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Action Alert: Preserve the Oregon Heritage Commission and Support Oregon Arts and Culture

Oregon colleagues, it’s time to write our representatives again.

Action

For those who are free to do so, I’m requesting that you join me in writing OPRD Director Lisa Sumption, Governor Brown, and your local Oregon legislators to fund the OPRD department and preserve the Oregon Heritage Commission. I’ve copied a version of my letter below–you are welcome to copy and adapt. I’ve sent this letter to the Oregonian, OPRD Director Lisa Sumption, Governor Brown, Senator Burdick, and Representative Doherty.

Contact Information

Director of OPRD, Lisa Sumption’s email: [email protected]
Gov. Brown: https://www.oregon.gov/gov/pages/share-your-opinion.aspx
Find your Oregon legislator: https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/findyourlegislator/leg-districts.html

Letter to Director Lisa Sumption of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department

Dear Director Sumption,

I can only imagine how challenging this time is for you. I know you oversee the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), and I know it can’t be easy for you to make decisions that impact people’s lives. I’m writing this letter to advocate for the preservation of the Oregon Heritage Commission branch of OPRD. But, I know you can’t do it alone. So, I’ve also written Gov. Brown, Senator Burdick, and Representative Doherty. Additionally, I have submitted an Op-ed to the Oregonian. In each I have advocated for the financial support of the OPRD.

I’m Rachael Woody and I run a certified women-owned business in Oregon that provides services to Oregon’s 1400 art and culture organizations. On June 5, the OPRD reported in their Heritage Digest (Volume 207 Issue 1) a $22 million revenue gap, and has announced layoffs and the freezing of “other programs such as grants”.  It’s not a surprise that Oregon’s parks and recreation unit is financially suffering due to COVID-19, but it is disturbing that our elected officials have moved so slowly to stop a potentially catastrophic loss in Oregon employment, recreation services, and Oregon heritage preservation.

As you likely know, the Oregon arts and culture sector is an economic engine for Oregon. According to the Culture Advocacy Coalition (CAC) the sector annually brings in $343 million in tourism-related expenses, employs 13,939 Full Time Employees (FTE), and expends $364 million back into Oregon’s economy.  Just last year, Oregon legislators demonstrated their support of the sector by passing six major Oregon art and culture bills. The bills renewed the unique Oregon Cultural Trust (OCT) tax credit for another 6-years, and approved more than $5.1 million in restoration and expansion projects for performance and cultural centers across the state.

But, this economic engine is facing financial ruin. There are two Oregon-specific arts and culture impact studies available: 1. The COVID-19 Impact on Oregon Culture, by OCT; and 2. The COVID-19 Oregon | Arts & Culture Sector Impacts, by the CAC. Both surveys capture the bleak financial picture facing 1400 Oregon arts and culture organizations. From March to May organizations estimate their total revenue loss at $51 million. Of the CAC respondents, 70% report the COVID-19 crisis as having a “severe impact” on their ability to operate, and 83% have already initiated financial mitigation efforts such as layoffs and furloughs.  The OCT study confirms that many organizations have (at most) 2-3 months of financial reserves saved up. Oregon’s stay-at-home measures were implemented in mid-March and it’s now mid-June, many of those organizations have exhausted their reserves and have already laid off 1,385 of 13,939 FTE. Many of these organizations are facing the permanent closing of their doors and Oregonians are on the precipice of a catastrophic loss in Oregon arts and culture.

This is why what’s been done is not enough. At the federal-level, programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program and $200-million in the initial CARES Act for emergency relief funding via federal granting agencies provide limited support to the Oregon arts and culture sector. Notably, this relief falls far short of the $4 billion-dollar request made by the arts and culture field and the American Alliance of Museums estimates “[A]s many as 30 percent of museums, mostly in small and rural communities, will not re-open without significant and immediate emergency financial assistance.”  On the local level, nine Oregon public and private funders have released $1.3 million in relief funds , and the OCT has submitted a $10 million Emergency Cultural Relief Fund proposal for legislative approval.

But, when facing a $50 million gap, the emergency financial programs available is simply not enough. First, there must be additional government relief funds allocated to Oregon arts and culture organizations. Second, we must rectify how we currently support heritage at the state-level. According to Heritage Digest, the OPRD budget is composed of lottery funds (44%), recreation fees (50%), and federal funds (6% directed to heritage grants).  Oregonians need to critically reexamine how we fund what we profess to value, and adjust our spending to reflect those values. The OPRD cannot sustainably run on funds that fluctuate with the economy. OPRD must receive more substantial and stable funding allocated by the government from tax revenue.

As the Director, you know the OPRD is a critical lynch pin to the Oregon arts and culture sector. The Oregon Heritage Commission (ran under OPRD) provides a substantial amount of services and administers several grant programs to 1400 organizations across the state—many in small, rural areas that are the most at risk for permanent closure. You can see then, how alarming it is to learn OPRD is forced to consider cuts in staff and has frozen the grant program. If the OPRD cuts staff positions in the heritage unit and continues the hold on grant programs, then it’s signaling its abandonment of 1400 Oregon arts and culture organizations. We are at a critical juncture. If we’re not successful in securing the protection and funding of Oregon heritage, then Oregon will irrevocably lose a significant number of our arts and culture organizations. And we, as Oregonians, will be the lesser for it.

Director Sumption, please demonstrate your support of Oregon’s art and culture, and preserve a fully functioning Oregon Heritage Commission. There are 1400 Oregon art and culture associations are depending on it.

Sample Letter to Elected Official

On June 5, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) reported in their Heritage Digest (Volume 207 Issue 1) a $22 million revenue gap, and has announced layoffs and the freezing of “other programs such as grants”. It’s not a surprise that Oregon’s parks and recreation unit is financially suffering due to COVID-19, but it is disturbing that our elected officials have moved so slowly to stop a potentially catastrophic loss in Oregon employment, recreation services, and Oregon heritage preservation.

The Oregon arts and culture sector is an economic engine for Oregon. According to the Culture Advocacy Coalition (CAC) the sector annually brings in $343 million in tourism-related expenses, employs 13,939 Full Time Employees (FTE), and expends $364 million back into Oregon’s economy. Just last year, Oregon legislators demonstrated their support of the sector by passing six major Oregon art and culture bills. The bills renewed the unique Oregon Cultural Trust (OCT) tax credit for another 6-years, and approved more than $5.1 million in restoration and expansion projects for performance and cultural centers across the state.

But, this economic engine is facing financial ruin. There are two Oregon-specific arts and culture impact studies available: 1. The COVID-19 Impact on Oregon Culture, by OCT; and 2. The COVID-19 Oregon | Arts & Culture Sector Impacts, by the CAC. Both surveys capture the bleak financial picture facing 1400 Oregon arts and culture organizations. From March to May organizations estimate their total revenue loss at $51 million. Of the CAC respondents, 70% report the COVID-19 crisis as having a “severe impact” on their ability to operate, and 83% have already initiated financial mitigation efforts such as layoffs and furloughs. The OCT study confirms that many organizations have (at most) 2-3 months of financial reserves saved up. Oregon’s stay-at-home measures were implemented in mid-March and it’s now mid-June, many of those organizations have exhausted their reserves and have already laid off 1,385 of 13,939 FTE. Many of these organizations are facing the permanent closing of their doors and Oregonians are on the precipice of a catastrophic loss in Oregon arts and culture.

This is why what’s been done is not enough. At the federal-level, programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program and $200-million in the initial CARES Act for emergency relief funding via federal granting agencies provide limited support to the Oregon arts and culture sector. Notably, this relief falls far short of the $4 billion-dollar request made by the arts and culture field and the American Alliance of Museums estimates “[A]s many as 30 percent of museums, mostly in small and rural communities, will not re-open without significant and immediate emergency financial assistance.” On the local level, nine Oregon public and private funders have released $1.3 million in relief funds , and the OCT has submitted a $10 million Emergency Cultural Relief Fund proposal for legislative approval.

But, when facing a $50 million gap, the emergency financial programs available is simply not enough. First, there must be additional government relief funds allocated to Oregon arts and culture organizations. Second, we must rectify how we currently support heritage at the state-level. According to Heritage Digest, the OPRD budget is composed of lottery funds (44%), recreation fees (50%), and federal funds (6% directed to heritage grants). Oregonians need to critically reexamine how we fund what we profess to value, and adjust our spending to reflect those values. The OPRD cannot sustainably run on funds that fluctuate with the economy. OPRD must receive more substantial and stable funding allocated by the government from tax revenue.

The OPRD is a critical lynch pin to the Oregon arts and culture sector. The Oregon Heritage Commission (ran under OPRD) provides a substantial amount of services and administers several grant programs to 1400 organizations across the state—many in small, rural areas that are the most at risk for permanent closure. You can see then, how alarming it is to hear OPRD is forced to consider cuts in staff and has frozen the grant program. If the OPRD cuts staff positions in the heritage unit and continues the hold on grant programs, then it’s signaling its abandonment of 1400 Oregon arts and culture organizations. We are at a critical juncture. If we’re not successful in securing for the protection and funding of Oregon heritage, then Oregon will irrevocably lose a significant number of our arts and culture organizations. And we, as Oregonians, will be the lesser for it.

[Insert Name], please demonstrate your support of Oregon’s art and culture, and please work with Oregon legislators to deploy relief funding to OPRD. A fully functioning Oregon Heritage Commission (under OPRD) and additional emergency relief funding is needed to support the 1400 Oregon art and culture associations struggling to survive.

Thank you,
Rachael Woody, Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC
Tigard, Oregon

Sources

1. Oregon Heritage Commission, Heritage Digest, Volume 207 Issue 1, sent by email on June 5, 2020.
2. Culture Advocacy Coalition, The COVID-19 Oregon | Arts & Culture Sector Impacts, accessed June 12, 2020, via https://www.oregonculture.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/FINAL_COVID-19-Oregon-Impacts-1.pdf.
3. Oregon Cultural Trust, Oregon Arts and Culture Sector Scores Big, published July 2019, accessed June 12, 2020, via https://culturaltrust.org/blog/news/oregons-arts-and-culture-sector-scores-big/.
4. Oregon Cultural Trust, COVID-19 Impact on Oregon Culture, accessed June 12, 2020, via https://culturaltrust.org/wp-content/uploads/ECRF_SurveyFindings_DataViz_Layout.pdf.
5. American Alliance of Museums, Museums Included in Economic Relief Legislation, accessed June 12, 2020, via https://t.congressweb.com/w/?GRPQLGOFCH.
6. Oregon Cultural Trust, Cultural Organizations Cite Devastating COVID-19 Losses in Statewide Cultural Trust Impact Survey, accessed June 12, 2020, via https://culturaltrust.org/blog/news/cultural-organizations-cite-devastating-covid-19-losses-in-statewide-cultural-trust-impact-survey/.

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