Portland General Electric (PGE), Oregon’s largest electric utility, believes the arts have the power to educate, heal, and create a vibrant economy. When the PGE Foundation was permanently endowed in 1997, one of the three focus areas selected for grantmaking was arts and culture. The first arts grant the Foundation awarded, a $1.5 million grant to the Portland Art Museum, remains the largest single grant ever awarded by PGE. Since 1999, PGE and the PGE Foundation have contributed nearly $5 million to arts and culture.
PGE has demonstrated a dedication to incorporating the arts into its corporate culture, while also encouraging other area businesses to follow suit. PGE underwrote the creation of “Creative Differences,” a workplace diversity program the company co-developed with a local arts nonprofit. What began as a program to teach PGE employees about cultural diversity was then marketed by the company to other area businesses, providing earned income to the nonprofit.
Other ways PGE has integrated the arts into its business strategy: creating school plays with an arts nonprofit that teach children about electrical safety, energy efficiency and renewable energy. These plays are performed free of charge to 20,000 students each year. “Arts Contemplates Industry” brings local artists into historic PGE hydroelectric plants to make art which is then exhibited at PGE’s headquarters. PGE underwrote the development of nonprofit board training for its employees by Business for Culture and the Arts (Portland). Other businesses now use the program which is a source of revenue for BCA.
PGE is known as an early adopter and corporate leader on arts initiatives in Oregon. The company helped the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) develop the Work for Art workplace giving campaign in 2004. Every year since, Work for Art has grown at PGE, with the most recent campaign yielding a 38% increase over the year before.
Through board leadership, testimony at public hearings and op-ed pieces in the local media, PGE advocates for the on-going sustainability of Oregon’s arts community. The company was one of the first private funders of the Creative Advocacy Network that is developing a public funding mechanism for regional arts organizations. The PGE Foundation also was the first private funder to support The Right Brain Initiative, a program of Young Audiences and RACC that is returning integrated arts education to the region’s public schools.
PGE spreads its funding from the largest performing arts companies to small arts education groups. One year BCA recognized PGE for giving to 77 arts organizations – more than any other company in the region. PGE’s arts funding has brought playwriting to at-risk youth; writing workshops to the homeless, mentally ill and elderly; visual arts and music to sick children in hospitals and African drumming to developmentally disabled children.
Photo: Photo of children painting giant butterflies at the Portland Children’s Museum, which is sponsored by Portland General Electric