In the Middle Of Oregon, Small Steps Toward Diversity

Caldera Program Exposes Children to Creative Possibilities

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Doug Zanger
Doug Zanger
There is something decidedly magical about Central Oregon. It is high desert -- the exact opposite of what everyone thinks of when they think of my home state. When you get up to around 3,000 feet, away from the (not always) rainy Willamette Valley, you not only see change, but you can smell it in the air.

The same thing can be said about Caldera.

Back in April, Dan Wieden spoke at the 4A's Leadership Conference. He was (and is) very honest about how "white, middle-class kids" make up the talent pool that creates messaging that targets inner-city consumers. But what to do about it -- other than talk, blog and argue. One form of action came in the form of what is an incredible, year-round youth arts and education program in Caldera, where underserved youth in the Portland-area and Central Oregon start at age 11 and continue through to young adulthood.

Recently, I visited the Caldera summer camp. What I saw was nothing short of amazing. It wasn't just the scenery, or the outstanding facilities at the camp. It was an energy that I don't believe I have ever felt before. It was about expression. It was about hope. It was about pride. It was about trust. This was a celebration of limitless possibility -- and the campers and instructors had perma-grin for good reason.

Lavida (left) discusses her photographs with a mentor.
Lavida (left) discusses her photographs with a mentor.
At a "Friends of Caldera" event a few months ago, a young woman, whose camp name is Lavida (also featured in the Caldera video), spoke passionately about what Caldera meant to her. It was (and is) clear that Lavida, now 20 and a Portland college student, benefited greatly because she was given the opportunity to grow and thrive. There are plenty of other children who will get the same chance because of Caldera's guidance, inspiration and, most importantly, love. It felt great to be there and to see it all in action.

So, how does this relate to advertising? To me, it seems that an entire generation is being given the opportunity and tools to express themselves in a creative, productive way. The skills that they can learn here can both directly and indirectly influence the industry because some of these talented people could, at some point, decide that the experience they had would be beneficial in advertising, marketing, branding and PR. I wouldn't be surprised if, at some point, these kids become future students at Brandcenter, The Creative Circus or other advertising/portfolio schools. Additionally, this is a group that could, one at a time, add much needed diversity to the industry.

Yes, the diversity debate will go on and it would be wrong for me, as a white, middle-class guy to be cavalier about it. It's also tough for me to even open my mouth about diversity lest I get "blogttacked." I know that I can't control what people think or say. And I can't control the fact that I am white. But I do know that there is good work being done here for all the right reasons. What I saw in Central Oregon matters -- what Caldera does matters.

And I can't wait to be a counselor there someday.

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