Corvallis’ Evolving Arts and Culture Scene: City Club Meeting April 8 at Noon

Photo by Lana Jones

The arts community in Corvallis is ready to bloom. The buds—talent, creativity, passion—are here but will they unfurl to reveal a vibrant native checker lily or another imported daffodil?

There’s nothing wrong with daffodils. Daffodils are cheering after a long grey winter. So too, is an arts and culture community like any other in the country. Nice but Corvallis has never shied away from setting the bar higher. Where should Corvallis arts and culture be and how do we get there? And maybe more importantly, why bother?


Expecting more

David Huff, Executive Director of the Corvallis Art Center, thinks that a vibrant arts and culture community can get people discussing and experiencing the world beyond its mundane problems. He’ll be speaking at the April 8 City Club meeting about the future of arts and culture in Corvallis.

“The challenges we face today are cultural, not technological,” he said. “We could feed the world if we wanted to but the challenge is that we’ve chosen not to. We should invest in talking about how we can change and improve our culture.”

“Art is one of the main things that helps bring cultural exchange,” Huff said.

Less lofty but no less important goals, like economic vitality and quality of life are also advanced by strong arts and culture.

Huff said that the economic benefits of supporting arts and culture are twofold. First, there are the direct benefits of the arts as an industry. Local arts organizations employ local people, bring money into our community, and contribute like any other small business to the local economy and overall quality of life.

Creative Placemaking, a 2010 paper from the National Endowment for the Arts, called the arts and culture sector the nation’s most under-rated economic engine.

“It is our most competitive sector. Many nations are challenging American science and engineering prowess,” the authors said, “but few successfully do so in visual arts, a diverse music portfolio, digital media, design, and writing, from literature to screenplays and news.”

Second, there are indirect benefits that arts bring. When people come from out of town to see a show, they bring outside money into the community and spend it not only on arts but also at hotels, restaurants, and other businesses.

“If you have great art people want to come see it,” said Huff. “It’s one of the reasons our downtown is as vibrant as it is.”

He said that the money spent on arts has a large return on investment. If the Majestic puts on a play, for example, people come out to the show and go to dinner. It also saves them driving to Eugene or Portland so more money is spent locally.

“Time and time again it’s been shown that it’s one of the best investments a city can make. It doesn’t cost that much to support arts and culture. A little goes a long way,” Huff said.

Joel Hirsch, Corvallis City Councilor, said that arts and culture adds to the desirability of the community and makes it a better place to live.

“Culture is part of quality of life, which makes our community attractive,” he said. “Which means that home values stay strong, economic vitality is strong, and companies want to stay here and grow.”


Envisioning a vibrant arts and culture community

Corvallis is already in good position to push arts and culture further.

Johnny Beaver, President of Temporary Artists’ Guild, said that he’s lived all over the US and in Europe too. “I haven’t witnessed this sort of potential anywhere,” he said.

Huff also thought Corvallis was well-situated. “We’ve done well and because of that we’re ready to take the next step if we want to.”

“I think we have the ingredients present in order to actually frame ourselves as a regional, if not national, destination for arts and culture,” said Huff. “We have a very large artist population. We have access to world-class technology and the really smart people that live here.”

The ingredients are in place but the recipe is still being tweaked. “It’s not so much that we need a huge inflow of money,” said Huff. “We need to have a shared vision. How can we work together to share resources and build upon each other?”

Hirsch suggested creating a strategic arts master plan to get people excited and participating to create momentum.

“We need to create a real game plan for raising money and spending money and creating art,” he said.

Beaver said that artists need to come together. “I believe that the future of art in Corvallis revolves around networking—there are many isolated groups of artists that I think could do well, if not to work with each other, just to say hello,” he said.

The upcoming City Club meeting will offer a free chance to network and say hello to local arts leaders: Huff and Brenda VanDevelder, Executive Director of the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation and chair of the Corvallis Arts and Culture Commission.

Huff and VanDevelder will speak about the role of government in supporting arts and culture, the Year of Culture, and arts and culture as an economic engine. Their talk will be followed by a Q&A and discussion period.

City Club meets on April 8 at noon in the Banquet Room of the Renaissance Building on Washington and 1st. The meeting is free. A catered lunch is also available for $8 for members, $10 for non-members. Registration information is available online at

by Lana Jones