Cultural Planning: It's All the Rage

As more and more cities recognize the economic, educational and social benefits of arts and culture, cultural plans are on the upswing. Portland had its own cultural plan in the '90s, and many of you will recall the laborious but productive effort that was "Arts Plan 2000." There hasn't been much comprehensive planning since, except for occasional check-ins on Arts Plan 2000, and check-offs of the strategies as they were accomplished. Work for Art, RACC's workplace giving program, was one of the last remaining items in the plan and we checked that one off in 2003. The other big thing that never DID happen: dedicated funding for arts and culture.

From time to time, RACC has tried to have that conversation -- how do we secure dedicated, reliable, and increased funding for arts and culture in the region -- but the timing has never been right. When I first started working on this issue in 2002-03, our school system was in crisis (you remember the Doonsbury cartoons) and there was no way people were going to fund the arts... we definitely needed to tend to our education system first. There was also no leadership from elected officials until -- you guessed it -- Sam Adams came along.

Over the past 16 months, Sam has led community leaders -- business owners, arts administrators, elected officials and other civic leaders throughout the region -- in a comprehensive planning process to uncover not only what our arts and culture organizations need, but what our entire community needs to do maintain (and improve) this strong, vibrant and unique place where innovation and creativity thrive in our schools and our businesses. The timing finally feels right, with people everywhere understanding that part of the reason our schools are not as good as they used to be is because we have stripped arts education out of them. Also, Portland has clearly attracted lots of creative talent over the past five years, and there is a keen awareness that the city will reap benefits if we can keep them here. And we keep talking about how our companies must innovate to succeed in the new economy; certainly arts and culture and right-brain thinking play a huge role in stimulating the power of imagination.

So with leadership from the top and a new mindset percolating in our communities, a bold new plan is in the works. It's dubbed "Creative Capacity," and you can see what's taking shape in the phase one report that was released earlier this week. The report highlights how public opinion polling has demonstrated more support for investing in arts and culture than some people might have expected. A few recommendations are starting to take shape.

In the weeks and months ahead, there will be many more town hall meetings, online surveys, and other ways for artists and arts-lovers to lend their voice to the direction we are headed. I definitely encourage folks to get involved now before the plan is cemented in December. Citizens can generally stay attuned to this effort -- and lend input -- through the project website,

And oh, by the way, Portland's not alone in conducting this kind of assessment. The City of Austin did some nice cultural planning recently, and four cities released some kind of cultural plan in the last week: Greensboro, NC; Ft. Collins, CO; Denver; and Concord, NH. No doubt many more cities' plans are in the works!


MightyToyCannon said...

I appreciate all of the efforts to create a new strategy for supporting the arts in the region. I suppose I ought to start going to some of these planning meetings. Oh boy, I do love meetings.

One piece that seems to be missing in both the Phase 1 report and the Creative Capacity website (, is discussion of the physical infrastructure for the arts--i.e., the need for public investment in buildings that are essential for the delivery of the arts. Is that part of the planning?

I have more to say and more questions to pose on the topic, so will roll it into a separate post rather than make this a long comment.

culturejock said...

I'm so glad you asked! On Monday, the SPECIFIC recommendations (including venue development) will be released, so look for a post from me on Monday or Tuesday.