The Cultural Trust Speaks

Here's the official word from the Cultural Advocacy Coalition, on behalf of the Oregon Cultural Trust:

Dear Cultural Partner:

Thirteen days ago you received an Action Alert from the Cultural Advocacy Coalition about the proposed $1.8 million dollar funds “sweep” from the permanent fund of the Oregon Cultural Trust. The action had just been proposed and had yet to be voted on. Since that time, the proposed funds sweeps were amended into SB 581 and the bill subsequently passed out of the Ways & Means Capitol Construction Subcommittee, out of the full Ways & Means Committee, off the floor of the Senate and out of the House of Representatives. SB 581 moved in tandem with SB 5552, which contained the agency budget cuts. Both bills will be signed by the Governor this week.

Also since that time, hundreds of you sent emails and wrote letters to your legislators protesting the sweep of Cultural Trust funds for general government purposes. In addition, many of you forwarded the Action Alert to other organizations and friends, wrote blogs, twittered, and posted comments on Facebook. In a word – wow. THANK YOU !

The legislature was moving at an unusually fast pace to address the looming budget cliff in the current budget cycle, ending June 30, 2009. The Trust funds sweep was $1.8 million of a total of almost $83 million in sweeps of other funds, in combination with $311 million in state agency budget cuts. These funds sweeps and budget cuts, added together with federal stimulus dollars, created a total rebalance package of $862.5 million. The situation facing Oregon’s legislative leadership was – and remains – very serious.

Thanks to your efforts, every legislator in the building is now aware of and sensitive to the Cultural Trust. Oregonians are clearly proud of its unique program specifically crafted to grow and stabilize funding for arts, heritage and humanities. Frankly, lots of people were surprised at the passion and outreach shown on this issue. This was obvious too, when more comments were made by legislators during floor debates about the Cultural Trust funds than on any other item – including a funds sweep of emergency-911 enhancement fees, food safety funds, and pesticide program license fees, to name a few! Your support was quite remarkable – and put the Trust front and center in this debate and for all future budget discussions this session.

Now is the time to change gears and recognize the difficult work of leadership. Legislators completed a brutal week where they voted on a package of bills that contained items they all personally disliked. They took votes that hurt and feel they did their best with few alternative options. They need some breathing room to get beyond the budget rebalance and focus on issues of the 2009 session.

Your outreach has positioned the Cultural Trust well for more action this session. First, while the budget rebalance has been completed, work to protect the Trust has not. Several options are on the table and the Cultural Advocacy Coalition will be asking for your help when a clear path emerges. Also, more work will come as the 2009-11 budgets are developed, including support for Governor Kulongoski’s proposed $5 million enhancement of funding for cultural resources.

Thank you again for your advocacy and fierce protection of Oregon’s cultural endowment.

This story was featured on KGW last night; OBT's Jon Ulsh and White Bird's Paul King spoke about how this will impact their organizations, and the bigger issue of building trust. In that story, it appeared that Senator Betsy Johnson is taking the lead on restructuring this into a loan, repayable to the trust, so I encourage folks to send letters of enthusiastic support and fond appreciation to her directly.

She can be reached at

P.S. Have you ever met this woman? She really is amazing. Very accessible, and quite a firecracker! I had the pleasure of having lunch with her a few times, back in the early 2000s when I was developing, an online philanthropy portal sponsored by eyescream interactive, which regrettably burst with the rest of the Internet bubble. Sen. Johnson has always been keenly interested in any effort to stimulate philanthropy in our community, and she was also the guest speaker at lat fall's NWBCA Breakfast of Arts Champions. I remember her warning us even then: It is going to be a fight this year. Get ready, and get organized.


MightyToyCannon said...

"Time to change gears..."

TRANSLATION: "Suck it up, play nice and maybe you'll get out of this thing having lost only $1.8 million."

Let's see what happens. Betsy Johnson certainly has the political chops to pull a rabbit out of a sow's ear--or something like that.

MightyToyCannon said...

"Legislators completed a brutal week where they voted on a package of bills that contained items they all personally disliked. They took votes that hurt and feel they did their best with few alternative options."

I suspect that the legislature's "brutal week" began with a caucus at which party leadership banned negotiation on individual items on the sweep list--an all or nothing campaign designed to push this budget solution through quickly without pitting pet projects against each other.

georgia said...

The response from the greater arts community about Cultural Trust funds being "raided" was impressive. I know we've been heard. They acknowledged it with that mailing, and now they're asking people to back off and let the Legislators do their best with what they have.

This is a financially tenuous time for Oregon (and most states), and we need to step back and publicly recognize that. The Cultural Trust does not just fund arts programs, but all kinds of cultural activities. Without a solid educational system and basic social services, where will our state's culture be?

Education is the foundation of our shared Oregonian culture. If it lags, under-funded and devalued, we'll soon have no audience, no cultural creatives, no students and teachers with time in their shortened school days for our excellent programs.

Legislators are trying to piece together a budget to keep schools open and provide other basics at a time when needs are great and state income has been cut. We are myopic if we ignore this.

I also wonder if later, when the economy starts to recover, territorial reactions today about our funds being more sacred than others when emergencies hit could backfire and have legislative repercussions.

Compared to some state budgets, Oregon's has never been particularly flush. Yet today we have a governor who actively promotes the arts and cultural awareness, plus a lively arts scene in Portland nurtured by the mayor and commissioners, plus high-participation programs in place (like Right Brain Initiative and Cultural Trust) to help us stay connected and effective, plus a reputation for being culturally aware and progressive -- all very good things!

So, while I know I can be a bit Pollyanna-ish, I think we should take a "carefully cooperative" approach with budget wrestlers today, for greater political capital and growth potential tomorrow.

I commend Chris D'Arcy for her explanation and comments on OPB yesterday. I thought she masterfully walked the difficult line between advocacy and recognizing the seriousness of the state budget situation. It's a very tough position for all of us to be in.

I still have my license plate. It still advertises to the world, everyday, that I think the arts are worth paying extra for. I think I got my $15 worth right there.

culturejock said...

That's a good point, Georgia, that the long-term ramifications of any strategy need to be considered here... and something that Bob Hicks alluded to in his comments on OPB yesterday when he said that he wasn't sure a lawsuit was the right answer. I do believe, however, that at the very least, The Trust needs to shore up its legal protection language, or place the endowment someplace that the legislature cannot touch it, so that this doesn't happen again. Without that, I don't think there will be enough confidence in the Trust for it to grow any further.

And for me personally, it's not enough that the Cultural License Plate is a way to "broadcast my support" for arts and culture; I can do that with a bumpersticker. If I'm paying extra, I expect the money to be spent supporting the state's cultural organizations. It's kinda what the DMV told me it would be spent on:

On behalf of my friends with Crater Lake plates, I certainly hope that Crater Lake National Park is not raided of their proceeds next go-around.

Anonymous said...

Georgia Harker is married to Rep. Chris Harker (D-Washington County), who presumably voted for this stupid bill. Of course she's going to suggest backing off.

MightyToyCannon said...

As one of the authors at Culture Shock, and as an arts advocate and Cultural Trust supporter, I understand the position expressed by georgia h and by the Cultural Advocacy Coalition. Perhaps we should look at the long-term issues and not battle for a Phyrric victory. On the other hand, should we just stop making an issue of a wrong that was done in the hope of winning favor later on?

One thing I loathe about the political process is the bullying that's seems to be inherent to it; i.e., "Maybe you should shut up now, or prepare for your comeupannce."

I have a tendency to blurt out what I'm thinking, rather than being strategic or tactical. And I have a low tolerance for political gamesmanship. Or maybe I'm just plain naive. I hope our readers recognize that the Culture Shock authors will do what we can to promote the Cultural Trust and arts funding, but we won't be sycophants.

Anonymous, thanks for pointing out the personal connection between georgia h and Rep. Harker. As political advocates increasingly use the amazing communication tool that is the internet, I hope they'll learn the importance of transparency. If someone writes an advocacy piece, they should clearly point out any personal connections they may have. And yes, Anonymous, let's acknowledge the irony that you posted anonymously while I'm using a alias. (I blog under an alias because I don't want anyone to associate my personal views, crackpot ideas or occasional bad language with my official arts administrator job--if you want to know who I am, write to me).

On that topic, here's a related issue: Did you notice that the statement from the Cultural Advocacy Coalition wasn't signed by anyone? One of Culture Shock's readers noticed, and told me she found that off-putting. I understand that the statement was meant to reflect the collective position of a coalition, but I think it's a mistake to de-personalize the message. Didn't we learn anything from Obama's masterful campaign which sent out millions of e-mail messages which always had a name attached? I resist "messages" that sound like talking-points with which we're all expected to fall into line--more so if it feels like they are being issued from a collective mind rather than a real person.

Unknown said...

MTC's point that "the Legislature's 'brutal week' began with a caucus at which party leadership banned negotiation on individual items on the sweep list" is important to keep in mind. This was a lockstep vote by state Democrats, who agreed beforehand that it was an all-or-nothing deal -- and because they know how to count, they knew it would be "all."

To certain segments of the state's cultural interests, political reality now says "It's time to kiss and make up." These are mostly the people who have to play in the political arena all the time; people whose overall effectiveness relies on their ability to maintain good working relationships with the politicians whose votes ultimately decide these things.

That doesn't mean YOU need to kiss and make up, or that it's a good idea for you to do so. In fact, it's a very good idea for a whole lot of people to stay on the offensive on this issue. A cardinal rule of politics is, if you don't make noise, you get forgotten. Stay quiet, and the raiding of the Trust will be both history and precedent. It'll be easier next time. The Legislature needs to be consistently reminded that the public knows what it did was wrong, and that it will be remembered -- and that votes are attached to those feelings.

So, choose for yourself where you line up now. If you think that tactically it's time to play nice, by all means, do so. If you think it's better strategy, and truer to your gut, to kick up a fuss, keep kicking.

The Legislature can act in lockstep if it wants to. That doesn't mean the public has to do the same.