Opinion: Arts and culture are leading Portland’s revival

Carmen Rubio and Mingus Mapps

Rubio, a Portland city commissioner, serves as the city’s arts and culture commissioner. Mapps, a Portland city commissioner, serves as the city’s liaison to Travel Portland and the Portland Film Office. Both joined the Portland City Council in 2021.

Over the past few months, we’ve had the privilege and joy of attending live, in-person arts events: “The Chinese Lady” play, opening night of the Oregon Symphony, Pink Martini’s Valentine’s Day show and the new Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism exhibition at the Portland Art Museum.

We’ve been in good company. The museum welcomed 10,000 visitors in the opening week of Mexican Modernism, and 66,000 people visited Pioneer Courthouse Square during the Portland Winter Lights Festival in February. In January, Music Portland brought us a whole “Portland Music Month” of local artists playing local venues to benefit our local music scene.

Yes, we’ve continued to experience the arts during COVID – but that experience has been so different. Like so many other aspects of community, we went from typically experiencing art and performance together, in-person, to experiencing it remotely – sometimes simultaneously with other people, but in isolation.

And we think you’ll agree: that’s just not the best way to experience art. It’s not the best for artists, nor audiences, nor venues.

At this point in time – as we enter what promises to be a safer stage of the pandemic – we would ask you to reflect on what Portland’s art and culture scene has meant to you, your family and your friends.

And we’d ask you to recognize that the recovery of our region – especially our downtown –depends on arts and culture.

Live, in-person arts make us feel joyful and alive and have, for millennia, helped humans to grieve, heal and eventually celebrate together. We need art now.

Thankfully, we can find it throughout town and especially in our downtown core. Some paint a gloomy picture of downtown Portland. But arts and cultural programming is already filling our downtown with people for special events, performances and exhibitions.

We all need that to continue.

Our theaters, galleries and concert venues struggled to stay afloat in the wake of pandemic closures and cancellations. The Oregon Arts Commission, Regional Arts and Culture Council and many other institutions provided support but couldn’t patch the $330.4 million hole from each year of COVID closures.

Patching that hole requires you. And us. And our friends.

As Portland city commissioners and as Portlanders who love the arts, we urge you and your families to check out arts and culture events that are happening now and events planned for the future. Venues are open or reopening, and they’re taking precautions to ensure community members are safe. Many are offering free or reduced-cost events or, like the Portland Art Museum, providing free admission to kids.

Come downtown and experience the energy and enrichment that comes from being together again.

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