LOOKING AT THE LAST CENTURY of art, it's hard to name a taboo that hasn't been addressed to the point of banality. Death? Done. Religion? Please. Sex? Snore. Even money, or the abstracted idea of money (neoliberalism, celebrity, "labor" as discussed by white males with MFAs) has been so tokenized, nothing anyone says about it is really interesting anymore. But what about the non-abstract fact of money? As in, the money that artists and arts organizations never have.
Any alternative gallery, project space, or long-term project in Portland has suffered from a lack of funding at some point, if not from the outset. So many spaces begin as labors of love or passion, and frequently end due to a lack of financial resources. In 2013, this trend changed slightly thanks to the introduction of the Precipice Fund, PICA's re-granting initiative funded through the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation.
The last two years of the Precipice Fund helped to start and sustain 37 organizations and projects, including S1, Portland Museum of Modern Art, the One Flaming Arrow festival, and BCC: BrownHall. Through grants ranging from $500-5,000, the Precipice Fund has provided a less-bureaucratic, more accessible system of financial backing that has given longer life to projects that might have otherwise run dry. The impact the Precipice Fund has had on the Portland arts ecosystem has been phenomenal, with artists from funded projects going on to collaborate and support each other, even when the few thousand dollars of granted money runs out.
And it always runs out. Ultimately, although the small grants do good, they're never enough to actually sustain artists and projects through multiple years. More often than not, these spaces run on money earned at day jobs and the community support of other broke artists and arts enthusiasts. Though this might seem a utopian punk vision of true artistic autonomy, it is not sustainable. I'll repeat myself: IT IS NOT SUSTAINABLE.
The burnout rate in Portland is high, especially for artists of color, who face barriers within the Portland arts community beyond funding. This will only increase if the availability of financial support doesn't grow with the cost of living in Portland. More public granting like the Precipice Fund is one option, but it's really only a band-aid on a much larger issue that encompasses gentrification, city funding, and public spending. More funding would, however, be a start.
The third year of Precipice Fund grantees will be announced at PICA's Winter Soirée on Tuesday, December 8, at 6 pm. Artists from each funded program will introduce themselves and their goals for the coming year, followed by a party to celebrate the arts community. It's always a celebratory night, and maybe the only arts event in town where the discussion of money is at the forefront.