Where We Live: Oregon’s arts, culture in age of COVID


Oregon's arts and culture organizations so far lost $60M

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After a highly successful run of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” Portland Center Stage at the Armory shut down in March when the pandemic hit.

Portland Center Stage, the city’s largest theater company, is down from 125 full-time employees to just 28. There are more than 100 others in town, including Triangle, Stumptown, Artists Rep and Third Rail — and all are dealing with uncertainty for their future.

A recent pre-COVID study estimated the economic impact of arts and culture in Oregon at $687million. Oregon’s arts and culture organizations have already lost about $60 million in revenue and that number continues to climb.

An actor in a performance at Portland Center Stage (Undated, courtesy)

Cynthia Fuhrman, the Managing Director for Portland Center Stage said it “all came to a screeching halt, and then it became a question of, ‘What does the future look like?’ We don’t know when people will feel safe, and when it will be safe for people to come back into theatres, so we are shifting our work to a lot of online content, and some new play commissioning to get some new product in the pipeline.”

Donors, patrons and grants are keeping companies afloat. But box office and ticket sales account for most of the revenue. The ripple affect of lost audiences affects everything from restaurants to hotels.

Oregon Arts and Culture Recovery Program

Portland Center Stage began in 1988 as a branch of Ashland’s world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival when the new Portland Center for the Performing Arts needed a tenant.

It broke from Ashland amicably in 1994.

“By the end of that six years, the Portland branch had grown to be one of the 20 largest theatres in the United States on its own,” Fuhrman said.

Now, theatres big and small are hoping to light their stages again soon. Thousands of actors are missing both paychecks and the thrill of performing for live audiences.

“To me,” she said, “in the 30-plus years I’ve been in Portland, it feels like something this city really values very highly.”

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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