Valerie Otani Receives Regional Arts & Culture Council Award
Valerie Otani, Hillsboro's Public Arts Program Supervisor, was recognized by the Regional Arts & Culture Council at its annual Juice Awards Breakfast on Thursday, March 1. The ceremony honors the most innovative, creative and productive members of the arts community for "Using the Power of Space and Place" in creating a more vibrant community.
As a champion for community and public art in Hillsboro, Valerie has engaged residents, business owners and the Latino community to thoughtfully curate works of art to represent the region’s identity. Valerie is committed to creating equal access for all in public art and representation.
In an email to staff, Dave Miletich, Director of Hillsboro Parks & Recreation, said this to Valerie, "On behalf of all of your co-workers in the Parks & Recreation Department and throughout the City, congratulations on this well-deserved honor. We could not be more proud of how you represent the City, not only in Hillsboro, but throughout the Greater Portland Region and beyond."
If you'd like to read more about Valerie, and truly be inspired, here is a sneak-peek to an article that will run the in Summer Activities Guide.
In an age of instant gratification, many people don’t realize how much planning is involved for thoughtful projects. Take Hillsboro’s ample public art scene; installation doesn’t merely come down to the creation of art by the artist, but it requires looking at the community as a gallery and carefully curating each collection. Considerations of relevance, longevity vs. interactivity, and location are crucial elements of the planning phase.
Valerie Otani is no stranger to the entire process, being both an artist and the City of Hillsboro’s Public Arts Program Supervisor. Valerie’s contributions were even recently celebrated by the Regional Arts & Culture Council. She is a 2018 Juice Honoree, which awards “outstanding achievement in expression, support, and service in the arts and culture in the tri-county area.”
“I’m an artist who has been doing public art for a long time—30 years, or something like that. I came out to Hillsboro in 2008...to write the Public Art Master Plan for the Parks department,” says Valerie. “The Parks department and Arts & Culture Council decided that public art was important and they needed a solid plan to guide them.”
The knowledge of Hillsboro that stemmed from creating the Master Plan informed Valerie’s inevitable role as Public Arts Program Supervisor (a role she has held since 2011), but she specifies that true success comes from collaboration with various neighborhoods to develop art that can speak to a variety of people, ages, and methods of interacting. The way individuals interact with art has evolved, and that needs to be reflected in the public art projects Parks & Recreation pursues.
“I think overall the public art field has changed to strongly value interactivity. It used to be that, when commissioning an artwork, you would think, ‘This has to be a bronze sculpture that is going to last for 200 years.’ Many public art programs, which are over 25-years-old, are finding pieces they once commissioned require a lot of maintenance and people aren’t as attached to them as they initially were,” she says.
While speaking of interactive works in Hillsboro, Valerie references the Patrick Dougherty Head Over Heels sculpture in Orenco Woods Nature Park. Even though these stick works will only last two – four years, residents feel a connection to them; people touch them, play in them, and take pictures with them. The creation of memories that stem from commissioned public art is ultimately as valuable as the piece’s longevity.
Though Valerie’s time is predominately spent advocating the work of other artists, she considers herself first and foremost an artist. Her personal passion focuses on creating works that can live and tell a story. One of Valerie’s artistic points of pride is Voices of Remembrance—a sculpture that uses 3,500 identification tags representing the Japanese-Americans who were interned at the Portland Expo Center during World War II. A Japanese-American herself, Valerie is deeply interested in the history of immigrant communities of the Portland-metro area, and she feels Voices of Remembrance is a way to honor a portion of this rich culture while educating new generations.
In addition to her work as an artist, Valerie is a founding member and board member of Portland Taiko, which is an Asian-American drum ensemble. She rehearses twice a week and performs regularly with the group. When she’s not advocating for public art, creating her own renowned works, performing taiko, or interacting with the Japanese-American community, Valerie spends time with family.
“I’m really lucky that my close family all lives right here in the Portland area. My dad is 105 and still amazingly sharp and healthy...and our [mine and my husband’s] first grandchild was born just two weeks ago,” Valerie says with a grin.
She believes that the secret to a long life is social interactivity, curiosity, a desire to learn, and an interest in your community. With all of the contributions Valerie has made—and continues to make—in Hillsboro’s public art realm and the overall community, she is the embodiment of these values. It will be exciting to see what she is producing at 105!