The Oregon Community Foundation has a nuanced approach to enlivening Oregon culture.
The first thing visitors notice when they walk into the Bill Will: Fun House art gallery is a large map of the United States hanging on the wall. The map is fashioned from acrylic mirrors and brightly reflects everything in the room. The piece seems to call for a moment of self-reflection as viewers gaze into it and see their own faces looking back at them. Farther into the Fun House there are more messages to be found. Art pieces crafted from tiny plastic soldiers, Oster bread makers powering felt toy missiles, papier-mâché heads and one garish yellow foam finger spark themes of war, conformity and prosperity.
This eccentric art gallery is one example of the projects the Oregon Community Foundation helps fund with its Creative Heights Initiative. The initiative provides monetary support for passion projects by artists and other creatives across the state of Oregon. Since its inception in 2014, the initiative has distributed more than fifty grants and $4 million. The initiative was meant to end in 2017 after four years, but OCF has decided to extend it another three years.
With Creative Heights, the Oregon Community Foundation found a niche in supporting new ideas.
“One thing that really resonated with us was that need to try new things. We had folks telling us they wanted to do more than The Nutcracker. But it’s risky, trying new things. Sometimes audiences might not be as interested in it, and there was a need for risk capital,” said Michelle Boss Barba, program officer for arts and culture at the Oregon Community Foundation.
According to the Bill Will catalogue that provides information on the gallery, Will, a contemporary artist, wanted to create an interactive art experience that accumulated some of his pieces from the past ten years.
“Fun House hooks the viewer with his inventions, which serve as decoys for expressing much deeper and more serious concerns about the social, political, and economic culture of the United States,” writes gallery director Linda Tesner in
Lewis & Clark College received $35,000 from OCF in 2015 to help reconstruct Bill Will’s art pieces for the Fun House. They are displayed in the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art on campus.
Boss Barba said the Oregon Community Foundation’s Creative Heights initiative gives artists an opportunity to achieve long-term goals with their work, and that the care these artists put into the project is clear.
“When someone creates a work, whatever the area is, they are definitely putting their heart into that. It’s very vulnerable, just as it is when you fall in love,” she said. “And I think it’s special to see that love and care that these wonderful creative folks have for the work they do.”