Foundation News

October 15, 2023

Let’s Show our Love for the Arts by Funding Them  

The Miller Foundation is making an extraordinary $13.7 million investment in Oregon arts, and we invite others to join us.

Carrie Hoops and Peter Koehler, Jr.

Hoops is executive director of the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation. Koehler is president of the foundation’s board of directors.

Orchestra on stage in concert hall
The Oregon Symphony performs at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall during a pre-pandemic performance. (Photo by Jason Quigley/Oregon Symphony)

As the fall arts season opens with “Black Artists of Oregon” at the Portland Art Museum, “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Portland Opera and “Hair” at Portland Center Stage, it may seem like the pandemic is behind us and the arts in Oregon are coming back strong.

But as leaders of one of Oregon’s largest arts and education foundations, we have a backstage pass to see a different side of the story: Many of our most beloved and longstanding arts institutions — big and small — are struggling to survive. They need our help now more than ever.

Audiences are slow to return. Costs are rising. Pandemic relief funding is ending. And support from other private and public sources is increasingly uncertain.

Arts organizations are at the edge of a financial cliff and need a bridge to stable ground. We can and must do more to help them get there.

We understand Oregon is contending with more visceral and visible problems, including housing, homelessness, drug addiction and mental health — as well as racial equity and social justice issues. We believe this is the time for “yes, and” thinking. Yes, we need to address these challenges directly, and the arts are a necessary part of any solution, helping to catalyze our economy and bring our urban centers to their full potential.

As the Portland City Center Task Force begins its work to revitalize downtown, let’s remember the importance of the arts — culturally and economically. Consider the thousands of individual artists who contribute to Portland’s arts ecosystem. Their performances and events bring people downtown to support restaurants, shops and hotels. And they serve our broader community as teaching artists and cultural leaders.

Silhouetted, an artist hangs suspended upside down
Apparatus of Repair from Flyaway Productions. Presented by Boom Arts in the Old Town District of Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Potter)

Indeed, arts and cultural organizations contributed $9.3 billion and 62,725 jobs to Oregon’s economy in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. That’s 3.4% of the state’s economy. The 2023 Arts and Economic Prosperity Report, released Oct. 12, also shows the arts are a vital driver of economic resilience and opportunity across Oregon.

Artists and arts groups also foster a community-wide sense of creativity, exploration and introspection that promotes the region’s cultural resilience and opportunity. That, too, is key in the recovery and revival of our city and state, as we seek to center racial equity and social justice.

Now is the time for both public and private organizations to show up for the arts. As the city of Portland ends its contract with the Regional Arts and Culture Council, it is essential to keep city support stable for artists and arts organizations. That means funding them directly and without delay as the city establishes a new system for distributing city arts funding.

The city should also work with Metro to make sure the Portland’5 performance venues are affordable and in good condition. We are encouraged to see the discussion over the future of the Keller Auditorium. We believe a public-private partnership is essential to turn the Keller into a world-class venue that attracts audiences to the central city.

The state needs to do its part, too: The latest state budget largely overlooked the arts, and Oregon’s per-person arts funding is ranked 41st in the nation, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. That’s not good enough. The arts need and deserve a bigger share of the budget.

Private foundations and donors can also help fill in the gap. Now is the time to dig deep to support arts and cultural groups in Oregon with unrestricted dollars. That’s exactly what they need most right now, as they create new models of financial and artistic success.

dancers pose standing in African clothing
Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater (Photo by Jingzi Photography)

We are stepping up as well. The James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation has committed $13.7 million to Oregon arts in just the last few months. Those donations to Portland’s five largest arts organizations and 21 other groups statewide reflect the foundation’s deep dedication to the arts in this time of extraordinary need. Since its creation in 2003, the Miller Foundation has given $100 million to the arts and $100 million to education in Oregon.

And we’re already seeing how such investment can repair and revitalize communities.

The Northwest Children’s Theater and School, one of our grant recipients, completed a capital campaign and renovated a former movie theater on Southwest Broadway. The new space is bringing hundreds of families downtown and breathing new life into a community mainstay.

Another grantee, Anima Mundi, invited audiences in Jackson County to explore history, harm and healing for American women creators — and Black women musicians in particular ­— through the power of new music and poetry in “Honoring My Sister’s Beauty.” This innovative concert helped bridge the region’s history of racial division through creative collaboration.

It’s time for all Oregonians do what they can to support the arts – from downtown Portland to Southern Oregon. Show up as audiences. Consider giving to the Oregon Cultural Trust. And add your voices to ours. Because Oregon’s artists deserve a standing ovation.

This op-ed also appeared in print in The Oregonian on Sunday October 15,2023.

Carrie Hoops, Executive Director
Carrie Hoops is Executive Director of the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.
Peter Koehler, Jr., Board President
Peter Koehler, Jr., is President of the foundation’s Board of Directors.