Although they succeeded in raising more than $750,000 to save their organizational bacon, a lack of corporate sponsors means Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT) has cancelled its popular annual OBT Exposed series on the South Park Blocks next month, a staple of late summer Portland arts events that ran uninterrupted for 14 years. Until now.
What does this mean? It means that thousands of aspiring little ballerinas (and maybe one or two little boys somewhere in there, too), as well as throngs of curious teens and adults from all backgrounds, will be deprived of an opportunity to get up close and personal with the city's top professional dancers in what had become a cherished annual event.
The news emerged quietly last week, as the company announced some new plans in the wake of shuttling the Exposed event: They're now organizing a new citywide arts festival, to be held August 29 at OBT's Southeast Portland studios. The festival—the first of its kind in recent Portland memory—is called "Fall.ART.Live," and according to company spokesperson Erik Jones, will include performances from the likes of Portland Opera, Northwest Professional Dance Project, and, yes, even Oregon Ballet Theatre.
As excited as I am by the prospect of a new citywide fall arts fest—we're way behind other big towns on this point—the thought of losing OBT Exposed depresses me in a manner severe. It also makes me worry for the company: What does it say about the local corporate philanthropic landscape (or even, cough cough, about OBT) that they can raise north of three quarters of a million dollars in three weeks, but can't get a corporate sponsor to pony up $30,000 for what is arguably their most prominent annual outreach event? It's another jolting reminder of the crunch even our most valuable arts groups are feeling in this economy, and a sad reminder that when the going gets tough, the first programs to get cut are some of the organization's most valuable efforts.