Oregon Cultural Trust: 20 Years of Funding Arts and Culture

Chava Florendo
Irma Pineda of the Teokalli Aztec Dancers performs in Anima Mundi Productions’ new Trust-supported and immigration-themed opera, Dreams Have No Borders, during a recent recording in Southern Oregon.

Brand Story — How the creation of a cultural tax credit helped strengthen Oregon’s communities

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Twenty years ago, a mighty group of Oregon visionaries was celebrating the fulfillment of a long-held dream: the creation of a statewide funding engine for culture — the Oregon Cultural Trust.

The early champions, including community leaders Charlie Walker and Norm Smith, knew a vibrant arts and culture ecosystem leads to healthier, stronger and more prosperous communities.

The concept for the Cultural Trust was simple but unique: Create a tax credit to empower Oregonians to direct a portion of their state taxes to fund culture statewide. Legislation, carried by then-Rep. Ben Westlund (D-Bend), defined “culture” as “the arts, history, heritage, humanities and historic preservation.” The Trust also called for the creation of a statewide cultural network, with five statewide partners and county and tribal cultural coalitions to ensure all communities, large and small, would benefit from the funding.

1121CT 5Shadow ProjectStudent Cailyn meets with volunteer reading mentor, Timber Joey, to set reading goals and celebrate her progress at The Shadow Project’s Reading Mentors program, supported by the Cultural Trust.

The cultural tax credit enables Oregonians who donate to a nonprofit cultural organization — and then match that with a donation to the Cultural Trust — to claim a 100 percent state tax credit for their Trust donation. The amount of the Trust donation then goes into a statewide pool of funding for culture.

Growing impact on cultural field

The first round of grants made possible by the tax credit in 2003 totaled just over $500,000. Each year, as participation in the cultural tax credit has increased, grant awards have grown proportionately. In addition, a minimum of 40 percent of the funds raised annually has been invested in a permanent fund for culture, now nearing $33 million.

“Oregonians understand that this is something created by them for them and they are contributing,” says Smith, who remains a steadfast supporter of the Cultural Trust. “Look at the exciting outcome.”

1121CT 7Rasika 1Artist Vikku Vinayakaram and his Ghatam clay pots at Rasika, supported by the Cultural Trust.

In 2021, the Cultural Trust’s grant awards exceeded $3.25 million, the result of a record $5.2 million invested in the cultural tax credit in 2020. That brings the total funds raised since the Trust was founded to more than $74 million, with more than $36million grant awards disbursed.

Recipients agree the impact of the Cultural Trust funding far exceeds the dollar amount of the grant awards.

“I’d describe the role of the Cultural Trust as a vital incubator of culture, which allows arts organizations to take creative risks and amplify the voices of those who have been excluded from the cultural sphere for far too long,” says Ethan Gans-Morse of Anima Mundi Productions in Phoenix, Oregon, the recipient of four awards totaling $91,736 since 2019. “The Cultural Trust is a vehicle for Oregonians to make each other’s lives more beautiful, more profound and more interconnected.”

Others cite the impact of the Cultural Trust on their own growth over time. “Over the past 20 years, support from the Oregon Cultural Trust has helped PBO grow in a sustainable way,” says Abigail McKee of Portland Baroque Orchestra, which has received nine grant awards totaling $289,429. “Trust support has given us the seed money needed to launch programs and build our professionalism.”

Restore Oregon has received four grant awards totaling $315,724.

“The Oregon Cultural Trust has played a tremendous role in Restore Oregon’s growth,” says Nicole Possert, executive director. “It provided funding when we needed support in planning, launching and expanding historic preservation programs and projects statewide.

“And the generous infusion of general operating support they provided in late 2020 (through the Coronavirus Relief Fund for Cultural Support) helped buoy our organization through the worst of the pandemic crisis and keep our expert staff employed,” Possert continues.

1121CT 3Sisters Folk Festival audience 2021Changui Majadero, from Los Angeles, celebrate the last set of the 2021 Sisters Folk Festival at the Village Green stage on Oct. 3. The Festival is supported by the Cultural Trust.

Phil Busse, executive director of the Ashland Film Festival, which has received seven grant awards over the years totaling $73,015, says the Trust’s funding provided steady and essential support. “Really,” he says, “the support has been a bedrock.”

Willie Richardson, board president of Oregon Black Pioneers, echoes that sentiment: “For small organizations like Oregon Black Pioneers, the Cultural Trust plays a significant role in assisting with financial support of programs, projects and the capacity of organizations to fulfill their mission.”

“In its first 20 years the Cultural Trust has proven itself as a stable source of funding for Oregon’s arts, heritage and humanities community,” says Niki Price, chair of the Cultural Trust board. “We will continue to urge more Oregonians who make cultural donations to utilize the tax credit so that we can provide even greater cultural prosperity in the coming decades.”

“If Oregon’s Culture is our treasure, then the Cultural Trust is Oregonians’ trove,” Smith adds. “Celebrate Oregon! Support its Trust for culture.”

1121CT 4Comunidad y HerenciaEncouraging sportsmanship and a sense of community through Comunidad y Herencia Cultural, a first-time Trust grant recipient in 2021.

Time to Celebrate Oregon!

As the 20th anniversary approached, the Cultural Trust board voted unanimously to mark the occasion by redesigning the Trust license plate to reflect, respect and celebrate Oregon’s diverse cultures. Revenue from license plate sales support promotion of the cultural tax credit.

The resulting artwork, called Celebrate Oregon!, is a vibrant tapestry of Oregon geography into which are woven 127 symbols depicting Oregon’s diverse cultures. The artwork, created by Liza Burns of Eugene, is also being installed as full-scale murals in four Oregon airports. The license plate, which debuted Oct. 1, celebrates the region’s cultural innovators and offers yet another way to support their invaluable contributions to Oregon. See the artwork and learn more at CulturalTrust.org/Celebrate Oregon


Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.