Lawmakers OK $50M for struggling arts/culture organizations

State lawmakers have voted to distribute $50 million in federal relief funds to Oregon arts and culture organizations still struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

About $24 million will go to individual organizations while the the relief package includes nearly $26 million for county coalitions who can distribute funds to other local arts and culture organizations in need.

The funding was made available through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund to address the devastating impact the COVID-19 health crisis is having on Oregon’s arts and cultural community.

Several Central Oregon venues and organizations will benefit.

“This is a really welcome gift,” said Dana Whitelaw, executive director of the High Desert Museum in Bend, which received $700,000 from the bill. The museum is projecting a revenue loss of close to $1.5 million through the end of the year, she said. “This starts to cover a significant portion of that.”

Local venues The Domino Room/Midtown Ballroom, Cascade Theater Company and Volcanic Theater pub also will receive funds.

“We are extremely grateful to lawmakers for recognizing that preserving our culture is essential as we navigate through this unprecedented crisis,” said Chuck Sams, chair of the Cultural Trust Board. “Our collective culture is the glue that binds us together as Oregonians, especially during challenging times. Arts and culture cross all boundaries and inspire us to celebrate our diversity and resilience as a people.”

The Cultural Trust is working with the Oregon Arts Commission to develop statewide, equitable funding distribution to be administered through the Cultural Trust’s County and Tribal Coalitions, said Brian Rogers, executive director of the Cultural Trust and the Arts Commission.

The statewide distribution plan is expected to be reviewed by the Cultural Trust Board of Directors at its July 23 meeting. Coronavirus Relief Funds are mandated to be distributed by Sept. 15.

Salem Art Association

The remainder of the relief funding package for culture was allocated directly to several statewide cultural organizations and to for-profit and nonprofit performing venues.

Since the crisis began, nonprofit cultural organizations across the state have canceled thousands of performances, events and activities – including key fundraising events – and most have closed their doors to the public.

The loss of projected earned income, lifeblood for most cultural organizations, has resulted in significant layoffs and furloughs. Many organizations are at risk of bankruptcy and permanent closure.

A recent survey of 330 Oregon cultural nonprofits by the Cultural Trust revealed that participants projected a collective loss of $40 million and average losses of $121,281 by June 30.

The majority of respondents (54%) have annual revenues of less than $250,000 and operate outside of the Portland Metro area.

“Our distribution of the relief funds will ensure that cultural organizations in every county, serving every geographic region of our state, will benefit,” Rogers said. “At times like these, we depend on our arts, history, heritage, and humanities to help us persevere. These funds will go a long way in ensuring our cultural community survives this crisis.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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