As Bend's reputation as a tourist destination grows, not every season benefits equally. Traditionally, the summer months—with their abundant sunshine and plethora of outdoor recreation and festivals—have drawn the bulk of the out-of-towners. But the winter months and the so-called "shoulder seasons" are due for a boost thanks to the pending disbursement of the first round of Bend Cultural Tourism Fund grants.
"The Bend Cultural Tourism fund is an exciting step for our community," says Visit Bend Executive Director Doug LaPlaca. "Arts and cultural programs are a big part of what makes Bend such an amazing place to live. They also have the power to attract visitors during the slow period, and this program will give those programs significant support."
The Visit Bend board is expected to approve the recommendations of the Cultural Tourism Commission, which met Monday to finalize its proposed distribution of funds. The Commission received applications from 17 local organizations and events, seeking a combined total of $680,710 for everything from a Nordic skiing exhibit to an opera based on a local author's novel.
"My understanding is that the board will accept the commission's recommendations based on the level of work and review that went into the panel process," says consultant Shannon Planchon.
Not all the proposals were recommended for funding. The commission members ranked each proposal based on a predetermined rubric (those with a conflict of interest—such as Source Publisher and Lay It Out Events owner Aaron Switzer—recused themselves from weighing in on their own projects). The top two rated applications were recommended for the largest portion of their requested funding.
Coming out on top was BendFilm Festival, with a score of about 93 out of 100. The fest asked for $35,000 and was recommended to receive a little more than 70 percent of that amount, or $26,000. Following close behind, Atelier 6000 requested $18,000, but was granted $13,500. All told, more than half of the 17 proposals were recommended to receive some amount of funding, with the commission advising that the latter seven receive 45 percent of the requested funds.
As funds continue to roll in at unprecedented and unanticipated levels, the Commission may opt to grant funds more than once per year. Ultimately, the grant cycles are at the discretion of the 13 appointed commissioners and the grant administrator.
"The City of Bend disperses monthly payments to Visit Bend equal to 34 percent of total [transient room tax] collections," LaPlaca explains. "Visit Bend then funds the BCTF on a monthly basis in the amount of 7.5 percent of Visit Bend's total TRT revenue."
Though the transient room tax—a lodging tax paid by visitors to hotels, motels, and vacation rentals—will eventually increase to 10.4 percent, the initial phase-in of the 1.4 percent increase brings that rate up to 10 percent. Those funds are divvied up by the City, with 63 percent going into the City's general fund, 3 percent to Bend police and fire, and 34 percent to Visit Bend for tourism promotion. Of the cut going to Visit Bend, the majority—some 58 percent—goes to general tourism marketing, with 7.5 percent disbursed into the Bend Cultural Tourism Fund.
"The City hires Visit Bend to invest that 34 percent in marketing programs to attract tourists to Bend. Visit Bend operates many marketing programs, and the Bend Cultural Tourism Fund (BCTF) is one of them," LaPlaca says. "The mission of the BCTF is to fund marketing grants for arts and cultural organizations to attract additional tourists to Bend during the shoulder seasons and winter months."
TRT revenues have seen steady growth over the past year, with each month reaching a historic high. Last November, the year's slowest month, the TRT brought in more than $280,000. At the high point last July, that number skyrocketed to nearly $850,000. It's that dramatic discrepancy between the vibrant summer months and the slower seasons that the BCTF is intended to address.
Here's how the successful grant applicants plan to do that (in order of their ranking from highest to lowest).
Asked for: $35,000
The plan: To keep on keeping on, attracting visitors from the region and nation to its annual film festival.
Atelier 6000 Asked for: $18,000
The plan: To present an exhibit of the photos of Edward Curtis—known for his portraits of Native Americans and other Western topics—and host a number of related events.
Les Schwab Amphitheater
Asked for: $35,000
The plan: To promote its concerts to out-of-area markets inclined to visit Bend.
Tower Theatre Foundation
Asked for: $25,000
The plan: To launch the "Bend A Cappella Festival," to run February 19-21, 2016, and attract performers and fans from outside the local area.
High Desert Museum
Asked for: $35,000 Awarded: $15,750
The plan: To mount an exhibit, tentatively titled "Arts for the People," that aims to make the art and culture of the Great Depression more accessible.
Deschutes County Historical Society
Asked for: $26,700
The plan: To prepare a major exhibit highlighting the history of Nordic skiing.
Asked for: $25,000 Awarded: $11,000
The plan: To create the Bend Design Conference, bringing in nationally-recognized experts and showcasing design.
Asked for: $20,000
The plan: To produce and promote the fourth annual Muse Conference, bringing in national and international speakers and guests.
Deschutes Public Library Foundation
Asked for: $25,000
The plan: To continue to put on and promote the annual Author! Author! series, presenting nonfiction author and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Timothy Egan.
Those who applied but were not selected for funding in this cycle (and how much they asked for) were Stage Right Productions ($9,410), Lay It Out Events/WinterFest ($15,000), Bend WebCAM ($14,850), The Workhouse ($21,500), High Desert Chamber Music ($18,000), OperaBend ($41,000), Crow's Feet Commons ($65,750), and Bend's Backyard Farm Tour ($5,800).