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James Lavadour’s Growing was acquired by the High Desert Museum in 2018.
James Lavadour’s Growing was acquired by the High Desert Museum in 2018.

Oregon’s High Desert Museum Receives $6 Million Grant to Show Rarely Seen Art Collection

The High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, received a $6 million grant that will enable its large collection of artworks, a large number of which are typically held in storage and have rarely been seen by the public, to go on permanent display in a newly constructed facility on the museum’s 135-acre campus. The grant comes from the Oregon-based Roundhouse Foundation and represents the largest donation of the museum’s forty-year history. The money will additionally fund an immersive tree canopy experience for visitors to the Smithsonian-affiliated institution, and a reconditioning of its exhibit on the Indigenous people of the Columbia Plateau.

“The gift is a game-changer for us,” the museum’s executive director, Dana Whitelaw, told Oregon Live. The institution, which was founded in 1982 by the late wildlife biologist and conservationist Donald Kerr, a native of Portland, was initially a natural history museum emphasizing Indigenous and natural artifacts. Kerr began collecting contemporary art in the late 1980s. Among the nearly thirty thousand objects in the museum’s possession are works by Indigenous artist Rick Bartow, “cowboy artist” Charles Russell, and nineteenth-century photographer Edward Curtis, whose photos focused on the American West. In 2018, the museum used a grant from the Ford Foundation to purchase a painting by noted Indigenous artist James Lavadour, an Oregon native and a member of the Walla Walla tribe. The works have occasionally appeared supporting ethnographic exhibits on the region, but with just four thousand square feet of exhibition space, the High Desert Museum has had to be selective about what artworks it exhibits.

Work on the new expansion is expected to begin in the next three years. “For rural communities, having access to this cultural asset is incredibly important, Whitelaw told The Art Newspaper. “Building this gallery is key partly because the closest art museum is more than 100 miles away.”