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The Oregon state legislature recently made a huge investment in the Oregon arts community—$50 Million dollars from the federal CARES act will be designated to keep arts businesses and organizations afloat through December 2020 as public health restrictions keep venues and organizations shuttered. Arts advocate and consultant Jeff Hawthorne talks about how this monumental investment came to be, and how arts advocacy works, and his view of how Portland responded to the presence of federal agents at racial justice protests here.

Jeff Hawthorne

Links mentioned in this episode.

Jeff Hawthorne’s website.

Americans for the Arts Action Fund.

Oregon’s Cultural Advocacy Coalition.

Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council.

Oregon lawmakers approve $50 million lifeline for struggling arts and culture organizations” from the Oregonian, July 14, 2020.

Black Resilience Fund – an emergency fund dedicated to healing and resilience by providing immediate resources to Black Portlanders.

Episode Transcript

Douglas Detrick: Welcome to More Devotedly. This is Volume IV, episode 1.

Someone else is focused on Portland as well, the President of the United States. Just a few days ago, a caravan of trucks full of Pro-Trump demonstrators drove through downtown Portland, firing paintball guns and spraying mace on BLM protesters. By the end of the night, one of them was killed.

This was just a few days after a 17 year-old shot and killed two people in Kenosha, WI who were protesting for justice for Jacob Blake, a black man who was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha police just days before that.

I want to be absolutely clear that the violence we are seeing in Kenosha and Portland is not acceptable. I condemn these killings absolutely. This is a time when we need calm, steady leadership focused on de-escalating tensions, but the President is actually encouraging his supporters in this behavior along with a chorus of voices from right-wing media because he thinks it will help him win reelection.

For all of you that are concerned about the situation here in Portland—and you’re right to be concerned—please don’t be fooled. This situation is not a result of the largely peaceful protests that have been going on for more than three months here. Rather, it is the result of a small minority of extremists who are trying to push the situation out of control. Portlanders want peace, of course, but we also want an end to police brutality, we want to make life better for our Black and Brown residents, and we want our city to be a place where peaceful demonstrations can take place without fear of being physically attacked.

As I launch Volume IV with this episode, here’s what I’m trying to achieve. 

As the president tries to push a false narrative about Portland and then some of his followers storm the city and try to make that narrative into reality, I want to talk with as many artists here to show what this city is really like. We have a beautiful, diverse, and thriving arts scene here that makes our city a great place to be. I want you to meet some of the artists and organizers that make that possible.

My guest is Jeff Hawthorne, a freelance arts advocate and consultant. We talked about how the Oregon state legislature recently made a huge investment in the Oregon arts community—$50 Million dollars from the federal CARES act will be designated to keep arts businesses and organizations afloat during this time of struggle. Jeff told me about how this monumental investment came to be, and how advocacy works in a crisis situation like this one, and in more normal times as well. He also weighs in what’s happening in Portland right now, though this interview was recorded about two weeks ago. 

At a moment when government at the local and federal level is struggling to meet the challenges of this moment, or depending on who you ask, isn’t even trying to do the right thing, my conversation with Jeff shows an example of government working. Reasonable people can definitely disagree about whether this was the right thing to do, but at least we are seeing action to support an industry that is vital to making Oregon a great place to live.

Here’s the episode.

Interview

Douglas Detrick: Jeff Hawthorne, thank you so much for joining me on more devotedly.  let’s just jump straight to talking about what has happened and  why we’re talking here today. So my understanding—and tell me  where I might be wrong—is that part of the money that was part of some of the first coronavirus relief bills that’s coming to the state of Oregon. Basically, coalition of the arts community in general, pushed to have some of that money earmarked specifically for the arts community and Oregon.  it’s around $50 million, I think. Is that about right? Could you take it from there and kind of give us an overview of what this actually looks like?

Jeff Hawthorne: Sure. and thanks for having me. yeah. So on, on June 14th, the joint emergency board, which is a group of legislators who make decisions, in times of emergency, when the full legislature isn’t in session, and they are the group that has been tasked with distributing the state’s, Corona virus relief money from the federal government. and just did step back for a minute. federal government approved significant funding for States and local jurisdictions through the cares act that they approved earlier in the spring. And this money is really intended to help local communities, you know, respond to Corona virus, including, you know, supporting their health infrastructure, testing, contract tracing, but also to support businesses in their communities who have been significantly impacted, by the pandemic. And so, the state, the joint emergency board has been discussing for several months, how to invest their share of that money. And on June 14th, The joint emergency board approved a $50 million, which is one of the largest allocations of any state, for its arts and culture community.

And so that package, which has $50 million specifically includes, about $9.68 million. For live music and performing arts venues that are forced to be closed because of a COVID-19 and the governor’s stay at home orders, and social distancing requirements that are really difficult to do in a live music or performing arts venue.

Another 14.3, $6 million for seven of the largest arts institutions in the state of Oregon, including the Oregon Shakespeare festival in Ashland and the Oregon symphony in Portland. And then, an additional 25.98 million, almost $26 million for lots and lots of other arts organizations, venues, fairs, and festivals across the state of Oregon that are really having a hard time.

And that money is about to be distributed by the Oregon cultural trust. We are really grateful to see that the legislature, I saw the impact of the pandemic on our arts and culture community and realize how important it was to provide some emergency relief to help them see it through.

Douglas Detrick: I don’t know if it came from you, but I got to notice probably through one of my board members actually, with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, which I’m the executive director of that organization. and so I kind of got this notice about like, Hey everybody, we would love to have your, you know, add your voice to this discussion.

And so we answered that kind of a lot of our board members did individually and I did kind of on behalf of the organization , I have to say that I’m like, “there’s no way this is going to happen.” Right. I mean, that was my, that was my honest feeling.  did you have that, thought as well, like no way it’s going to happen, but we should try anyway. Or were you more optimistic than I am perhaps?

Jeff Hawthorne: I understand the pessimism because of that, how difficult it seems to be to secure, funding for arts and culture, at the state. Level, in local communities and at the federal level, it’s been hard over the years to convince, elected officials and government agencies to fund, artists and the cultural sector.

But we all know how important this sector is. And so when, When co had happened. I think there was, an understanding that we, as a sector, I had a really strong case to make about, the importance of our sector. the importance of arts and culture, especially in times like these, where we’re going through a lot of national trauma, not only with COVID, but with, The murder of George Floyd and all of the black lives matter protests.

And that we rely on artists and arts organizations, to bring us together and to make sense of everything that’s going on. And in addition to that, collectively our economic impact is, is very significant. you know, we, as a sector generate a lot of money for the state of Oregon. Through all of the commerce that happens when people attend an event.

So it felt to many of us like legislators. I understand, The devastating impact of having to be closed and being left without any revenue to pay the bills, to pay the rent, to pay workers. And certainly, a lot of arts workers have been laid off during this pandemic, but, You know, groups started reaching out pretty early on to the governor’s office, to their state, senators and representatives to let them know that it was going to be very difficult for them to stay open.

Long enough to outlive the pandemic without emergency state support.  one of the first efforts that began right away was with, Jim Vorenberg of the independent venue coalition,  and he really rounded up, privately owned, independent. Live music, venues and other places where people go for it, live entertainment.

And with that group of people to build a case about how important these businesses are, and how they are at risk of closing forever. if they can’t obtain some kind of emergency relief funding. Again, the idea being that they have no way to pay the bills if they can’t sell tickets to events in their venues.

So , his advocacy and his, his argument, resonated with several people in the state legislature, and it got a lot of momentum. And it wasn’t too long into that effort that, that Jim and I just realized that, nonprofit performing arts venues should be included in that effort as well.

And so that’s when I got involved and, you know, we basically built a list of venues around the state of Oregon that, you know, are still closed. That will be closed for the foreseeable future. that would otherwise be selling lots of tickets to lots of really fun and interesting, live music and theater and dance events.

And we submitted that list to the legislature, and they, really want to see what they could do to make sure that those, the organizations and those venues, are still around, when we somehow find a way to move past either through a, a cure. Or a vaccine.  several arts organizations, you know, the large institutions that I mentioned earlier, who are getting significant support through this package. They too work communicating with the governor’s office and with elected officials about the devastating impacts on their organizations. And they were building a case, throughout the spring, for emergency relief funding from the state and, or federal government was going to be necessary in order to help them succeed.

And so even as they were, you know, laying off workers and yeah, and re, We working their business plans to basically go dark for as long as it takes,  they were able to make a case for what their minimum expenses would be, and what they needed from the state in order to, to make it through.

Douglas Detrick:  going back to that idea of, I had this pessimism about, you know, all this will never happen and it’s partly because of my inexperience with this. And I think, you know, that was one of the reasons I want to talk to you about this is because.  when you  look at some process like this, that that can be a little mysterious. Like we don’t really know exactly what’s going on. Although I, I think that some of these, these meetings were, not televised, but they’re somewhat open to the public.

Is that, is that correct? 

Jeff Hawthorne: Meetings of the joint emergency board are streamed online.

Douglas Detrick: So, you know, there is that openness, but most people aren’t tuning into that. Like, you know, that kind of thing, that’s just kind of the world we live in. And so, you know, hearing what went into it is really interesting, you know, building a case, gathering some data, getting a lot of people together that are in kind of a similar situation and getting them all together to say, What, what is the case for us?

You know, accessing any aid and,  Y you know, let’s get together and do it, and, and I’m sure that took a lot of work. So, so thank you for, for doing that. I wanted to ask the next question just about like your assessment of, do you feel this is adequate.

The money has been approved, but it hasn’t, I don’t, I think it’s probably just starting to go out the door and it’ll be in, you know, in Mac accounts fairly soon. but I’m just curious, you know, what’s kind of your assessment of, do you think it’s kind of appropriate to the gravity of the situation?

Jeff Hawthorne: Yeah, I mean, to be clear, it really is an extraordinary investment. No other state has put this much money yet from that original CARES act into their state’s arts and culture and entertainment industry. And so it’s really very significant, but we won’t know, until there is a cure or a vaccine, whether it’s going to be enough to sustain most of our arts organizations through this crisis, and that’s specifically what the funding is for to really help fill the, fill the gaps, and provide some support for that period of March through December. and because these funds come from the federal government, that’s actually the limitation on how the funds have to be spent.

we’re still hopeful that the federal government will provide more relief to the arts and entertainment industry, to state and local governments, to unemployed workers. but there’s no guarantee T that more relief will come. So in the meantime, we’re just encouraging folks to give generously, Two arts organizations in their community to several of the emergency relief programs that have been set up to support individual artists, in the meantime.

But I, I just think it’s important to remember, you know, back to your point about pessimism that, You know, elected officials are public servants and they are deeply invested in what’s happening in their community and they are there to support us. so this crisis, you know, created a very. A very tangible, argument, where we were able to describe the pain that was happening, the financial losses that had occurred, the risk to our communities, if these arts organizations and venues can’t succeed.

And, the legislators are generally very interested in receiving that information and seeing what they can do about it.  Legislators really do want to do hear from us. And I know sometimes it feels like our voices aren’t heard if we’re communicating to a legislator individually about an individual need. That’s where coalitions are important, right? The more people we can bring together so that thousands of people are asking for the same thing and sharing the same statistics and urging, elected leaders to address the same issue.

That’s I think when our advocacy efforts  have the best chance of being successful.

Douglas Detrick: One thing about this moment is there’s kind of a clear, overwhelming need that so many share, right now, and it’s caused by the same thing. And I’m kind of curious, like perhaps in more normal times, and who knows what that’s going to be.

But,  you know, how do you recognize these opportunities where, you know, this is, an issue where government could be a productive partner in solving a problem, you know, how do you find those opportunities? How do you recognize them when you see them?

Jeff Hawthorne:  We just have to make the case that, the arts community is important. when, when local and state and federal governments are making all kinds of decisions about how to, Allocate money in their budget.

And it always feels like it’s an arts community are competing against other community needs, whether it’s schools or public safety or, homelessness and houselessness, issues. So what, what was different in this situation is that Congress actually set aside money to help them businesses who had to be closed.

So there was a very unique opportunity and, an intention with how to spend the funds that doesn’t usually happen in a normal year. And so I, I think it’s fair to say that that single act, the cares act opened up a lot of opportunity for us as a community to advocate as a worthy investment of those funds that were intended very much for businesses and industries like ours.

So, in the past, and again, someday in the future, we will have to go back to, figuring out how we talk about arts and culture and as a need and as an investment, that that will really help our organizations and our communities succeed alongside all of those other public services that we need as a community. And then increasingly I think we’re learning to talk about it as a compliment to all of these other services and community values, rather than a competing requests.

Douglas Detrick: You know, I think that’s kind of another thing too, is that a lot of times we have these false equivalencies that are, that are being drawn or like a false alternative where we say,  if we fund the arts better in the state of Oregon, then that means we,  won’t have any  firefighters anymore. which is just not true. There’s so much more nuance to it. And there’s a lot of things that can be done. No, we can’t work magic of course, but, there are these concrete things that can be done and, you know, so it’s, it’s really great to see that, you know, that you guys were able to put something together that is going to work in the real world.

And, and like you said, we will see if it’s it’s enough and we’ll see how things come out on the other side, but that we’ve done. This is, is amazing. So again, thanks for your work there. 

Jeff’s story

You know, I think normally we would want to kind of get to know each other a little bit first and then dive into the topic that I did that in the, in the reverse, just because I think, you know, in order for the listeners to, hear what you have to say first is maybe a good thing, but I would love to get to know you a little bit more.

And, I can say that I’m doing this podcast now. it’s kind of a passion project. It’s a bit of a side hustle. but it’s, it’s very connected to my creative work and my, my professional work as a fundraiser and, and, arts administrator, you know, just talking about how the arts work in our society in, and kind of in civil society in terms of how we make things happen, how we, how we change our culture, how we lead these movements.

And I’ve found that for me personally, like so often  I am persuaded  by the arts, more so than I am by, you know, anything else I think, you know, and maybe that’s just me cause I like music and I, and I liked theater and I liked dance. But can say that it has influenced me far beyond just the realms of aesthetic. It’s so much more about how I see the world and how people have shown me, how they see the world through, through their work that has, that has changed my life in a lot of great ways. And so I wanted to ask you a bit about, you know, how did you get to where you are and, why are you where you are.

Jeff Hawthorne: Well, I, I definitely consider myself, a natural and passionate arts advocate because, you know, I’m one of these people who Was having a really hard time in middle school and into high school. You know, I was, I was naturally very smart, but I was, I was different and I, I believe that, arts and culture and specifically, music and theater, really helped save me in high school.

And I was able to succeed in in high school because of it. And I got really interested in theater in particular. but I realized, you know, pretty early on that while I was in, I enjoyed being an actor and a designer. I didn’t necessarily want that for me, my career, for my future. So I was lucky, to have participated in a summer camp at the Oregon Shakespeare festival in Ashland. it’s a two week program called  uh, summer seminar for high school juniors. And they basically bring 65 high school juniors from around the country to really get immersed in the plays and the operations of, of that, company.

And that’s really where I stopped for the first time. or I really understood for the first time, how much I was moved by the performance on stage, but things that it takes to make that production possible, including a lot of the business components that I hadn’t really ever thought of before, you know, everything from the box office and marketing to fundraising and development. so I got really interested in thinking about how I could support arts and culture, not as a performer, but as someone who, supports the artists, that, that always, you know, have a way of making a huge difference in our lives. so I pursued that in my college career. I went to university of Portland and, majored in theater management.

And you know, just learned a lot of ways that I could support the business side of theater and the arts more generally. And from there, I went on to work at, at Portland center stage in the development office for several years. Meaning that I solicited gifts from businesses and foundations and individuals to support the work on stage.

And after that I, tried a few other things, but ultimately ended up at the regional arts and culture council where my job was to help that local Arts agency, expand its support from the city of Portland and from other, private donors so that we could really, you know, support and grow, the nonprofit arts and culture community, and, artists in the Portland Metro area.

So I I’ve always enjoyed that. I think it is. Authentic for me to be able to talk about how people can support artists and arts organizations and all the performances and exhibits and films, et cetera, that, that, are so important to me and so many other people in the community. so that’s kinda how I got into the work and why I’m still doing it today.

Douglas Detrick: Yeah, absolutely.  and so folks can learn more about you it’s Jeff Hawthorne with an E right. consulting.com. Is that right? Yeah. And we’ll, we’ll put a link in there too, but if, if folks want to get in touch with you, they can do it through the website. I’m assuming.

Jeff Hawthorne: Fantastic. Yes, I’ll be there.

What’s up with Portland?

Douglas Detrick: So, one last question, Jeff, and, and this is not on our outline. but, this is a question that, I think this next group of episodes that I’m producing are, a bit about Portland. And Portland being in the news right now as this, you know, kind of like the theater of a national, political drama, where the, that was kind of the words that Kate Brown used to describe this.

Where, I mean, in my view, you know, I think that when we saw the federal agents that were coming to, to oppose protesters at the federal courthouse. and you know, which I see as something that’s very much playing into the presidents reelection efforts. but, I wanted to ask you just kind of your thoughts about what you see in Portland right now. Like if, you know, if you’re thinking about somebody who is not here in the city with us, looking here from the outside,  they’re saying, what is up with Portland?

You know, , why is Portland this place where there’s so much attention focused right now? why are the arts in Portland, the way they are? And, what is your take on that?

Jeff Hawthorne: Well, you know, we have a lot of artists and, people with progressive values who, don’t take kindly to the notion that they’re not going to be able to give their voice and show their support for black lives matter. And for the right for peaceful assembly and all of the kinds of of issues that are, coming together right now.

So I, went down again, to downtown Portland, last weekend and was again inspired to see all of the artwork that had been painted on storefronts that have been boarded up. And, I’m really into interested to see What comes of all this? I know that the city and the regional arts and culture council are interested in helping, preserve those, those impromptu artworks if, if the artists and the community members who painted them want them to be preserved and given a second life. know that artists are, Producing a lot of thoughts about, and artworks about this unique moment in time. And I’m excited that that will continue. it seems like in Portland, we’ve, you know, now that the, the federal agents are no longer provoking protesters, the way they were a few weeks ago, it seems like we’ll be able to return the protests and the speeches and the effort to center the black lives matter movement and have serious conversations about, racial inequality and police brutality.

And I just. I I’m inspired to know that artists are at the forefront of that conversation and helping facilitate that conversation and helping document what’s happening in our community. And I think slowly people around the country and in other parts of the state are beginning to see that portland is not the devastated the community that makes maybe some have, have led others to believe. But rather it’s a place where a lot of interesting and important conversations are happening. A lot of artwork is appearing, and a lot of healing still needs to be done to bring our community together. And I’m, rather than distraught by all of it, I’m actually pretty excited about it. And I’m excited to see, what happens next.

Douglas Detrick: Absolutely me too. and I, and I agree that, you know, artists have been a really important part of this, you know, both in moving the conversation forward and, you know, making some. Some truths known about, you know, the black experience in Portland. That’s one thing for sure. And, and what a better future might look like through the eyes of artists, I think is, has been a really important part of it.

Yeah, so I’m, I’m also really excited about that too. I though I was pessimistic about the, the, advocacy effort with the state legislature. I’m, I’m actually more optimistic about this conversation now that, you know, I think we can, as a community, you know, despite there being, A lot of, pain and anger right now that we can also use that energy to make some changes that will be, leading us towards more justice and a better, a better future for Portland.

So I hold out hope for that too. And, and I’m hoping to talk to artists. You know, over the next few weeks, who are participating in that and to help share their work and, and talk with them about, about why they’re doing it now and, and to, just to tell more people about it. So,

Jeff Hawthorne: That’s great. And I think, you know, to bring it together, you know, we’ve been talking a lot about COVID relief in this podcast, and I do anticipate that there could be some kind of call to action for. Or, you know, the state or the federal government or local communities to support artists in, in this moment and in the black lives matter movement in particular.

And so I would just ask, you know, your listeners to stay attuned to, how they might be able to help support artists in this time and to get involved in advocacy efforts generally. And I think the best way for people to stay informed about how they can help is to follow  the agencies and the organizations that are kind of leading the arts advocacy efforts.

So at the federal level, that’s the Americans for the arts action fund, which is that artsactionfund.org. And if you sign up there, you’ll see  alerts about how you can help influence legislation and funding at the federal level. And then at the state level, we have the cultural advocacy coalition.

Which is Oregonculture.org. And they send out e-blasts to their members about how we can, influence state legislation, such as the $50 million package that was recently approved. And then for those who are in the Portland area, we have the regional arts and culture council, which is racc.org. But if you’re another parts of the state or other States. There are local councils arts councils in almost every community who are organizing the arts advocacy conversation on a local level. And so I just really encourage people to, sign up for the newsletters of those organizations and to follow them on social media so that if there is a call to action, whether it’s associated with, COVID-19 or the black lives matter movement that they’ll,  they’ll know how they can help when the time comes.

Douglas Detrick: Yeah, absolutely provide that concrete opportunity to “here’s the thing you can do.” And often even providing like, you know, things you can copy into an email that you’re going to send or, or things that you can say over the phone, if you’re gonna leave a message Well, Jeff, I want to thank you so much for taking this time to talk with me  for the podcast and for all the listeners. thank you so much and thank you for your work and for your time this morning.

Jeff Hawthorne: Thanks Douglas.

Outro

Douglas Detrick: Thanks so much to you, Jeff. 

I’ve got links on the episode page at moredevotedly.com to Jeff’s website, to all of the arts advocacy organizations that he mentioned, and to an article or two about this allocation from the Oregon State Legislature.

If you enjoy hearing these conversations, and you appreciate hearing from the artists and advocates that are doing this world-changing work, please do subscribe, rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts or on the platform where you listen to the show. You can also share the show with a friend who might appreciate it. You can learn more about my guests at moredevotedly.com as well as join our email list for news about the podcast and the music projects that I do that are inspired by these conversations.

If you’d like to contribute to an organization making a difference for the Black community in Portland, check out the Black Resilience Fund, at https://www.blackresiliencefund.com/

I produced this episode and performed and composed the music here in Portland, OR.

[Portland sound]

What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it more devotedly?

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