By Pat Caldwell
ONTARIO – When Matt Stringer was 52, he had an epiphany.
He was a successful record company executive living in New York City with a seemingly limitless horizon. He worked with such big-name acts as U2, The Cranberries and Avril Lavigne as he managed marketing departments for such well-known music labels as Island, Arista and Sony.
But the Nyssa High School graduate felt something was missing.
Back at home, his mom was sick with emphysema. He missed Malheur County. He looked around New York City and pondered his career.
“I felt, OK, I am not happy here. I don’t want to stay here. And I thought, I don’t think this is what matters. So, I came back,” said Stringer.
That was 2011 and shortly after Stringer returned he became executive director of Four Rivers Cultural Center. Since then, he has used his big city experience to promote the arts in Ontario and he recently reached another milestone when Gov. Kate Brown appointed him to the Oregon Arts Commission.
The nine-member commission oversees public support for the arts across Oregon and Stringer said he was delighted to be chosen. The commission operates with state money and contributions from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Oregon Cultural Trust.
Stringer graduated from Nyssa High School in 1977, went to college at Amherst College in Massachusetts and then switched to the University of Oregon where he studied journalism.
He began his career in New York City in 1983.
“I am really excited on a ton of levels, primarily because it means more representation for our area,” said Stringer.
The commission also funds arts programs and artists across the state.
Stringer, 58, said he believes that the arts play a central role in the health a community. The arts are especially important in rural areas, he said.
Even the most secluded town he said, deserves to receive financial support for the arts.
“Historically, communities like ours and rural areas, they just get ignored. They are overlooked,” said Stringer.
Stringer said he wants to change that.
“I love the idea of being able to go to Prineville or Baker City and having some kind of curriculum to sit down and help people do their job better,” said Stringer.
The cultural center shows how the arts can impact a community.
“It is so multi-dimensional. I have a museum, a garden, a theater and a conference facility. By having that many different elements we have so many angles to allow us to reach out to the community,” said Stringer.
“One of the exciting things that happens is if I can get people here with all these events they leave with new viewpoints that might be positive for all of us. It really makes for a more healthy and vibrant community,” said Stringer.
The commission, Stringer said, convenes five times. This year the first meeting of the commission will be Feb. 22 in Astoria.
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