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|Thursday, November 19, 2009|
The young Lopez brothers were standing by themselves at our table when I showed up Wednesday morning for the Arts Breakfast of Champions, an annual celebration of businesses that support the arts. The brothers — Joaquin, 34, and Salvador, 32 — are small businessmen. La Bonita, their family-owned Mexican restaurant on NE Alberta, employs 12 people, four of them family members. They opened La Bonita 10 years ago. “At first, it made $100 a month,” said Joaquin. “Now it provides livable wages for our family.”
For several years, Joaquin, the owner, has donated free catering to the Miracle Theatre for opening nights and other events. Those donations allow the theater, located on SE Stark, to keep prices affordable so families of all incomes can attend. The restaurant has also donated to other groups such as the Latino gay pride festival. How does a small operation like La Bonita find the time and resources to do this? “I just do it,” he said.
It was a morning full of stories like that; stepping up and doing something even if you are small, even if you don't have unlimited resources. Business for Culture & the Arts called them "the heroes" in honoring them, and that seems like the right title. They might not have the deeply appreciated big pockets of top business donors such as Bank of America, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo (which collectively gave $1.4 million this past year), but they help lift the arts in their own heroic ways.
With the recession, business contributions to nonprofits to have declined. BCA reports that the top 25 business donors to the arts in fiscal year 2009 contributed a total of $4.1 million to Oregon arts and culture organizations, 14 percent less than the previous year. The Oregon Community Foundation’s recent midyear assessment of philanthropy said about half of the nonprofits surveyed reported that a decrease in business donations was responsible for their falloff in funding.
But the heroes still found ways to contribute. North, a Portland brand agency, donated its time and talents to The Right Brain Initiative by creating the name, logos and website for the initiative. Want a link between the arts and a strong economy? “All of us here have a job because of arts education in the schools,” said Rebecca Armstrong, North’s managing director, as she accepted the award.
The other heroes included George Domurot, the CEO of Box Office Tickets who just two days ago launched Hulahub.com, a free social networking service for the arts, in addition to developing and maintaining at his own expense the free online PDX Cultural Calendar. Also honored was Roy Abramowitz, a shareholder of accounting firm Perkins & Co., who helped the Portland Baroque Orchestra become financially stable while putting in three terms as a board member.At the end of the program, Carolyn Chambers took the stage to accept the John C. Hampton Award for Outstanding Leadership in the Arts. Chambers is the founder and CEO of Chambers Communications in Eugene. She was a founding member of the Eugene Symphony Orchestra, spearheaded the construction of Eugene’s Hult Center for the Performing Arts, founded an endowment for all seven of the Hult Center’s resident companies, and her Chambers Family Foundation funds arts programs in several counties. She has the pockets, but instead focused on the sentiment that I think perfectly described the Heroes honored that morning, and all the unsung business heroes that tirelessly and selflessly support Oregon's struggling nonprofits.
“Sometimes,” Chambers said, “your time and effort are just as important as your dollars.”
Robin Doussard is Editor of Oregon Business.
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