“To be truly competitive, both nationally and internationally, we’re going to need to grow our creative capacity.”
–Sam Adams, 2009 State of the City.[i]
Adams’ says his childhood exposure to arts and music served as a touchstone for his understanding their true value. Growing up in Newport, Oregon, he took summer classes in pottery and drawing classes at the Nye Beach Yaquina Art Association Center. [ii] He also took piano lessons and learned to play the trumpet at Newport Junior High School. When he got use of a school camera, he volunteered as a yearbook and newspaper photographer[iii] at South Eugene High School. Adams credits these art and music experiences in helping him see beyond some tough times and in honing his critical thinking and creativity.
In 2004, Adams provided remarks at a City Council candidates’ forum. Adams titled his remarks “Portland: The City of Nearly-starving Artists,[iv] and Five Promises That Can Help Change That.”[v] Oregonian arts reporter D.K. Row wrote about Adams’ remarks:
His printed list of initiatives was as detailed as a PowerPoint presentation, promised to increase the Percent for Art percentage, too, but added that he would also try to raise $15 million in the next five years for the arts.” [vi] [vii]
He said, “Our mantra: ‘$15 million in 5 years,’ say it lout…again!” “Is this an aggressive goal? Yes! Do I have it all figured out how to get there? No. But, we must find $15 million in new and public funding for local art and cultural non-profits by 2010 or Portland risks being a ‘has-been’ arts and culture city…” [viii]
Adams won that race, and in July 2005, when Adams took office, he became Portland’s arts commissioner.[ix]
At that time, Portland’s arts funding per capita, lagged behind West Coast cities: San Francisco and Los Angeles, unsurprisingly invested more than Portland, but so did Seattle, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose and Oakland.[x] Compared to other states, government funding for the arts in Oregon was low, even though individual donations were above average, and attendance at cultural events was high.[xi] A key underlying difference between Portland and many other cities was that Portland did not have a dedicated and secure arts funding base; cities that had such a base were able to invest in their arts at twice to 10 times the per capita level than in Portland.[xii]
In 2008, the year Adams won his race for Mayor, Portland was considered by many to be an arts magnet. Oregon was a state where the number of self-described artists had jumped decisively, from 15th nationally in 1990 to 8th in 2000 per capita.[xiii] But on an apples-to-apples comparison, Portland still lagged, ranking No. 23 per capita among U.S. metropolitan regions in arts funding. Less than 1%, or $3.62 million, of the City's general fund of $418 million went to arts and culture programs.[xiv]
For eight years as Arts Commissioner, Adams, his organizational partners and staff, dealt with multiple arts and culture related issues. They had three top goals: 1) make the Portland arts community more diverse and inclusive; 2) enact more dedicated funding streams to support the arts; and, 3) restore art education in public schools.
Of his time serving as Portland’s arts commissioner, Barry Johnson reporter at Oregon Arts Watch, wrote, “Adams’ support for the arts during his term has been stalwart. He has figured out many ways to support the arts during his term: Holding the line on the city’s contribution to the Regional Arts & Culture council during the economic downturn and supporting a tax levy that would stabilize arts funding at a much higher level were the big ones, and there were a multitude of smaller ones.”[xv]
Executive Director Eloise Damrosch, and Director of Community Affairs Jeff Hawthorne, of the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) along with board and staff team were key partners on all the policy and projects noted here, as was NW Business Committee for the Arts; Executive Director Jessica Jarratt Miller, Keith Daly, Outreach Director, Board Chair Chris Coleman, of CAN, Creative Advocacy Network, long with steering committee and board, volunteers and funders, were the backbone of the successful 2012 arts funding city ballot measure.
“I’ll lead or follow, but on the City Council, I’m not going away. I will ask to be appointed liaison to RACC. If I am not appointed, I will... appoint a full-time staff person focused on arts and culture... I will help individual art non-profits with their grant and private sector pitches for funds.”
- Adams, Sam (2004). “Portland: The City of nearly starving artists, and five promises that can change that.” Sam Adams for City Council campaign.
Adams’ arts liaisons played a key role in arts and culture projects and policy changes. Over eight years in office, serving for various amounts of time and on the projects noted, his arts liaisons included: Jesse Beason, Pollyanne Birge, Caryn Brooks, Cary Clarke, Tomi Douglas, and Jennifer Yocom .
Unlike advocates for other community issues, Adams believed the art community was too passive, un-unified and politically unorganized. "The arts and culture community has done a poor job in terms of advocating for its goals," Adams said at an arts town hall in 2005. "A lot of organizations will have to advocate for something that will not directly benefit them," said Adams, "but the larger cause."[xvi]
Find talented staff, shore up sagging funding, help unify and connect the arts community, outreach to build a network of aggressive arts supporters, and complete a deeply researched and embraced strategy -- Adams said these were his immediate ‘to dos’ after taking office as Portland Arts Commissioner[xvii] in July 1, 2005.
[i] Adams, Sam (February 29, 2009). 2009 State of the City Speech. [ii] Row, D.K. (July 22, 2004). “Candidates in harmony on worth of arts.” The Oregonian. Page C2 [iii] Baker, Nena (April 7, 2006). “The Mayor’s Main Man,” The Oregonian. Page A1. [iv] Row, D.K. (July 27, 2009). Portland’s creative class at economic crossroads.” The Oregonian. Living Section. [v] Adams, Sam (2008). “Portland: The City of nearly starving artists, and five promises that can change that.” Sam Adams for City Council campaign. https://web.archive.org/web/20041116230543/http://www.samforpdx.com:80/arts.html. Retrieved 2018-17-2. [vi] Row, D.K. (August 27, 2004). “On the hustings for arts.” The Oregonian. [vii] Moore, Scott (August 26, 2004). “They Promised! Candidates Pledge Undying Support for the Arts.” Portland Mercury. [viii] Adams, Sam (2008). “Portland: The City of nearly starving artists, and five promises that can change that.” Sam Adams for City Council campaign. https://web.archive.org/web/20041116230543/http://www.samforpdx.com:80/arts.html. Retrieved 2018-17-2. [ix] Griffin, Anna (June 23, 2005). "Potter's changes rock city hall -- Portland’s mayor forces out 3 bureau chiefs and shifts responsibilities in far-reaching overhaul." The Oregonian. [x] Editorial Board (July 24, 2006). “Loving the arts, one payday at a time.” The Oregonian. Page B8. [xi] Johnson, Barry (September 21, 2009). “Arts funding could rise if more of us just worked at it.” The Oregonian. [xii] Morse, Carole (July 4, 2009). “Investing in cultural assets now more than ever, Oregon needs arts.” The Oregonian. [xiii] Row, D.K. (June 13, 2008). “Well yes, Oregon IS for dreamers.” The Oregonian. Page B1. [xiv] Row, D.K. (June 29, 2008). “Art for arts' sake.” The Oregonian. Page 1. [xv] Johnson, Barry (July 30, 2011). "News & notes: Sam Adams, NEA, Allen Nause, Tacoma Arts Center." http://www.orartswatch.org/news-notes-sam-adams-nea-allen-nause-tacoma-art-museum/ Oregon Arts Watch. Retrieved 2018-22-2. [xvi] Row, D.K. (June 29, 2008). “Art for arts' sake.” The Oregonian. Page 1. [xvii] Griffin, Anna (June 23, 2005). “Potter’s changes rock city hall—Portland’s mayor forces out 3 bureau chiefs and shifts responsibilities in a far-reaching overhaul.” The Oregonian. Page A1.