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The Trust History
A brief history of the Oregon Cultural Trust
The Oregon Cultural Trust was passed by the Oregon Legislature in August 2001, in a near unanimous vote on HB 2923 authorizing the cultural tax credit, cultural license plate and ability to transfer state assets to build the Cultural Trust. The Trust’s original mission: “to enhance the lives of Oregonians by implementing a sustainable public-private integrated cultural funding program that will support, stabilize and protect Oregon culture; the humanities, heritage and the arts. The Trust will expand public awareness of, quality of, access to and use of culture in Oregon.”
The organizational scaffolding was erected in 2002 with a statewide cultural summit in June and regional summits in September, where 11 area groups hammered out the current structure of county and tribal cultural coalitions. The unique cultural tax credit, which allows donors to match a gift to participating cultural non-profits with a gift to the Trust, and then get the match back at tax time, went into effect on December 1, 2002. Within a single month, by December 31, 2002, Oregonians donated $1.5 million to the Trust, and in May, 2003, the Trust awarded its first round of grants, 214,000.
Working with five cultural partners (Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, Oregon Humanities, Oregon Heritage Commission, and Oregon Historical Society) as well as thousands of local non-profits, the Trust has grown to a $17 million permanent fund that gave $1.45million in grants in FY 2011-12. The Trust supports 36 county cultural and six tribal coalitions with their operations and sub-granting. Such programs as the Oregon Poet Laureate, a post that was reinstated in 2006 after having been vacant for 17 years, uses Cultural Trust funds.
This statewide and regional infrastructure, along with the opportunities opened to cultural non-profits by our grants and development strategy, created a web of culture in Oregon where there was none before.
The benefit to our state has been immeasurable. From the Oregon Symphony, to the Friends of the Sumpter Valley Dredge, our grantees have seen increased prominence and prosperity. In the case of visitor attractions, auxiliary services - area restaurants, shops, gas stations, and lodging establishments have also seen increased activity. In the smaller communities, a tourism dollar spent locally tends to stay in town several days, circulating through grocery stores, medical and legal offices, laundry services, and contractors, keeping people employed or providing a business income stream.
But culture and heritage is not just about dollars. It is about educating our children and adults, supplementing arts-poor school systems, allowing underserved populations to access arts camps and long term mentorship like those offered by Caldera Youth Program, or reading programs like those offered by Josephine Community Libraries. It is about helping the Columbia Maritime Museum and Clatsop Community College historic preservation students to catalog and document historic wooden boats of the region. This grant allowed students to gain valuable experience and the museum captured the attention of the Library of Congress and National Parks Services, giving it the status of regional center for historic boats.
In the end, Oregon culture and the Cultural Trust infuse color, beauty, and meaning into our lives. And since Oregon is all about livability, such color, beauty and meaning is our cultural mandate.