The Importance of Art in our lives and in our City.

I’m running for mayor of Portland and I want to make it clear that I’m the candidate that truly understands the importance of art in our lives as individuals and as a city.

Great talent does happen, but rarely. For the most part there are two ways art happens. The first way is that a person has all their needs met and because of that they can choose to become an artist. The second way is that a person does not have all their needs met and despite of this they choose to become an artist.

Great art can be created by both groups but it’s the second group that is the most important in Portland. The struggle of that group creates character. The struggle of that group creates camaraderie. If you take art and add character and camaraderie you have community.

The greatness of Portland comes from these communities that second group of artists created. Once it’s created others can join in, help form the community, help guide it. These artists, they create art in everything they do. They think differently. The chose their art over money so many have jobs in coffee houses, bars, bike shops, security companies, warehouses. They make enough money to get by, but that’s all they need. Money is not their motivation, but because art is in all they do this town went to the top of all the national top ten lists. People from all over moved here for the art, the character, the community. People flooded in and since the politicians we elected don’t understand the importance of the artist they care more about the money from the potential residents than the livability of the people who made Portland this incredible artistic community.

Now the people who made this city so amazing can’t afford to live in the city they made amazing. They either leave or they are forced to choose money over their art. Either way the character, camaraderie, and community disappears. I’ve been experiencing this firsthand on Alberta Street for the last seven years.

Below are the questions given to the other candidates at the RACC candidates forum I wasn’t invited to:

What role do the arts and culture play in our city and what do the arts personally mean to you and your family?

Art saved my life. Since I was a kid growing up in the trailer parks of the Cascade Mountains in poverty I always wrote, drew pictures, painted, acted. To get out of poverty I joined the military and spent a total of thirteen years in the service. All but two were Army infantry. After I left the service I had a hard time transitioning back to civilian life like many combat veterans. I became suicidal, but art saved my life. I started painting and writing again and from that I published my book The Wax Bullet War. I dedicated my life to helping other people who were in my situation with art. I facilitated art therapy with combat veterans and got six of them on stage for The Canticle of the Black Madonna, an opera about PTSD with the budget of $350,000 that was performed at the Newmark Theater downtown Portland. I helped produce the Portland segment of HUMAN the Movie by gathering combat veterans to speak on camera about what it means to be human. The movie premiered in the General Assembly room of the United Nations in New York. I was there. I facilitate a monthly poetry and prose discussion group at the American Legion Post 134 sponsored by the Oregon Humanities and I’ve been doing it for the last year. I volunteered as the post commander at the American Legion post and turned it into a hub for literary events. We host 4 monthly series now and we’ve had authors from all over the country read there. My family and I live in the Alberta Arts District. Art is a way to heal the soul both as an individual and a society. That’s what it means to me and my family.


How will you foster the growth of the creative economy in our region?

The easy answer is to pay our workers a living wage. It’s naive to believe that the problems Portlanders are having are not connected. In 2008, Development Services had 330 employees and within three years they had 160. These employees helped developers through the planning and development, permitting, and inspection stages of building houses. We never hired these employees back and we’re in a boom. Because of this building a new property takes over a year, maybe two. I propose to look through the city’s buildable land inventory and pick a few places to create temporary or even permanent housing for the houseless using the 20 million the city has set aside to fight houselessness. A part of the RFP (request for proposals) will be a special priority on this project. This will cut the time of planning, permitting, and inspecting. In this way the developers would make money. In return we are going to put a small cost attached to the projects. This cost will be dedicated to hiring more people in the Development Services Bureau. The more employees we have the faster the process is for other developers. Last year, with a limited staff at Bureau of Development Services we still built 15,000 units. Each single family unit makes the city approximately 20-30 thousand dollars. Multi family houses can make 40-50 thousand dollars. Imagine if Portland can create 30,000 units or 50,000 a year. The money we make with those additional units we dedicate to subsidizing small businesses for a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage. We need to do this because if we raise the minimum wage without the subsidies we may end up hurting small business because while big business can absorb the cost, small businesses cannot. If people complain about subsidizing small businesses I’d argue the alternative, having the small business money leave the local economy and paying unemployment would be more expensive than the subsidies by far. Once we are paying our workers a livable wage they will go back to creating art. That is all the artists want. When the art is being created the art economy will grow.


How will you enhance the delivery of and support for arts education in school and neighborhood settings?

We need to have accountability to where the money from the art tax is going and make sure that it is getting in the schools and to the artists in our communities. This way we can continue to hire more art and music teachers like the 70 that were hired in 2012, and promote art in our neighborhoods. Other than the money, we need to make art a priority in our city’s development. We need to hold art exhibits from different school districts in city buildings. We need to invite bands to play at City Hall. The mayor needs to hire back the art liaisons and go out to schools and speak about the importance of art. This is vital because when we put the motivation to create in our children, not only do their parents get more involved in our neighborhoods but they grow up to create communities people want to live in. When the city government celebrates the artists within our community, these artists become more invested in the future of our city. 


What other public policies would you pursue to strengthen the creative capacity of our region?

I would bring back the Mayor’s Ball and make it a celebration of the arts. This would be an annual event to recognize art teachers, local artists of all mediums, and community leaders. I would like to make the mural process faster and less expensive, but maintain standards. I would also open up communication with our sister cities and invite them to show us their culture and art with physical works and video communication events. I would appoint a Poet Laureate, Resident Writer, and Resident Artist of Portland and that comes with grants and responsibilities to represent our city in national conferences and events. I would like to increase incentives for filming in our city and work with community leaders in film to create Studio 503.


Each year, you will have the opportunity to vote to approve a budget for arts funding through the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC). Do you commit to maintaining or increasing this budget allocation and funding level?

Honestly, this depends on the problems we’re having each year. We’ve been pretty steady at at around 3.6 billion dollars for our budget and half of that is dedicated money (your garbage bill goes to taking care of the garbage, sewage bill goes to maintaining the sewer system, et cetera), the other half is general funds and out of those funds come taxes to pave our roads which are in terrible disrepair, pay the salaries of our police which are completely overworked and undermanned. There will be some hard decisions reached very soon as we move toward they city we will become. So I can’t say that I will commit to maintaining or increasing RACC’s budget, but I will tell you again that art saved my life and art made Portland great. Art will always be a priority in my life no matter what profession I am in. I will do everything in my power to ensure RACC has a stable budget they can count on, but not at the expense of the artists.

By Sean Davis

Sean Davis is the author of The Wax Bullet War, a Purple Heart Iraq War veteran, and the winner of the Legionnaire of the Year Award from the American Legion in 2015 and the recipient of the Emily Gottfried Emerging Leader, Human Rights award for 2016. His stories, essays, and articles have appeared in the the Ted Talk Book The Misfit’s Manifesto (Simon and Schuster), Forest Avenue Press anthology City of Weird, Sixty Minutes, Story Corps, Flaunt Magazine, The Big Smoke, Human the movie, and much more.

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