Mary Nolan of the Oregon House of Representatives recently approved the reallocation of funds raised by the sale of the Oregon Cultural Trust license plates from the Oregon Cultural Trust to a general fund to balance the state budget.  The funds earned by the sales of the plates were specifically designated to support Oregon arts and cultural organization.  The government, however, felt it was their right to take $1.8 million of funds from the Oregon Cultural Trust to disperse across the spectrum of the $855 million dollar shortfall in the Oregon budget.  Please see http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/art-hard-times/ for OPB’s Tuesday, March 10 discussion on Think Out Loud.  Below are two letters written by AVID artists to our representatives to urge the government to replace the misappropriated funds taken from the Oregon Cultural Trust and the contact information for Mary Nolan.  Letters were also written to Representative Nancy Nathanson, Senator Vicki Walker and Governor Ted Kulongoski.

Mary Nolan

Capitol Address:
900 Court St. NE, H-295
Salem, OR 97301
Capitol Phone:
503-986-1436

District Address:
PO Box 1686
Portland, OR 97207
District Phone:
503-221-4999

 

March 12, 2009

Dear Representative Nolan,

I am writing to respond to the decision to reallocate funds raised from the sale of Oregon Cultural Trust license plates into a general fund to balance the budget.  With all due respect to the difficulties you face regarding the budget, I am horrified by this decision.  Many people do not view these license plates as just a statement of support for the arts, as you commented on this Tuesday’s OPB program, Think Out Loud.  These are not vanity plates – these are a means to donate specifically to the furtherance and support of art and culture in Oregon, the 49th rated state in support for the arts.  This ranking is already unacceptable; your decision makes it utterly despicable.

In these trying financial times, isn’t it in your best interest to actually have the trust of your constituents?  Many people, rightfully so, have little faith in the integrity of the government.  Misappropriating funds raised for the arts and culture to disperse into a general fund does little to instate trust that our wishes as citizens are upheld.  People bought the plates trusting that their money would contribute directly to the arts.  The only conscionable action is to treat this as a loan that will be reinstated in full including interest.

It was also a low blow, an ugly ploy exploiting sentimentality, to compare the use of these funds as they are intended to feeding a hungry child.  There should not be a comparison or dichotomy of any sort in this situation.  The problem is one in the same.  Have you not thought that your decision may feed one hungry child only to create another in its place?  The funds that will no longer be there to help one of Oregon’s arts organizations will cause the loss of a job for one its staff members, which will inevitably affect an entire family.  How is it that it is unacceptable for jobs to be lost at Intel, but acceptable, and even expected, for jobs to be lost in the arts?

The arts struggle during the best of times.  Many will wither in these times.  Your decision perpetuates the notion that arts are secondary, discretionary and frivolous and worst of all, dispensable.  I, however, do not agree with this common notion.  Personally I cannot imagine living in a society that values the arts less than the one in which we live now.  It would be a dismal place.  The arts hold a valuable and necessary place in society.  It is one of the things that affirm our humanity.  Art unifies, it helps create and maintain a cultural identity.  It promotes thought and creative solutions.  If this is the best solution to our financial problem that you could come up with, then perhaps it’s time to start thinking outside of the proverbial box – an education in art may assist.

Please help Oregon regain some dignity by pulling us up the ranking of states that support and value our art and culture instead of dragging us to the very bottom.  Give the money back to the trust for which it was intended.


Ms. Nolan,

I’m becoming more and more angry about the cast-off, cast-aside attitude toward the arts in the US, even in DC who site the supposedly more enlightened ‘Smart Diplomacy’ (or ‘Smart Power’ as I heard it termed initially) there really isn’t a shift in thinking, only a shift in jargon. ‘Smart Power’ emphasizes diplomacy over military mite. But isn’t that typical of a post-Republican, Democratic Washington? And what’s the *real* change there?

You know that one of the Bailout Amendments lumped Art Centers amongst privately owned golf-courses and casinos. I wrote to Senator Ron Wyden about his “yea” vote on this and noted that there isn’t a subject heading for ‘arts and humanities’ in his subject-of-email drop-down list (a list about 75 subjects long) and to date have received no acknowledgment of my correspondence, not even a form email.

Part of what will make the next four years fruitful is self-image, and self-image is mostly established by our arts; the arts are an indication of our cultural wealth and identity. 

What is so frustrating is that decision like this send a signal to the World At Large – that Art has no value. This motion undercuts the idea that private individuals should support the arts in other ways; like it or not, the public takes its cues from the government and this is a very, very bad signal to send.

You mentioned in your spot on Think Out Loud that you were searching for reserve funds – so does that mean that, since the Arts are ahead in terms of reserve, the arts get penalized? What about wiser, more effective spending in other departments as opposed to shifting funds that are rightfully earned and designated by and for the Arts? 

I ask, if it were the Arts suffering in this situation, would a budget re-balance take reserves from other Social Services to guarantee the Arts are buffered?

Please, let’s be honest. I’m a business person, an Artist, an Arts Administrator, and have worked with large and small, limited budgets. It is never a solid practice to relocate funds in this manner, at least not without a plan or guarantee to replace it in a specific time-frame with a plan. And particularly when this time is, although a reality, only a phase – a period that can and will successfully be worked through. But that can only happen with *solid* financial planning.

What has just transpired is robbery, not just of funds, but of potential work that Oregon now will not see, it is a blow to creative Oregon’s culture. We’re behind, and it’s thanks to many poor decisions just like this one that leaves us in the dust. 

Boo! I’m really fed up with this kind of thinking. Are you (collectively) *really* thinking forward? What a mistake, what a huge, massive mistake.

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