Portland’s become an arty city, a burg of portent, of width and height and girth and tons of stuff sorted in all sorts of styles, set about in all sorts of ways. That’s just the vital point of this blog – Portland has an abundance of art, out in public, ready to be seen and enjoyed, given to you, the ubiquitous tax-paying wandering-around audience.

As one of the very few adamant and amateur art crits here, it’s my task to identify the real stuff – no fluff, no highlights, no friends, no fashion, no mainstream art hooey. And to point out crap – both as artwork and as art politic – when it occurs.

D K Row, art writer of The Oregonian, wrote A committee approach slays Chinatown’s dragon, and seems to understand the unenviable position public art admins face. (A dreadful purgatory for one who loves art and the creative spark, damned to filing paperwork and explaining rules of the game. Of course we can find fault, but also take pity.)

Important to note, as PPA showed in December, More Dragons Emerge from RACC, more than just one of artist Brian Goldbloom’s sculptures are duds; by our count all four Dragons are duds, and four more are still to come, or have been delayed because of the controversy.

Row’s article today is worth reading fully. He reports the budget for Goldbloom’s eight part Chinese Dragons is $191,000 – considerably higher (and more reasonable) than the $22,000 figure from the Mercury in January. Perhaps the $22K figure refers to the single Dragon which the Chinese community has objected to.

In 2005, City Auditor Gary Blackmer, in his performance audit of the RACC, Percent for Art Program: Financial allocation process is informal, inconsistent, and may not fulfill requirements for public art (pdf), asked to bring transparency to the process of allocating public moneys for artwork, to assist building designers and project managers. The Chinese Dragons problem should be an anticipatory red flag to city & culture admins – full disclosure now on public art purchases.

There’s no bureaucratic or technical reason to withhold this information. RACC does a good job (in comparison to many other arts bureaucracies) in providing online information.

Information about all Portland art purchases should be available online, including,

  • Policy for selecting selection committee members
  • Committee or decision process
  • Cost of artwork
  • Cost of transporting and installation of artwork
  • Cost of maintenance over estimated lifetime of artwork
  • Number of hours of staff and volunteer time spent on project
  • What project budget(s) purchases each artwork
  • Members of selection committees, agenda and minutes

But don’t point at the committee process as the culprit. Diligent public art managers, in purgatory or not, are the intermediaries between rules, artists and the community; they’ve accepted this fate.

The community’s rejection of Goldbloom’s Chinese Dragons is much larger than the Chinese community and shows Portland is becoming more cosmopolitan: we reject the canned, pre-packaged, suburban qualities of Dragons not only because it’s “bad luck” or any sort of low rent juju, but because it’s bad art; ill considered, poorly manufactured, and as tasteless as the chow mein at House of Louie.

Row ends his essay with a telling quote from Eloise Damrosch, ED of RACC, “At this point, we’re not ready to delve into who did what wrong and why. But we’ll look into it because we’d be irresponsible not to.”

Don’t wait – now is always time to right a wrong. And in public. We’re ready.