Corvallis Directors Set the Tone

By Alicia James

Art lives here and it’s been busy over the past year. Recent barometric shifts in our city’s art scene dictate not just what residents will do on weekends, but also ideas and attitudes that shape local identity. Are we an engineering town? Or is our community a well-rounded synthesis of art and science? We visited a handful of Corvallis’ flagship arts institutions to find out what we can expect in the future.

artdirectors

The more things change…
The Arts Center saw its fair share of high-level turnover as 2013 changed to 2014. Two executive directors and one interim director cycled through in a matter of 12 months. Cynthia Spencer, the current executive director, came on board this past April. Spencer is known throughout the art scene as a skilled potter, instructor at Linn-Benton Community College, and, most notably, the former executive director of Fall Festival. A firm believer in the Arts Center’s mission—“Arts at the center of life”—Spencer feels advocacy and support are crucial to her new role. “I will be the head cheerleader for the arts in Benton and Linn counties,” she said. “It won’t be me in a short skirt shaking pompoms, but rather being out there, meeting as many people in the arts as possible, and helping others make connections that may be beneficial to what they are doing.”

No stranger to maximizing limited resources, Spencer intends to increase fundraising and partnerships through additional exposure. Her longtime involvement with the Downtown Corvallis Association places her in a prime spot to achieve this goal. “With cut-backs in public schools, our arts education and arts programming for at-risk youth provide as many services as we can with our limited budget,” she said. Spencer seeks to further ally the Arts Center with the City of Corvallis, Benton County school district, and businesses who “see the value of a strong arts community and the services we provide.” The Kiwanis Foundation, along with Benton County Cultural Coalition, funded the Arts Center’s most recent project, Art Opens Doors. This three-event series invites the community to participate in workshops, plus enjoy live music and refreshments.

Adversity tests a person’s mettle. Christine Hackenbruck, Fall Festival executive director, drew upon a decade of professional experience in Corvallis’ art scene and rose to the occasion when she assumed her role in February 2013. Hackenbruck walked into chaos when the person hired to continue Spencer’s legacy quit after a few months to pursue other goals. A freak rainstorm blew through Corvallis on her debut festival weekend and they cancelled one day for the first time in 41 years. “That was fun for my first year,” she laughed. “Other than that it went really well.”

Now that the mud has dried from everyone’s boots, Hackenbruck has been able to reflect. “I love it,” she said. “It’s so fun to get to interact with the artists.” Hackenbruck also noted that although sponsorship is slightly down, Fall Festival continues to grow. “We had over 90 new applicants this year,” she said. This year’s much-anticipated commemorative poster is a Seurat-inspired view of Corvallis’ Central Park by Mike Bergen, member of Corvallis Arts Guild and Fall Festival board member, titled “Art in the Park.” Fall Festival 2014 will feature new demonstration booths for community participation. Corvallis Arts Guild will set up a quick draw portraiture station. Corvallis Photography Guild will bring its camera obscura, which is usually at da Vinci Days. A painting booth will be there as well. Fall Festival will be held on Saturday, Sept. 27 and Sunday, Sept. 28.

Tinamarie Ivey came on as the executive director of Majestic Theatre in September 2013 after an extensive nationwide search following Corey Pearlstein’s abrupt resignation in February that same year. Ivey envisions the theater as a “collaborative space where the amateur and professional meet.” She said, “I am constantly reminded as to the importance of community partnerships and how to remain relevant in a changing world and diverse community.” Ivey’s plans for the theater are based on the existing strength of Corvallis’ arts community. “We are surrounded by people who love to perform and audiences who want to see their neighbor in a show, whether that be a concert, theater, or dance,” she said.

The Majestic Theatre’s new initiative—“We Are Growing Art”—taps into this resource. “Our objective is to advance community through arts and culture because we believe that the arts energize the cultural sector and support the local economy,” she said. “Our philosophy is that the arts, culture, and creativity contribute to a sustainable community by creating a foundation for defining a sense of place and our new programs support that thinking.” Programming under this initiative has already started and includes series such as Unbridled Voices, Community Engaged Theater Making, and the Arts Consortium. A film series featuring family-friendly movies as well as cutting-edge cinema will also start in the near future.

The Majestic Theatre has also collaborated with da Vinci Days to keep the event’s spirit alive for 2014. Majestic Theatre’s four-day event is scheduled from Tuesday, July 15 to Friday, July 18 and features keynote speakers from Oregon’s scientific community, live music performances, and children’s events. This year’s collaborative framework is a test run for future festivals. “If this works well, it becomes a win-win for both groups,” said Michael Dalton, da Vinci Days board president.

The forecast for da Vinci Days’ 2015 return remains murky, yet optimistic. “Everyone wants to have it,” said Dalton, “but the devil is in the details.” Da Vinci Days’ steering committee, which comprises 20 community leaders including Mayor Julie Manning, continues to meet in order to distill and discuss the results of an online survey posted earlier this spring. While the survey and accompanying town hall meetings have been frequently criticized for poor publicity, 900 people responded online.

Dalton expects that the steering community will give its results to the da Vinci Days board sometime in late July, at which point an implementation plan can be made. “The key is not just having it once, but making a sustainable model for future years,” said Dalton.
…the more they stay the same.

If you looked at the Fairbanks Gallery website before this past month, you might think that they, like all arts institutions since 2008, were feeling the funding crunch. Thankfully, the reduced hours due to staff reductions bit was from two years ago. Furthermore, it had more to do with an office staff member moving to another department than the economy. In short, Douglas Russell, gallery director, is holding down the arts at Oregon State University. “Our gallery program is steady,” Russell said. “We’re planning one and two years out, sometimes further, for our exhibits.”
Security like this comes from solid support from high-level OSU administrators. The Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts recently secured a $5 million donation that will go toward theater and digital arts. “The administrators have confidence in where we’re going,” Russell said. “They’re committed to growing us, moving us forward.” Academic year 2014-‘15 will kick off with a talk by Oliver Harry, the first of three free lectures in a visiting artists and scholars series. Stay tuned to http://oregonstate.edu/fairbanksgallery for details.

As of our last report, the Whiteside Theatre was due to host a professional theater designer over the course of several days in April to formulate a long-term restoration plan. Our venerable Vaudeville relic hosts events, but still needs substantial upgrading to put it back in the ring as the heart of downtown: new lights, modern sound system, ADA-compliant bathrooms, and a concession stand overhaul, not to mention reinstallation of the old organ and a new roof. However, the Whiteside Theatre Foundation has already raised $400,000 just to restore the space to its current operating condition. According to Jerry Larson, chairman of the Whiteside Theatre Foundation, the April meeting was productive, but “the results are necessarily staged out over a longer term.” He continued, “The initial analysis and our response to it is just the first step. While due soon, this hasn’t quite happened yet.”

COUNTERPOINT

Aww, the Vision Thing
By Rob Goffins

In short, where’s the risk, because I’m not seeing it. Can our fair burg really be so devoid of social injustice and malaise that it invites no shock to our collective psyche from the community’s artful? It cannot possibly be the case that Corvallis’ level of sanguinity doesn’t beg an occasional slap from the fringes.

Our community has built the infrastructure for this to happen, possibly not even knowing what it’s craving, but waiting for something, anything. Our municipality goes so far as to own venues, while still others are supported as tax exempt non-profits, not paying property tax. Have more faith that the community will support you, even if you piss us off on occasion – hell, we’ll keep giving you the buildings anyway.

For those supporters that can’t get over being pissed, and we know Corvallis has a subset of folk without vision beyond their horn-rims, think about the support you might gain from people that don’t even see you now.

So far, we have talked about art, but as an aside, let’s also talk about entertainment; how about a change-up please? Try new talents, experiment more. Sometimes you will lose dollars on these ventures, but one might guess you will find many a greenback more for each one lost over time; take down some of the barriers and become entrepreneurial in the best sense of the word.

Of course, we can hear the laments now; there are boards of directors and supporters to be answered to, and some of this has been tried. Also, Corvallis partnerships look more like transactions than relationships and the relationships look more personality-driven than based on shared vision. It cannot be denied there are structural problems here, this very newspaper has outed some of these at times – but, you need not do away with any of the old, you only need to add the new to it – it will probably be quite a bit of fun, actually.

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