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GorgeArts director calls for new help

The Columbia Gorge Arts and Culture Council, popularly known as GorgeArts, will close its doors next month if increased financial and personnel resources aren’t found.

Leigh Hancock, interim director of the non-profit council which serves Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, Klickitat and Skamania counties, sent out letters last week to citizens of the five counties asking if they want the arts council to continue.

“My feeling is we need to see if there’s community support out there,” Hancock said. “I don’t mean just financial, but we need to see if people want to be members of the arts council and if people want to volunteer to help keep this going.”

Hancock stepped back in as director of the three-year-old organization in June after Executive Director Larry West announced he was leaving to take a job in Alaska. Hancock was instrumental in getting the council off the ground in 1999 and served as executive director until last year when she left to have a baby.

GorgeArts promotes arts and cultural activities in the five counties it serves, and acts as a clearinghouse for events and venues. Its primary goal has been to ensure that the arts are recognized and promoted in the region. GorgeArts has promoted several successful arts functions, including bringing the Oregon Symphony to the Gorge, the Bear Grass Writer’s Workshop and the Martin Luther King Day Multi-Cultural Festival.

The council is also a co-sponsor of the successful First Friday art and music celebration that takes place in downtown Hood River the first Friday of each month.

Hancock said one problem the council faces is that its board of directors has been “decimated.” Out of more than a dozen members at this time last year, only about three remain.

“They’ve all left for valid reasons,” Hancock said. Some have moved away, others have resigned due to time constraints or other obligations. But without a strong and committed board, Hancock said, the future of the organization is in doubt.

“If you have a strong board and lots of community support, you can always squeak by financially with grants and donations,” Hancock said. “But without a strong board, and with low membership, it’s almost impossible.” Membership in the organization also is at an all-time low of about 35. In the past, Hancock said, it’s been as high as 100.

Board members must join GorgeArts by enrolling at one of various levels (annual membership dues range from $25 for an individual to $100 for being a “benefactor.”) They also must be willing to donate 10-15 hours a month and head one of various committees.

“It’s a commitment,” Hancock said. “We want to make sure people know what they’re getting into.”

Hancock said she and Board President Jim Bull, as well as other remaining board members, are looking at various options for the future of GorgeArts if they decide to keep the organization going.

“One big question is whether we should continue to be bi-state or not,” Hancock said. She said Skamania County is currently developing its own performing arts council, and Trout Lake, Wash., has its own council. GorgeArts could potentially stick around but in a smaller role, serving fewer counties.

Hancock said she and the board will try to make a decision about the future of GorgeArts by September, “even if it’s just to limp along for a while.”

“Almost every region in the state is represented by a regional arts council,” Hancock said. “First Friday, the symphony plus a lot of other things wouldn’t have happened without the council, so it will be a real loss for everyone if we have to close down.”

To obtain a copy of Hancock’s letter to citizens, or for membership or other information about GorgeArts, contact Hancock at 541-387-5031 or by e-mail at

lhancock@hoodriver.k12.or.us

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