Representatively Speaking March 2023

By State Representative Rob Nosse

The pandemic was not kind to many parts of our state’s economy and culture. We all know that our healthcare systems and our education systems are still trying to rebound.  Sadly, our arts and culture sector and the venues and performance spaces they utilize are still struggling, as well. 

It makes sense. They had to shut down to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These entities and the places they operate in rely on ticket sales and crowds seeing shows to make the kind of money needed to keep their organizations and spaces (and the artists and performers, too) financially afloat. 

Lifting up the arts and this sector of our state was not my first “go to” as a political leader when I ran for office back in 2014. For sure, I enjoy art, entertainment and performances and even took up acoustic guitar when I turned 40. But my political activism was focused on school funding and healthcare when I first joined the Oregon Legislature. 

I got drawn into supporting this sector at the beginning of the pandemic after hearing from some of the many theatres, live music venues and arts organizations that exist in my district. Believe me, there are a lot and while they may operate in SE Portland, they serve the whole city and region. 

After working to get COVID-19 relief funding in 2021 and 2022 and still seeing that the sector was struggling, for 2023, I helped start an Arts and Culture Caucus, a nine-member, bipartisan group of legislators working to help this sector recover from the pandemic and to better support them long term. I want the state to do better and provide more help for this sector. 

For context, Oregon spends $0.48 per capita on the arts, whereas Minnesota, the national leader, spends $7.34 per capita on the arts. If we want to do a better job supporting the arts, not just in pandemic recovery but also for the long term, we need to increase our investment. 

Over the course of the pandemic, the creative sector in Oregon experienced a loss of $1.6 billion, according to America for the Arts. This loss was worsened by the fact that audiences are still slow in returning to their pre-pandemic numbers, even though restrictions have been lifted. It is not uncommon for these venues and organizations to perform for audiences at 50 percent capacity.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the arts and culture sector contributes $8 billion annually to Oregon’s economy, accounting for 3.6 percent of our Gross Domestic Product, and includes 60,994 jobs with a total compensation of $4.8 billion. It is a significant and colorful part of our economy. 

This sector does not exist in a vacuum; supporting arts and culture helps other small businesses, too. Those who attend arts and culture events spend an average of $44.59 per event in that community which has a large impact on local business including restaurants, bars and retail stores. 

Last month I introduced House Bill 2549, which provides $50 million in state arts funding divided between two funds. $27.4 million will go through the Oregon Business Development Department to be distributed to organizations that have had the largest proportional financial loss during the pandemic. 

The remaining $22.6 million will go directly to organizations like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Oregon Ballet Theatre, the Oregon Symphony and the Portland Art Museum, as well as to smaller local venues like those in our own district, such as the Aladdin Theatre, the Hawthorne Theatre and Revolution Hall. Of this portion of the funding, 57.6 percent is set aside for venues in the Portland Metro area, that to be clear, serve the whole region. 

A full list of organizations that will receive funding can be found in the bill’s text on the Oregon Legislative Information System. I also have a bill (House Bill 2498) which would invest more money in this sector long term.

But the economics aside, here is the thing I have really come to realize: The world of art introduces us to different cultures and new ideas, teaches us empathy, makes us laugh and inspires our own creativity. I have started to go to arts events again post-pandemic and have been delighted to experience live shows, musical events and arts organizations back in full swing. It is fun and emotionally moving. Everyone remembers their first concert or can easily recall memories around a good play or show they enjoyed with friends and family.

Losing these events and venues would deprive our communities of so much, and to see these cultural hubs disappear would be tragic. As one local advocate said to me, these places are where people go to laugh, cry, meet new people, learn new ideas, experience new cultures. In short, they are where moments happen. I agree.  

If you can, I encourage you to go see some live theater, music, comedy or a new art show this month. Meanwhile, I will work in Salem to ensure these places stay open and continue to thrive so we can all experience these special moments.

Representatively Speaking March 2023

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top