With tight economic times, schools across the state are rolling back arts education in schools across the state. I got the rundown on local arts funding from Jessica Jarratt, director of the Creative Advocacy Network. If you're an artist in Portland, currently you can get public funding for a project three ways:

Jessica Jarratt: The arts! They need the money!
  • Jessica Jarratt: The arts! They need the money!
• The statewide "percent for arts" program that dictates one percent of the publicly-financed budget for above-ground development must be spent on public art.
Work for Art, a region program that has companies (about 80 so far) allow employees to opt-in to donate some of their paycheck to the arts, with each donation receiving a public money and employer match.
• The Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC), who distribute public and private money (the City of Portland gave them $4.3 million last year) to artists via annual grants.

Even with those options, though, Portland gives less money per capita to the arts than comparable cities ($3.11 per capita in our region vs. $7 per capita in Seattle and $15 in Denver). Jarratt's group is campaigning to get a measure on the ballot by the end of 2012 that would create a $15-20 million dedicated regional fund for the arts. Here's my quick conversation with her:

It seems like Portland's art scene is doing pretty well right now. We've become a capital of low-cost art, DIY, and handmade crafts. Why should we put more money toward the arts?
If you look at the numbers, we're not actually doing that well with the art scene right now. Our arts organizations are underfunded publicly which means there are fewer jobs for working artists and fewer programs in the community that reach the general public. Arts is almost extinct in our classrooms. While this is a place that tends to draw artists, once they get here they may have a very, very difficult time making a living.

Why a dedicated fund? What's wrong with the current RACC grants process?
We don't invest enough and we don't invest in a sustainable way. If we had a city council in the future that didn't believe in funding the arts, they could be cut altogether. As a region, we need to find a dedicated source of funding for the arts that can't be tweaked or lowered that increases the overall amount of money given to the arts to $15 or 20 million a year. For many regions around the country, that's a percent of the sales tax that's given over to arts and culture. We're working to find a city to identify a new revenue source.

What's the campaign looking like? Have you guys done any polling?
We've done two rounds of polling. In both rounds, more than 70 percent of people we polled in the tri-county area would support paying $1 a month in a new tax to support the arts.

What about getting more arts funding from the state instead?

I would say that the trend is in the opposite direction. This is a time when many states across the country are making decisions like the state of Oregon and defunding or underfunding arts. The urban areas where arts and culture tends to flourish and tourism is important is making up for declining state funding.

If your new revenue passes, would it affect art in schools?
It's CAN's position that it's a travesty that arts education is being cut so severely and limiting access to the arts among students. At the very least, this funding would bolster the programs of nonprofit organizations that help schools to bring arts to kids.