Light a Fire 2022: Extraordinary Volunteer

This Arts Advocate Reminds Us There’s a Lot Happening in Rural Oregon

Baker City’s Ginger Savage helped steer millions in COVID relief funding to arts groups all over the state, not just to Willamette Valley heavy hitters.

By Matthew Trueherz December 29, 2022

Ginger Savage gets emotional recalling a spring 2020 Cultural Advocacy Coalition of Oregon board meeting. At the height of COVID uncertainty, her fellow board members spoke out about the importance of relief funding reaching Oregon’s rural arts communities. Savage took this as a call to action.

She’s spent the past 14 years as executive director of the Crossroads Carnegie Art Center in Baker City, which houses everything from ballet to pottery. Soon after that meeting, she represented the coalition at the Oregon Legislature, testifying to direct federal relief aid to the arts. It’s the kind of job usually reserved for board members with closer ties to bigger cultural institutions, like the Oregon Symphony or Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“I’m pretty loud and vociferous in my wanting to make sure that we always remember the small organizations around the state who do great work promoting arts, culture, heritage and humanities,“ says Savage, whose testimony helped direct millions in COVID relief to arts groups all over the state.

“Having articulate voices like hers in the mix, that say, ‘All of this is part of the cultural landscape,’ is incredibly powerful,”  says JS May, CACO’s executive director.   

For arts funding, May says, it’s easy to get focused on the Willamette Valley. Savage, who has lived in conservative-leaning counties her entire life, helps bring in voices from communities that don’t have big-city concentrations of arts organizations—and across party lines. “Culture is a bipartisan issue,” says May. “Having Ginger involved has helped make the case that it isn’t a D and R issue.”

Portland Monthly solicits nominations for the Light a Fire awards, our annual nonprofit honors, every summer and makes selections with the help of a panel of volunteer advisers from the local nonprofit community.