- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

BEND, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon Arts Commission has decided it will no longer offer funding from grants to a Bend museum and several other organizations.

The commission did not renew funding for the High Desert Museum through Operating Support and Arts Learning grants, arguing that the Bend museum focuses on natural history and the environment and places its arts programming second, The Bulletin reported (https://is.gd/LS3A0F ). The grant states that recipients must have art at the core of their mission.

Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Washington County Historical Museum received the same notification.

“We disagree with their decision,” museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw said. “We are a multidisciplinary museum with permanent art installations. For example, our living history exhibit is an art form in a very educational sense. Who is the Arts Commission to say what is art and to decide what’s the best way to deliver our mission?”

The High Desert Museum received about $20,000 out of a $4 million total budget from the grants in fiscal year 2016.

Oregon Public Broadcasting was notified of its ineligibility for the grants around the same time as the museum.

“Literally, I think I just got an email saying, ‘Hey, you’re not qualified for this anymore,’ ” OPB President and CEO Steve Bass said. “And I think that’s part of why it was disappointing; nobody gave us a heads up or said, ‘Hey, can we talk about this?’ “

Commission Executive Director Brian Rogers said the eligibility criteria didn’t change, but some organizations lost funding after last year’s review of recipients.

“I’ve been here two years, and prior to that, the High Desert Museum applied and got into the Operating Support category. I don’t know how,” Rogers said. “The eligibility has not changed in a long time, and it is, ‘Do you operate under a mission that is primarily focused on arts programming?’ “

The High Desert Museum appealed the decision, but the commission denied it after reviewing the offerings and website, Rogers said.

Whitelaw said the arts-specific requirement is unfair to communities in more rural eastern Oregon.

“Part of our argument,” Whitelaw said, “is that an arts-specific museum is not going to work in many of these smaller communities. Part of the great thing about the High Desert Museum is that we take a multidisciplinary approach to reach a wider audience.”

The High Desert Museum has hired an outside attorney to write a request for reconsideration from the commission.

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Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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