The main offices of the Regional Arts and Culture Council

The Regional Arts and Culture Council, one of Oregon's largest art funders, has announced major changes at the hands of executive director Madison Cario this afternoon.   

Per an embargoed Monday night press release, RACC is eliminating five currently vacant positions, laying off at least 15 additional employees, and hiring 15 new positions in a sweeping reorganization effort. The changes are effective as of 2 p.m. today.   

RACC did not make Cario available for comment on the restructure, which will affect nearly half of its staff.    

The move reflects RACC's "vision to be more fiscally sustainable and to diversify funding," says new communications director Heather Nelson Kent. 

The council will shutter its workplace giving program, which allowed individuals to pay into RACC's Art Impact Fund via payroll deduction, and collapse operations of its Right Brain Initiative (which brought the arts into public K–8 classrooms to help teach core concepts) into the nonprofit Young Audiences of Oregon and SW Washington.  

Kent declined to outline which positions where being eliminated and created, or which employees had been laid off. Between the morning and afternoon, the numbers on RACC's Staff and Board webpage diminished from 34 to 17—suggesting that 17 people may have been let go, two more than the press release disclosed. "These changes are very responsive to feedback from community partners Madison has gotten since they got here," Kent says. 

Cario took over as ED last January after working as director of the office of the arts at Georgia Institute of Technology. When we caught up with them a few weeks ago, they cited “historic, systemic racial inequities” and “us[ing] [RACC’s] budget as a moral document to make change” as two of the organization’s primary challenges. 

The reorg has been brewing for nearly a year. An employee who was laid off this morning says they "had no idea" the plans were so long-term. They were let go with a small group of others at a mandatory meeting, encouraged to apply for the new positions when they became available, and then locked out of RACC's offices on the North Park Blocks.

That same employee (who asked to remain anonymous, fearing legal action) says this announcement comes just two weeks after RACC issued an internal report from human resources firm Workplace Change which revealed major fractures in RACC's culture. "All of the people who were let go have been very vocal about their displeasure," they say.

"The report didn't uncover anything leadership and staff didn't already know, but it did capture everything very comprehensively," says Kent. “[We] hope that reorganizing and restructuring and recommitting...will address some of the challenges identified in that report."

Portland Monthly will continue reporting on this story as it develops.

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