It is pretty obvious that I have had a hard time getting this blog rolling. I haven’t ironed out all the logistical details for making video, and now that I’ve injured my hand, I can’t play for a while longer, in any case.
But this is my online sandbox, to play in how I please, so today I’m posting a plea to vote yes for Portland’s “Arts Tax,” ballot measure 26-146. In spite of how very badly we need the revenue, however modest, I was not sure until recently if I would vote “yes” myself, mainly because I was concerned about the regressive nature of the tax. My concerns were put eloquently to rest by the discussion with CAN’s Jessica Jarrett Miller on OPB’s Think Out Loud.
Last week, there was an article on page 1 of the Metro section in the Oregonian referring to “Quirky Aspects” of this measure, focusing on complaints by education advocates that not all the money would go to schools. I wrote a letter to the editor in response to that particular complaint. I haven’t seen any further discussion of this or any other merits of the ballot measure in the paper or online (which I could have missed, admittedly, although I did look) so I am posting my (hurriedly written!) letter here. There are still many people undecided about this, so it is worthwhile to keep the discussion going.
Education advocates are complaining that part of the revenue raised by Measure 26-146 would go to arts organizations and not all directly to schools. I would like to contest the notion that this undercuts its value to students and to the community. First of all, it is called “Schools & Arts Together,” so it isn’t at all excessive that about a quarter of the proceeds are devoted to arts organizations. Beyond that, I believe that this fund would not succeed in its purpose if it didn’t include some contribution to these institutions.
Top level professional artists and arts organizations are the aspirational, inspirational exemplars and torch-bearers for the artistic spirit in every student and citizen. While there is no substitute for creating your own art and for having your own direct experience with performance and creation, nor is there any substitute for attending a concert, opera, ballet, or play put on by the world class professionals who live and work in your community.
Students who come to the Schnitz for our Youth Concerts will hear CDs at home in a whole new light, and if they participate in band or orchestra, will have had their imaginations fired up about the possibilities in the music they play. Imagine a couple who’ve started ballroom dancing classes and go to the ballet; they not only appreciate the dancing they see all the more, but they take that inspiration back to their studio, the memory of that grace and power and skill echoing through their movements. The Oregon Cello Society members who hear Alban Gerhardt play with the Oregon Symphony this weekend will also have the opportunity to hear him coach student cellists — a major artist in town only because a major symphony exists here to bring him — and they will practice their own music with a fresh image of what the cello can do.
Arts institutions like the Oregon Symphony already have significant education outreach in place not only because they see the need, but because those activities are natural emanations of their passion for their art form. They offer discounts for students, take programs directly to schools, and bring school groups to their venues. They deeply desire to be available to all who want to partake, so they do what they can to make their offerings affordable, such as participating in RACC’s Arts for All program. (Look it up; it’s fantastic!) In our city, major arts institutions have long depended disproportionally on a small number of philanthropic individuals. In these times, when it takes all hands on deck to even survive, consistent support from the broader community, however modest, would mean so much and make such a difference.
I find myself looking for a metaphor to describe what I know in my gut about the critical importance of high-level professional arts groups in our community….Perhaps they are the sails on the sailboat that holds the creative drive of our city, and of its students of all ages: They take it places and give it wings.