schools, the state has consistently failed to meet harvest goals—due to environmental and species protections that limited logging, some argue, though larger economic forces may have had a hand, too. In 2015, the Land Board set terms for a sale, hoping to bring in money the state could invest to ensure the Elliott Forest benefits public schools. Such a sale would mean the state would no longer own the land, and, despite protections and good faith efforts by timber companies, the Forest could become a tree farm managed for maximum harvest. Many of the attendees Saturday, on the other hand, believe the forest should be treated as legacy: a habitat for salmon, seabirds and other creatures that thrive in undamaged, diverse ecosystems.

Could a musical performance—and whatever publicity it generates—impact the Land Board’s decision? Could it inspire ideas for mechanisms to fund K-12 education besides selling the state’s remaining forests? Could it create a new way of approaching issues such as these?

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