Skip to content

2019-2020 Annual Report: Looking Back and Moving Forward

Reflecting Back

The coronavirus pandemic and racial justice reckoning have been the defining features of the past 16 months for the Portland community, the country, and the Museum and Northwest Film Center. The traditional reporting on finances and attendance figures that usually occur at this time of year is replaced by a focus on priorities, and how the institution has, and continues to secure relief funding, what recovery looks like, and reimaging a vital future. 

“This time of crisis has clarified this institution’s priorities,” said Museum Director and Chief Curator Brian Ferriso. “Those priorities are financial stability, equity and inclusion, and advancing our Connection Campaign.” 

Despite the challenges of recent months, the past year and beyond held many bright spots for the Museum and Portland community. Exhibitions both big and small attracted thousands of visitors, including Paris 1900, Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…, Volcano! Mount St. Helens in Art, and Art & Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott.  One exhibition in particular had a transformative impact on our Museum and Portland—Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…, which welcomed more than 100,000 visitors. After closing in Portland, the exhibition traveled to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, and is now on view in Cincinnati at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Programs and community partners play a central role in connecting visitors with art and with each other at the Museum and NW Film Center. The pandemic has changed how those look, but has not dampened the enthusiasm and resolve to re envision and create anew. Recent initiatives included community partnerships that helped shape the Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal… exhibition; collaborating with organizations and educators this summer to encourage children to express themselves through art journaling; and providing art kits to children throughout the Portland area. Additionally, the Film Center hosted a series of film and new media happy hours at a time when community connection was so important. 

This fall, visitors in person or online, and students in virtual classrooms can continue to count on meaningful content and conversation featuring art and issues that affect our lives. While most in-person group programs remain on hold, we have relaunched a number of popular offerings like the “Art & Conversation” and “In Dialogue” programs, now in virtual form. 

Financial Position

During the first eight months of the fiscal year (July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020), results were closely tracking on budget, with successful exhibition openings, programs, membership renewals and donations. When the Museum and Northwest Film Center closed on March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic, an emergency fundraising plan generated two million dollars to make up for the losses we continued to suffer without revenue from admissions or event rentals. While membership renewals slowed during the closure, they have since rebounded with the reopening of the Museum in July. 

The net impact on the fiscal year ended June 30, 2020 is an estimated operating deficit of $431,000. However thanks in part to receipt of the Federal Government’s Paycheck Protection Program and the extraordinary generosity of donors and members, the Museum and Northwest Film Center has been able to successfully manage expenses. For the current fiscal year, the Museum and Film Center cut the budget by 30% and rearranged the exhibition schedule in response to the ongoing pandemic and general uncertainty. The institution was recently awarded $1.37 million from the State of Oregon’s Cultural Trust as part of their emergency relief funding for arts and culture organizations. This public grant is a lifeline that will help offset ongoing losses and ensure the ability to continue to serve the community. 

Moving Forward

While the Museum was closed, and during this time of reopening, exhibitions have been rescheduled and plans for future exhibitions are underway. In September, just two months after reopening a new exhibition opened in the Japanese galleries, and in January Ansel Adams in Our Time will become our largest exhibition to open since the pandemic. 

The pandemic has also offered an opportunity for the Northwest Film Center to reimagine what film and new media means in the future, and how they relate to the Museum. Many of the new offerings from the spring and summer, including streaming films, drive-in movies, virtual reality, and more are here to stay. 

In keeping a close focus even further in the future, the Museum is continuing toward realizing the vision of the Connection Campaign. The Connection Campaign is an expansion and renovation project that will transform the Museum with a priority on accessibility. The Campaign also includes a $25 million goal to support access, education, and operations. Despite the tumultuous year, the quiet phase of fundraising,  and planning for this project continues. “The Museum’s Main Building was built in 1930, during the height of the Great Depression, and we recognize that our actions now will transcend this moment,” said Ferriso.