Nurturing Oregon’s Cultural Ecology

Rejoice: Diaspora Dance Theater of Portland, supported by the Cultural Trust and Oregonians who invest in the Cultural Tax Credit.

Brand Story – Oregon Cultural Trust’s transparent, community-based approach has decades of positive change.

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The map of Oregon features a mosaic of counties and tribes with their own diverse stories and contributions, but they all share something in common: Every one of them has a cultural plan and is allocated annual support from the Oregon Cultural Trust. The decades-old initiative funds transformative cultural programs that strengthen a sense of wellbeing and belonging within Oregon communities. 

The Cultural Trust, established in 2001, receives funding through an innovative Cultural Tax Credit, which allows Oregonians to funnel their tax dollars toward cultural organizations across the state via the Trust. 

For the upcoming year, Oregonians have allocated $3 million to be paid out in grants by the Oregon Cultural Trust. Nearly $1.5 million will go directly to 86 cultural organizations, each serving different geographic regions. The remainder will be allocated to the Cultural Coalitions of 45 counties and tribes, and the Trust’s statewide service partners: Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Humanities, State Historic Preservation Office and the Oregon Historical Society.

This year’s recipients of the Cultural Trust direct grant programs are as varied as the communities themselves. 

2022 Tule Mat Making Class at The Museum at Warm Springs, supported by a FY2024 Cultural Trust grant award. Photo by Elizabeth Woody.

The Warm Springs Community Action Team, for example, requested and received a grant of nearly $33,000 to preserve its Name Giving Ceremony, a rite of passage for Native youth. Funds will help host traditional events that accompany the ceremony: craft nights, food gathering trips and first-food processing classes.

“Culture is the bedrock of community. It’s critical for our sense of self and self-esteem. The ways that we express our humanity and give meaning to our lives are as diverse as the many cultures and languages spoken here,” explains Aili Schreiner, Trust Manager, Oregon Cultural Trust. “The work of the Trust to me is about an ongoing investment in community-led meaning-making activities.” 

The Trust, which was founded in 2001 and has now awarded nearly $40 million in grants, prioritizes projects that fall under one of four categories: access to culture, heritage preservation, creativity and organizational capacity. 

Its capacity category provides an avenue for the Cultural Trust to fund the essentials that keep nonprofits alive, such as human resources, strategy or infrastructure. Back in Warm Springs, an important local museum that spotlights stories and artifacts from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs received $22,000 to install a new HVAC system to help keep the museum running – not a flashy project, but an essential one. 

Each year the Trust awards funding to at least a dozen first-time recipients. One such project is the Artists Mentorship Program, a drop-in center where homeless youth can access advanced art and design resources, such as a fully equipped performance and recording studio, art supplies, art teachers and lessons. 

An image created by artists Shelby David and Crystal Schenk that depicts the Salmon Run sculpture for the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s new lobby, supported by a FY2024 Cultural Trust grant award.

“We hear all the time, especially through county programs, that one grant, even one that seems small, is life-changing to an individual who might have been sitting on an idea for decades,” Schreiner says. “The idea is that all the grants are an investment that leads to new opportunities.”

Importantly, the grants foster innovation too: CymaSpace, which enables inclusivity within arts, culture and media, and enTaiko, a Japanese taiko drum school and performance group, received funding to create a multisensory concert for the deaf community. The new artform will transform traditional Japanese drum music into light for the enjoyment of audiences of all abilities. 

Another boundary-pushing creative initiative, The Evolve Experience, uses storytelling to bridge divides, namely between law enforcement and Black communities. The organization behind the award-winning initiative, The Red Door Project, was granted funding by the Cultural Trust to conduct a data-driven study of The Evolve Experience and, more broadly, the arts as a tool for systematic change.  

“We want to invest in cultural nonprofits who are clearly making a difference in the state of Oregon and whose projects are catalytic,” Schreiner continues. “Everything we do is peer-reviewed. We’re very intentional in terms of where taxpayer dollars go, and we want people to see the impact of those dollars.” 

Working with partners and coalitions lets funding happen at the community level, ensuring effective, informed, community-led change.

“We’re big believers in ‘nothing for us without us,’” Schreiner adds. “Thanks to the Trust, we know that there isn’t a county in Oregon that doesn’t have some kind of cultural investment. Any community you visit here will have some sort of theater program or historical society or community college arts program…There are more than 1,600 cultural nonprofits in Oregon.”

EnTaiko performs at a Northwest Children’s Theater event. EnTaiko’s collaboration with CymaSpace, funding in part by the Cultural Trust, will make drum performance more accessible to the deaf community.

The final design selected by the Cultural Trust for its Celebrate Oregon! Oregon license plate attempts to capture that abundance of culture. The imagery, created by Eugene-based artist Liza Mana Burns, features 127 different symbols that together depict the diversity of the state’s heritage and cultural practices. Proceeds from the plate sales help support the Trust’s marketing and communications efforts, among other service-based activities. 

The Cultural Tax Credit funds the grant awards budget, which dipped slightly last year just before a record-breaking number of grant applications were submitted. This year, the Trust team is hard at work to ensure funding increases for the next round of applications. Between now and Dec. 31, they are urging those who contribute to cultural organizations to also make a donation to the Trust, which will come back to them at tax time in the form of an Oregon tax credit.

“If people are looking to impact their fellow Oregonians in every part of the state, this is a powerful way to do that,” Schreiner encourages. “If you’re already making charitable donations, take advantage of the Cultural Tax Credit. It’s a super smart investment and its impact is unquestioned.” 

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.