Member Spotlight: Morgan Ritter

Posted by Linda Lombardi, Oct 13, 2021 0 comments

Public Art Exhibitions & Collections Coordinator Morgan Ritter is an artist, poet, and arts worker, and has been responsible for the care of art and arts spaces for 14 years within many of Portland, Oregon’s nonprofit arts institutions. Morgan joined the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) in 2019 and her personal art practice includes sculpture, installation, books, video, poetry, and performance.

Where do you find inspiration for your work as an artist?

Person with dark curly hair wearing a tan baseball cap and longsleeve white shirt with text Honor Your Teachers and a red and blue silkscreen of a schoolteacher.
Morgan Ritter, photo courtesy RACC.

Often, I feel playful, relating with the world around me in a flexible way where things like mud puddles, soda cans, and potatoes become compelling material to work with. Much of my artwork is sourced from these various fragments and consists not only of found objects, but found language from dreams, conversations, and texts. I find most interest in making meaning with matter that is not classified as precious or valuable. And now in these times, I am finding all the more reason to be resourceful and utilize the available domestic systems and dusty, garage detritus for their extrasensory, healing potential. Lately, I find inspiration through observing interspecies relationships, learning about marginalized spiritual and cultural systems, and in being pregnant! 

Part of RACC’s role in the Portland community is managing and growing a diverse, nationally acclaimed public art program. What does that involve?

RACC’s services are myriad, so our impact and reach is broad and deep. RACC provides various forms of support to the arts and culture sector for many unique communities and individuals. We typically focus within the Pacific Northwest, but sometimes public art purchases, grants, and commissions are open to artists nationally and internationally.

Through public-private partnerships, RACC helps acquire and maintain community-owned artworks in public places. We manage the Percent for Art programs for the City of Portland and Multnomah County and are the stewards for their respective public art collections, including murals, permanent works, portable 2-D works, fountains, and temporary artworks (which are often artworks made with unusual media installed in unexpected places).

We manage Portland’s Public Art Collection, which entails acquiring, routine monitoring, framing/reframing, conservation, vandalism removal, maintenance reporting, digital and database inventorying, and beyond. Lots of care-centered work. Within our overall Public Art programming, we have a residency program, Intersections, which explores the “art of work” and the “work of art.” The program encourages artists in all disciplines to explore new working methods and develop socially engaging, interactive art experiences in community settings. 

Our programs and services are constantly assessed and reimagined, depending on community feedback and changing needs, which I especially value.

How did you get into working in public art?

I have about 14 years’ experience working directly with artists, curators, and registrars on implementing exhibitions and programming in contemporary artist-led spaces and classical art institutions and galleries. As a young woman working in the arts, I wanted to be in spaces that felt inclusive and alive, where there were certain formal protections for workers and internal processes were transparent and equitably structured. In public art, you are not fixed within a quiet building; you are rogue, open, and out there. Safety protocols such as high visibility vests and pink hard hats were physical protections I took great comfort in! 

The public art field is surprising, it can be messy, but it also feels like art can be more easily accessed and interacted with in an entirely different, more open way than what I had previously experienced within galleries and institutions. I enjoy seeing the residue of public interaction with outdoor artwork. I also enjoy seeing how public art’s functions are manifold, for instance, a sculpture existing as a shelter for some, a placemaking landmark for others. There is often a lack of direct engagement with the audience served by those spaces, and in this field, we find ourselves in almost constant, casual dialogue about what art is and what it can be with pedestrians and passersby from many backgrounds. 

What does your work at RACC involve?

Bright, colorful painting of person with braids wearing a white tank top standing before a waterfall.
“Mother of Judah” by Sade DuBoise, part of the City of Portland’s public art collection, photo courtesy RACC.

At RACC, I began as an Installation & Conservation Technician, caring for work by removing vandalism, polishing sculptures, tending to fountains, and installing 2-D and 3-D artwork throughout the city. By way of a herniated disc, and a simultaneous interest to grow more into project and exhibitions management, this role transitioned into working directly with artists on managing new purchase projects, curating artwork within large buildings like the Health Center or City Hall, and working to develop new, more responsive systems for supporting artists. 

Part of my current role at RACC is curating and overseeing the installations of exhibitions of 2-D work from the Public Art Collection into City and County buildings. The spaces vary drastically, as do the clients who request artwork. The ongoing dialogue with so many public employees about what art is for them, the impacts they want their selected artwork to have on their personal work experience, their communities, and what they want the art to communicate to the public about their area of work is endlessly fascinating. I find a lot of meaning in connecting with and curating work for municipal workers. 

Inspired by the depression-era Federal Art Project, RACC launched a new initiative, Support Beam, as a way to support artists’ long-term creative practice and livelihood. How did this initiative come about? 

Support Beam was developed to meet this moment as COVID-19 cases rose in early 2020, as there were state-ordered lockdowns and immense uncertainty. The name recalls an image of a wooden beam extending beyond the room it upholds. Our goal was to think about how the Percent for Art model needed to bend to meet this moment. 

In this pandemic era of great collective despair, loss, and anxiety, our goal was to provide a salary for artists to live and explore within their creative practice, rather than a simple purchase transaction. Each Support Beam artist receives between $3,000 and $5,000, with one piece from each artist acquired into the Public Art Collection at the end of their work period.

We included virtual updates of work-in-progress as a way of reimagining what public space could be, when we were all mandated to stay at home as much as possible. Virtual space is a ripe area, both for artists and public engagement, that we are continuing to explore. The posts were self-directed and up to the artists, however they felt it made sense within their artistic practices. 

Of course, not everyone has access to the internet/certain technologies, so the prompts were broad, and could be a phone-recorded video of a studio visit, a blog post, a series of work-in-progress images, a live Instagram discussion, an animation or video clip, and beyond. The virtual contributions can be explored on RACC's website or at #RACCSupportBeam.

Americans for the Arts Membership

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