Board proclaims November Public Arts Month

November 13, 2015

Isaiah Spriggs recites a poem written by a 15-year-old at Thursday's board meeting.

Art isn’t all Magritte and Monet hanging still and straight in the quiet hall of a museum.

It’s not, County Chair Deborah Kafoury said Thursday, “just something pretty at the end of the day. It’s the process by which it was created that means as much.”

Terrance “Cool Nutz” Scott took the Regional Arts & Culture Council up on an offer to prove the point: put together a mixed-art program for kids facing mandatory-minimum sentences.

Scott gathered writers, poets, authors and hip hop artists like himself for weekly workshops with teens at the county’s  Donald E. Long Juvenile Justice Complex. They were there to instruct, to open those young eyes to alternative lifestyles.

And it worked. He fielded calls from grateful parents, aunts, uncles and even defense attorneys who saw changes in the kids.

But the artists learned something too.

“It’s eye opening when you’re with kids facing 6 to 12 to 15-year sentences” he said. “It was very powerful work.”

Bety Wolfston's Community Wisdom hangs in the East County Health Center
Bety Wolfston's Community Wisdom hangs in the East County Health Center.

Scott spoke Thursday to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, as it proclaimed November Public Arts Month in honor of the 35th anniversary of the Regional Arts & Culture Council, or RACC.

Commissioner Judy Shiprack brought forward the proclamation.

"Art touches and influences lives in immeasurable ways,” she said in a written statement. “I'm honored to work with the Regional Arts & Culture Council on the many benefits they bring to our community."

RACC has, since 1980, leveraged taxpayer dollars to build up a public collection of work that includes murals, wood and glass art constructed into buildings, stories-high sculptures and a portable collection that hangs on the walls of public offices, including Portland City Hall and Multnomah County headquarters.

They’ve extended their mission to bring art to those behind bars, to men and women who are restricted in their self-expression.

“Art expands that space beyond the bars,” said artist Turiya Autry, who works with the teens. “These are intensely creative, worthy people who deserve to have wonderful lives. A bad choice should not determine your entire future.”

The mentorship of African American men is particularly powerful, said Commissioner Loretta Smith.

“I think you’ve probably changed the lives of a number of these young men,” she said.

Even raw and rough-edged, these kids are “beautiful,” says poet Isaiah Spriggs.

“These kids are intelligent, brilliant....” he said. “It was really inspiring to go in and recognize that.”

Erin Shie Palner's Accumulated Deeds installation hangs in the East County Courthouse.

With their writing, they show how insightful they can be. Spriggs selected one student’s work to read to the board.

“I’m going to read one piece, by this dude” he said, then, seeming to conjure up the young man in his mind, he laughed.

“When he speaks, he has this liveliness in him, you wouldn’t expect to see,” he said. “Even his tattoos, we like to think put labels on people, you can see through that in his writing.”


In honor of its 35th anniversary, RACC will hold an exhibit Nov. 12- Dec. 4 at Portland City Hall, with a public reception scheduled for Thursday, Nov.19 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with live music, refreshments and a toast.