Light a Fire 2016: Lifetime Achievement

How George Thorn Guides Portland Arts Organizations to Sustainability

The behind-the-scenes master knows how to pull the strings.

By Fiona McCann October 10, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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George Thorn on his Portland balcony

Image: Jason Quigley

Artists do art. As for the other stuff? They call George Thorn. He’s the behind-the-scenes master who has guided many local arts organizations to sustainability, combining creativity with business smarts.

“The nice thing about George is he takes his cues from you, and just listens,” says Corrib Theatre’s Gemma Whelan, who won a year of monthly meetings with Thorn through RACC’s Cultural Leadership Program. “He takes into account what the company is, the whole history, and then asks about goals.”

Corrib is just one of hundreds of arts organizations Thorn has advised on fundraising, building boards, finding audiences, strategic planning, and organizational structure since he arrived in Portland in 1996. Born in Indiana, Thorn started his career as a theater stage manager in New York. In 1991, he cofounded Arts Action Research with New York–based Nello McDaniel, an organization dedicated to helping artists and fledgling arts organizations become financially stable. That’s the work he brought to town when he moved here with his wife, a former dancer. Since then, Thorn has worked with more than 200 Portland arts organizations with wildly varied artistic missions and audiences: from Ethos Music Center to the Circus Project to Triangle Productions. 

“George is a very strategic-minded individual, exceedingly perceptive and incredibly instinctual,” says Don Lucoff, executive artistic director of PDX Jazz.

Says Thorn: “You can never let up paying attention to what’s necessary for a healthy and balanced cultural sector.”

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