The effects of the Oregon Cultural Trust are already being felt in the area, despite the fact that no grants have been awarded yet.

The Umatilla County Cultural Planning Committee, created by the trust to facilitate the transfer of funding to local organizations and initiatives, is abuzz with conversation on how to take advantage of the opportunity.

Soon committee members hope to not be the only ones talking. One of the committee's main goals is to include in the planning process a wide array of community voices.

In order to hear as many ideas and viewpoints as possible, the committee has planned five forums for the upcoming months. They will be held in Hermiston on Jan. 23, Weston on Jan. 27, Ukiah on Feb. 4, Milton-Freewater, the week of Feb. 9 and Pendleton on Feb. 17.

"The purpose is to get as many voices, from all elements of the community," said Doug Radke, committee chair and BMCC speech instructor. "Whether it's different representatives from heritage and arts ... (we want) the whole schmear in terms of the cultural life of our community to explore resources, to dream dreams, to think of ways we can better coordinate efforts."

The forums will be interactive. The focus will be on identifing the cultural resources of the community and county; envisioning what people would like their cultural life to look like and naming the barriers that exist to cultural expression.

Opinions from the public will directly influence the outcome of the committee's plan for funding allocation in the county, which is due out next October.

The money in the Oregon Cultural Trust comes from donations from individuals and corporations (see aside for how you can benefit from their tax credit this December) and sales from a new Oregon license.

One-third of this money will go directly to non-profits. Already, 176 organizations have submitted $5 million in development grant proposals. Another one-third is distributed to state agencies like the Oregon Historical Society and the Oregon Arts Commission. The final portion is transfered to the newly created cultural boards of tribes and counties, like the Umatilla County Cultural Planning Committee.

The Legislature instituted the trust during the 2001 session partly as a reaction to Oregon's ranking in the bottom tenth percentile of state per capita funding for culture.

Bobbie Conner, director of Tamastslikt Cultural Institue and trust board member, said in a written statement: "Oregon has seen many cultures evolve and many disappear. If you ask whether we can afford to do what we are proposing to do in this legislation, I think you should consider whether we can afford not to."

Radke noted that Eastern Oregon has always had a healthy, lively cultural community. He believes the real need is to coordinate everyone's efforts.

"I think that one of the assets of smaller communities is we do a better job of celebrating our history and art," Radke said, adding that the question now is, "How can we better connect as opposed to compete when getting out our message? We can do a better job together than apart."

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