Bad News As Portland Announces Withdrawl From Regional Arts Group

Some disappointing news out of Oregon. Portland is withdrawing support and participation from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), an independent organization that handles granting and arts education activities in Portland and three surrounding counties. I had written about RACC and Portland’s support of arts and culture before. RACC had been strongly encouraging groups to work toward diversifying their boards, staff and audiences years before it became more of a national focus.

The city has been developing their own arts office which will take up much of the work RACC had done. According to the article, the relationship between the city and RACC had been strained for some time now.

Over the years the city has displayed unrest over the regional approach, with complaints from the city auditor’s office and some city council members that RACC wasn’t providing them with sufficient financial information.


What will the breakup mean for the city and its metropolitan neighbors? It comes at a time when the tri-county area is in the midst of developing a long-term strategy, called Our Creative Future, for regional arts: Presumably, that strategy-in-the-making will have to take a sharp turn.

Writing for Oregon Artswatch, Bob Hicks suggests the timing of this announcement introduces less stability to the already shaky operating environment arts and cultural organizations in the Portland are experiencing as they try to navigate a post-Covid losses, inflation and audience reluctance to return.

Placemaking As A Space To Process Trauma

Earlier this month, CityLab had an interesting article on the subject of trauma informed placemaking. For the most part, the article focuses on artistic projects which have given communities a place to heal after traumatic events, but also policy and practice enacted by municipal governments to avoid compounding the trauma of those displaced by natural disasters.

One of the art projects, Temple of Time, was erected after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida to provide the community with a place they could access 24/7 to process their grief and trauma. I would encourage people to check out the article to view the images because describing it as a 40 foot tall plywood structure doesn’t do justice to the elaborate scrollwork on what appears to be a Thai Buddhist temple inspired pavilion.

The other project discussed in the article inadvertently evolved into a larger placemaking effort than initially intended. Providence, RI had a building in one of their parks they didn’t know what to do with and had the idea to offer the space as affordable housing for artists.

Together they issued a call for the city’s first “Park-ists in Residence” to steward the property and carry out public engagement, working to reanimate the site and reimagine its relationship with the surrounding neighborhood.


Haus of Glitter had originally intended to use the space to host intimate indoor gallery shows, living-room concerts and salon events. “But with Covid, we found ourselves where people in the community were reaching out for support and asking for help and care during this crisis,” says Matt Garza, a founding member of Haus of Glitter. “And so we threw our old plans out the window.”

Haus of Glitter is the artist collective which became the “Park-ists in Residence” and ultimately ended up becoming a safe space for many groups, offering classes, setting up a community garden, hosting numerous performances, including an immersive opera based on the life of the house’s original inhabitant, “a short-lived naval commander and Revolutionary War figure…dismissed from the Navy, censured by Congress, and deeply complicit in the transatlantic slavery trade.”

The article notes that Haus of Glitter has ended their residence but seeks to replicate their model in other cities. The city of Providence apparently won’t be continuing the residency program, though there are efforts to continue activities at the park space and homestead. However, the project has had an impact on the city:

…the experience has given the city’s arts and culture department, and the wider planning department it sits within, a new frame for thinking about the intersection of place and trauma. And it offers a moving example for policymakers in other cities looking for ways to provide healing spaces for residents.

“Every city department touched this project in some way because of how ambitious and how long the residency was” says Micah Salkind, a program manager with the city’s arts department…

There Is An Ambush In This Violin Concerto!

Drew McManus reposted a promotional Facebook video for Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s (WSO) performance of “The Rose of Sonora” violin concerto.  I thought it was a cool little video depicting a 19th century printer creating a Wild West wanted poster. I commented on Drew’s post how I liked the how the movements were listed in the ad like chapters of a story and those titles were interesting and evocative – Escape, Love and Freedom, Ambush, Death and Healing, Vengeance.

But thinking of the post I made yesterday about the way arts marketing promises something exciting in their ads, but doesn’t really deliver on the promises in the experience, I thought it would be wonderful if the orchestra would consider projecting even one image at the start of each chapter to provide a visual connection for the audience.

When I clicked through to the WSO website, I was really pleased to see that the orchestra would be projecting images and video with a Western theme to accompany Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Aaron Copland’s Rodeo

By the time I swung back to Facebook, Drew had posted a link to a page discussing Rose of Sonora composer George S. Clinton’s concept behind titling each movement like a book chapter. Additionally, he provided a link to a set of images and introductory narration meant to be projected and/or read at the beginning of each movement–just like I was hoping they would have.

I have been casually following the development of Rose of Sonora, but never explored the website. I am really impressed by the amount of effort that has gone into making the experience interesting and accessible for audiences and easy for orchestras to decide to do.

While I am aware that The Rose of Sonora was written for violinist Holly Mulcahy, the goal of the content seems to be to get organizations to invite The Rose of Sonora into their programming rather than Holly. Presumably (and hopefully) Holly will be performing it everywhere for a good long time, but they are looking for the composition to have a life of its own long term. So it is great that will arrive accompanied by all these assets.

What’s Been Learned So Far About Offering Virtual Theatre

American Theatre released results of a survey about virtual theatre offerings during Covid this week. Respondents represent 64 organizations from 25 states.

As you might already imagine, the bad news is that virtual programming was not financially viable for nearly all organizations.

Many experienced a promising initial swell of audience interest in the early months of 2020, but also a disappointing and steady subsequent decline in interest over the past year or so. Companies that sold tickets at pre-pandemic prices almost uniformly experienced a significant dip both in number of tickets sold and box-office revenue compared to the outcomes of similar in-person plays produced during previous seasons; some companies experienced only moderate drops, while for others, the change was drastic.


Theatres that conducted their own surveys to gauge audience feedback on virtual offerings found that while the quality of the work was typically quite appreciated, audiences consistently expressed a strong preference for live, in-person theatre and saw the virtual version as a better-than-nothing alternative to no theatre at all.

Some theatres found their production costs were less than live performances, mostly due to having smaller casts, production and support crews. Others found it was actually more expensive to create virtual content.

There were some upsides reported, including expanded and increased access:

Many noted that virtual offerings served as an important way to engage their core audience base and maintain donor interest during a time when this would not be possible without the internet, producing ripple effects that cannot always easily be quantified: Most theatre companies reported increased donor support in the early months of the pandemic, and it’s possible though hard to measure whether a sustained virtual presence may have bolstered donor interest. Other companies who may not have seen an overall increase in ticket sales nonetheless reported a promising increase in viewership from younger virtual audiences.

…more than a third of respondents praised virtual theatre for increasing accessibility for those not able to attend in person, whether due to disability, health issues, transportation barriers, or living in rural areas far from the nearest theatre company. As Liz Lisle (she/her), managing director of Shotgun Players in San Francisco, put it, “For us, it is not an economic question—it is an accessibility and engagement question.” Measuring by revenue is “the wrong frame. Virtual theatre brings greater engagement.”

There is a great deal more detailed observation discussed in the article that can offer insight to organizations of multiple disciplines. One thing that seemed to be clear to most respondents is that providing virtual content isn’t simply a matter of putting cameras and sound equipment near a performance executed in a generally conventional way. The quality often compares unfavorably with professional video & film production.

Many respondents seemed to feel the best course was to provide content which supplemented or complemented a live performance. The value added element seemed more suited to achieving goals and fulfilling expectations.

Though that approach leaves people who have difficultly accessing physical spaces without the option of experience the full production. There is certainly an opportunity for those with the resources and expertise to meet an unmet need of providing virtual performances to this segment of the population nationally and perhaps internationally. I wouldn’t be surprised if people are already pursuing further experimentation with the virtual theatre form.

The American Theatre piece bears the title “The Jury Is In on Virtual Theatre,” but I think it is a little too early in the process of exploring virtual theatre offerings to make that claim.