by Samantha White
Director Kevin A. Lefohn opened the public conversation portion of the SE Oregon Symposium on the Arts and Economic Development (held Wednesday, May 20, at the Harney County Community Center) by introducing the individuals and organizations involved with the proposed Performing Arts and Education Center (PAEC).
Community leaders provide input
In the symposium program, Harney County Arts in Education Foundation (HCAEF) Executive Chair Jalin Bingham explained that the goal is to build a center that would serve as a hub for all artistic activities, provide a place for young people to learn and develop their talents, attract tourists, and retain the area’s youth.
During the symposium, Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said Harney County was once the wealthiest community in the state of Oregon, but now it’s “next to the bottom.” However, he complimented community members’ tenacity and thanked Debby Peckham and Linda Neale for steering the county in a different direction.
Peckham is founding advisor for the HCAEF Board of Directors and co-chair of the PAEC Board of Directors. Neale is chair of the PAEC Advisory Board, and she served as the symposium associate director.
Harney County Economic Development Director Randy Fulton echoed Grasty’s statements, adding that Ken and Debby Peckham “opened [his] eyes.”
During his tenure as economic development director, Fulton said he’s learned that:
• Harney County has a lot to offer businesses that are looking to expand;
• economic development takes a lot of time; and
• “We have to look outside the box.”
He added that the PAEC would provide jobs and become an educational asset to the community’s youth.
Although a significant amount of time has already been dedicated to the project, Fulton said many more hours will be needed to make the PAEC a success.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is not that bright, but it is there,” he said. “Based on the progress that I’ve seen over the last few years, this dream will come true.”
Wagner weighs in
Fulton was followed by symposium facilitator Brian Wagner, who manages the Oregon Arts Commission’s community development programs.
Wagner said he was impressed with the symposium’s turnout, adding that most of the people in attendance were Harney County residents who wanted to participate in the conversation.
He said he was very excited to learn about the PAEC building proposal and stressed the importance of ensuring that the project is successful for the whole community.
Holt highlights the value of public will
During her presentation, Cinda Holt shared what she’s learned about influencing public will and gaining participation in the arts.
Holt is the business development specialist for the Montana Arts Council, a reviewer for the National Endowment for the Arts Fast Track grants program, and a mentor/consultant for the Minneapolis-based ArtsLab. She’s also served as the development director for the Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT)/MCT Center for the Performing Arts, managing director of Maurice Sendak’s The Night Kitchen (a national touring children’s theatre), and managing director of the Sundance Film Festival.
Holt said the will of the people is a central force in the success of a project, and PAEC advocates must learn to strategically promote the public value of the programs and services that the center would provide. She said the goal should be to reach as many citizens as possible, in as many places as possible, and affect them as positively as possible.
Holt added that PAEC advocates need to be able to answer the question, “What’s in it for me,” for everyone in the community. She said a good strategy for accomplishing this task is to ask community members what they value and then explained how the arts can be used to achieve desired outcomes.
She then provided examples of creative ideas that have been used to draw unlikely audiences to the arts. For example, she shared a story about a museum that attracted bikers who were on their way to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally by featuring a mechanical design exhibit.
Holt said arts advocates need to listen to the community, build new relationships, and mobilize public will. She added that the PAEC proposal isn’t about building a building, but creating a place that inspires individual creativity and engages the community.
Johnston offers an example from Texas
Buck Johnston, a website and new media applications designer, discussed the evolution of Marfa, Texas’ art scene.
She began by comparing Marfa to Harney County, explaining that both are isolated, sparsely-populated, high desert communities that lack urban sprawl and are in close proximity to ranches.
However, Marfa gained international fame and tourism when New York artist Donald Judd founded the The Chinati Foundation and started creating permanent, large-scale art installations in the area.
Today, Marfa hosts artists, writers and musicians from all over the world. It’s home to Crowley Theater, Ballroom Marfa, two film festivals, a thriving newspaper, and a popular public radio station. The tiny West Texas town, which has been the subject of National Public Radio and Vanity Fair stories, has become a tourist destination and a major center for Minimalist art.
However, Johnston said Marfa has had trouble responding to change with infrastructure. She said the city lacks an overall economic plan, as well as amenities like drugstores and dry cleaners. Marfa’s population is unable to support major industry. And, with increased tourism, the town is experiencing a housing shortage, as many locals have capitalized on the opportunity to rent their homes to tourists. Short on funding, Marfa’s public school system is also struggling.
Johnston said Design Marfa Symposium 2015, an architecture and design symposium that’s scheduled for this fall, will focus on Marfa’s future.
Dailey discusses Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center
Rob Dailey, executive director of the Chehalem Cultural Center, explained the process of establishing and sustaining a community culture and art center in Newberg, Ore.
Acknowledging that change was inevitable, Dailey said community members met in 2000 to discuss and attempt to influence Newberg’s future. Ultimately, they decided that building a cultural center would enable them to preserve the community’s most important assets.
Years later, a historic school — which had been used to educate generations of area residents — was restored and renovated to include a fine arts gallery and exhibition hall, three multipurpose arts studio classrooms, a state-of-the-art clay studio, a recording studio with four music practice studios, meeting space, and a 5,200-square-foot ballroom.
Dailey detailed the amount of effort that went into making the center a success, explaining that project proponents spent the first five or six years just talking about their ideas, holding forums, and touring the facility. He said the project gained support and credibility through a partnership with the Chehalem Park and Recreation District and when prominent Newberg families started contributing to the cause. The center also received federal funding and a grant from The Ford Family Foundation.
But there was still a lot of work to do after the Chehalem Cultural Center opened its doors in 2010. Dailey explained that 10 years of conversations and campaigns had to be synthesized into a feasible and sustainable mission that could be achieved through a specific set of goals. He said a significant amount of time has been spent determining what the center will offer on a daily basis, and new program proposals are only addressed during strategic meetings.
Rapaport references Jerome
Harney County resident and author of Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City, Diane Rapaport discussed how an unlikely alliance of hippies, “old timers,” business people, outlaws, and artists succeeded in reviving the city of Jerome, Ariz., which was on the brink of collapse after being was abandoned by the mining industry.
“Love, hope, and need became very powerful allies in bringing together uncommon people,” Rapaport said, explaining that the city’s long-time residents teamed up with newcomers to transform the city into a mecca for artists.
She said artists are good at business, adding that their work attracts tourists and generates income, benefiting the community as a whole. She explained that an artist might use the money that he/she earns from selling a painting to pay a plumber to fix his/her toilet.
After their presentations, Holt, Johnston, Dailey and Rapaport returned to answer questions from the audience.
Rapaport kicked off the question and answer session by asking the other presenters how existing performing arts centers determined their maximum seating numbers.
Johnston and Dailey both live in communities where performing arts centers were created in existing buildings. So, for them, seating was limited by the size of the building.
Holt warned that losing an audience can be an unintended consequence of building a large, state-of-the-art theater. For example, she said 88 people used to crowd into a ski rental shack to watch Sundance films, but only about 35-40 people attended when the films were shown in an auditorium, and they were all people who are “comfortable in the world of theater.” Her advice for PAEC advocates was to “make [the center] your own.”
An audience member asked the presenters to discuss the difference between receiving support from people within and outside of the community.
Dailey stressed the importance of receiving support from community members, explaining that this gave the Chehalem Cultural Center credibility within the community. He added that, because philanthropists often back each other’s causes, the support of one family or organization can earn future endorsements.
However, he said, “A name can only take you so far,” adding that the center is legitimized by the work that it does.
Johnston said public will was not a factor in Marfa, as “big personalities” moved to town with money from outside of the community. (Judd received funding from the Dia Art Foundation in New York.)
“They don’t give a damn in Texas,” she said with a laugh.
Rapaport said Jerome “grew organically” from artists who moved to the area to produce work, and she can’t remember anyone receiving large grants.
Harney County resident Sue Kovar noted that many of the centers that were discussed during the presentations were built in restored structures, and she asked why PAEC advocates are proposing a new building.
Johnston replied that the expense of restoring an old building could be triple the cost of building a new structure.
Three breakout sessions — Sustainable business models, Building public will, and Involving place and history in the evolution of a big idea — were held in the afternoon to provide audience members an additional opportunity to offer input.
Local talent on display
This portion of the symposium also featured writing presentations by Lorna Cagle, Lisa Wolf, and Peg Wallis (and her assistants). Janet Braymen and Joan Suther provided musical entertainment, and the Burns Paiute Powwow Club danced.
Join the conversation
For more information about the symposium, visit the PAEC Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/harneycountyperformingarts. You can join the conversation online by “liking” the page. You can also visit the PAEC website at http://www.harneycountyperformingarts.org.