Last Sunday, the Oregonian ran a long story exposing the dubious record of Lance Robbins, the developer backing Bryan Suereth's optimistically ambitious plans to set up shop in the Templeton Building on East Burnside. It turns out that Robbins, who began developing residential property in LA in the late 70s, has been quite successful converting rundown buildings into artist pads, but his tactics have earned him nicknames from local press such as "L.A.'s reigning slum king." Over the past two decades, Robbins has faced repeated charges of fraud and tenant abuse and most recently, is battling the revocation of his California real estate license. Shut out of the California market for the time being, Robbins and his partners have turned their sights towards out-of-state ventures like Portland's Templeton Building.
The sleuthing of writer Erin Hoover Barnett and researcher Lynne Palombo dug up facts that were new to Suereth and the Disjecta Board. The organization faces a daunting task of raising six figure sums for build-out and operations with a thin history of fundraising. Plus, the O reported that Disjecta will be asked for $200,000 to secure the building within the next several months.
One Disjecta board member, Marshall Runkel, admitted to the serious implications that these new developments may have for Disjecta's ability to rally potential donors in this critical phase. And I'm not sure how many donors and members of the art community will be comforted by Suereth's assurances that the project rests on his own integrity or that it's a good opportunity for Robbins to clear his name. Arts organizations can still get away with cavalier strategies in grass roots circles, but it's clear that as Portland's art scene is rocketing towards a newfound maturity, its serious supporters are going to need much more than just casual assurances.
Posted by Katherine Bovee
on December 14, 2005 at 1:53
| Comments (20)
This is what a major newspaper is supposed to do... good job O! This suddenly made a lot of inexplicably odd things make sense.
Posted by: Double J at December 14, 2005 09:51 AM
The only thing that I find odd is that O found this story newsworthy. It seems like a slander campaign initiated by somebody who either has a vested interest in property in CEID, a personal/professional grudge against Disjecta - Bryan Suereth, or maybe, Lance Robbins. Everything is political. As Tookie Williams said about death row, "there are no millionaires here"
Posted by: jerseyjoe at December 14, 2005 10:52 AM
The word "political" is very correct because developers (and politicians) are always trying to prove they can do legitimate things if just given the chance (ie permits and money).
Of course, just like politics ones' record does really matter and good reporting, although sometimes inconvenient isn't slander... especially when its backed up by facts like the status of one's licenses in other states.
Also, Portland's government and citizens take a very keen interest in how development takes shape in the city. It's a very civic place and there is nothing odd that this is news. In fact, many articles about other developers on the burnside bridge head have appeared as well. They just didn't have the same kind of history that this developer had.
Posted by: Double J at December 14, 2005 11:23 AM
Kind of like the Weiderhorn/MAC debacle? He's been officially rejected from membership at MAC on account that he's a convicted felon. (the back story is that one of his felonies has something to do with MAC's employee or retiree fund). MAC says that they don't offer membership to convicted felons, Weiderhorn argues back that he knows of convicted felons who are members of MAC. Weiderhorn's lawyers demand that MAC prove that none of their members are felons. If they can't, Weiderhorn will likely sue for discrimination.
I don't know if Suereth has the resources to hire a detective, lawyer or pr firm, to clarify that he and Robbins' situation is hardly unique. But, it would probably be in his best interest to do so. As the Scientologists say, "always attack, never defend."
Posted by: jerseyjoe at December 14, 2005 11:40 AM
Depends on where anyone would want to spend their energy.... whether tilting at windmills or real giants it still requires effort and energy that distracts one from core issues. The gains might be quixotic as well. If the core issue is legitimacy, then it may matter...
The real trick it to to pick your battles not the other way around.
Posted by: Double J at December 14, 2005 12:08 PM
It's the responsibility of any non-profit board to be sure the financial books are in order, the cash accounted properly, taxes paid, the organization has great relations with Portland's myriad of sometimes difficult regulatory entities, that the staff functions well with great morale, that the organization stays focused on a clear identity, to continually raise funds and to assume full responsibility for the formulation and execution of contracts.
The best to the Disjecta board who are now responsible for managing a sophisticated (in all shades of definition) developer, in addition to all the rest.
Posted by: Criticaleye-notpen at December 14, 2005 12:38 PM
The Disjecta crew make for a perfect pair with this crook. Bryan has, in essence, been ripping off artists since he started his tenure in Portland in the first place. I do not think this is, in any way, "slander". I think The "O" got it right. There are obvious reasons as to why partings happened with Gavin Shettler and Paul Middendorf, both who are off and running on new, adventurous projects that will only benefit the community as community in the long run. Not just benefit unnecessary egos. Thank you.
Posted by: the_art_fuzz at December 14, 2005 04:13 PM
Hmmm, art_fuzz...are you a paid mercenary of Gavin and Paul? Because I haven't seen a more underwhelming pair since Charles and Camilla. If intellect and integrity be thy guide, you are off course dear fuzzy.
Posted by: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at December 14, 2005 06:16 PM
Unpaid here Luiz.
But I must say that some things take good time (Portland Art Center, Gallery 500...Homeland, Peripheral Produce, Blinglab, PDX Experimental Film Fest, Cinema Project, Motel, Ogle, PDX Art Museum..). None of these were great from day one. They need the community is the point. Disjecta unfortunately has kissed its own ass for much too long, and completely missed the boat. They have really never provided anything particularly healthy for artists. Back in 2001-03 they ran a shlocky space that was not physically accessible to most art goers or people of all abilities (that's critical), didn't have proper temporary walls, never showed significant installation work, often had extremely bad acoustics though attempted to present some midstream good performers, and that represented a blather of totally uncurated bewilderment. That aesthetic may work in co-ops like the totally blase and boring Blackfish Gallery, but for an entity trying to give artists a focal opportnity, a mish-mash like this only offers a bad blip on someone's resume. Furthermore, Bryan has been downright mean to a lot of folks...and has talked about them behind their backs, without confronting issues head on. THAT is not leadership.
The fact that Gavin can put on a suit once in a while only speaks to the basic attempt at professionalism. While others have not fully proven themselves,it just takes time and patience, but there's been a lot of movement around town, at least they have plans that aren't hedging on some schemer who wants to rook artists into believeing they have a philanthropist in their midst. Bryan has failed our community one too many times, but his name is now in vain. I don't wish him dread or misfortune, but suggest he stay to task and remain politically releveant to the community and artists he is attempting to serve, in front and behind the scenes.
Posted by: the_art_fuzz at December 14, 2005 06:45 PM
Isn't this all a bit silly? Slander? Conspiracy theories? Aspersions cast on the very nature of development money, ambition, and intentions in the art world? As in, Oh my gosh and golly gee! A shady developer (as though the rest are above-board) in sweet little innocent Portland! Whatevah shall we do? Hide the silver, cower under the beds? Please.
Yes, every arts org. needs money---wherever it comes from---and strong leadership, as pointed out above. And yes, Mr. Suereth has a strong personality and big ambitions for his organization, like his former partners Mr. Shettler and Mr. Middendorf. Please note, though, that they are all trying to do different things (installation art vs. "community" art projects vs. an all-inclusive space) and will bring different aspects of art to the public eye of Portland.
As for the nasty comments, I doubt Mr. Suereth is a crook, since he has the trust of high-ranking artists in this town, who are making incredible contributions of time, effort, money, and donated artwork to Disjecta's cause. Disjecta also has the backing of Bruce Guenther, Sam Adams, and Stephanie Snyder, all serious movers and shakers in Portland that are not likely to be hoodwinked by a (formerly small-time) operator like Suereth.
But since Shettler was mentioned by the author of the last set of comments, I'd like to point out that he also needs to raise $200,000, and yet there were no deeper implications (for example, the words "daunting task" were not used) in the piece on him on this very website. Why is that? Certainly Shettler is professional, but he also pisses very many people off. And *all* fundraising is "optimistic", so why use the term for Suereth and not Shettler? Maybe it would help if we clarify the issues. Are they merely of personality? Are they about the nature of money, and what kind of money should be used to fund the arts? Or do we just want to post rants and grind axes?
Posted by: Effey at December 14, 2005 07:18 PM
I can't say that the rest of the community shares your sentiment, Mr. Jahn (aka the_art_fuzz). Your comments and your guise are too vindictive for my taste. I've seen too many good things happen at Disjecta (which, by the way, seems to have been built by the community you name above). From my experience, everything you've just written is baseless and borderline psychotic. Even slanderous. And entirely shameless.
Posted by: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at December 14, 2005 07:33 PM
Yikes! Is this true, that Jeff Jahn is posting as both Double J and the_art_fuzz? [note from PORT moderator, they are two distinct people, dont worry] Talk about serious ethical problems! Why would PORT want to damage its own fledgling reputation by allowing one of its writers to pose as both public personality and anonymous commentator? I would like to hear Jenn Armbrust, Katherine Bovee, and Isaac Peterson weigh in on this. If this is true, I think it seriously hurts PORT's credibility; if it's not true, then please say so.
Posted by: Effey at December 14, 2005 07:58 PM
"Luiz" you make presumptions. Jeff is not the_art_fuzz and I've got the IP tracking and user log to prove it. On the other hand, I know who you are...
Posted by: jenn at December 14, 2005 08:04 PM
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva... that sounds so much like another nickname of Bryan ;-)
even the writing style ;-)
na just kiding ;-)
i found Jeff's article about gavin more critial in the way it sheds light on some of the inconsistencies in the portand art center vision (like programing)
where here, the Oregonian and this short post just describes some potenial problems with the developer. which i think need to be addressed...
i can't believe this post almost turned to some bryan vs gavin thing
my my my
they are divorced now... you know you can speak about one without bringing the old spouse
Posted by: Mechazawa at December 14, 2005 08:41 PM
I’d like to take a moment to offer a few thoughts on the recent Oregonian article and subsequent conversation currently in progress on this website.
First, the Owner. To be clear, Mr. Lance Robbins has a checkered past in Los Angeles. Disjecta in no way, shape or form condones his alleged activities or behavior. However, he happens to own a building we would very much like to activate as an arts space for the greater good of the arts and community in Portland. We have no affiliation with him other than securing a long term lease on the Templeton Building.
That said, Robbins has acted in the utmost of good faith with Disjecta during the last year and we expect continued cooperation as we finalize the lease. He is providing an opportunity that few others could, or would, provide. As well, we have one of the best real estate attorneys in town and will be extremely vigilant in all negotiations. Robbins, in essence, is a non-issue.
Secondly, of course there are other, very real issues…and to be fair, we all face these issues as emerging organizations. Namely, how to raise money to sustain a dedicated arts space that can serve the growing confidence and identity of Portland. Both Gavin and I, and others pursuing similar ambitions, understand this variable and approach it with a decided optimism.
To the point, Disjecta has developed a unique and, we feel, substantial model that provides an earned income base of nearly 75% of our entire budget for 2006-07. We hope this model, along with a visual arts programming committee comprised of the top artists and curators in the region, will allow us to succeed.
As an organization, admittedly, we’ve been somewhat off the map. But building a smart, well-planned, lasting project takes diligence and time. And our board, advisory board and staff have taken this to heart and been working extremely hard to build a solid foundation. As well, you will see Disjecta working with and supporting several upcoming arts events, including Red76’s Ghosttown and Monster Squad’s Island Desk.
Disjecta exists because of the community and will continue to be a part of this community, support artists and bring emerging and challenging concepts in the visual and performing arts to Portland. We take nothing for granted and strive to offer an inviting and provacative environment for both artists and audience.
With respect to the long and curious postings on the topic of Disjecta, the Oregonian and me personally, I can only say that there are differing opinions, some founded, some unfounded. Regardless, I, as well as the board and staff, are always available to accept feedback and answer questions. You will find our e-mail addresses at www.disjecta.org.
Posted by: Disjecta at December 14, 2005 09:32 PM
Thank you for taking time to explain the situation Bryan :-) much appreciated
Posted by: Mechazawa at December 14, 2005 09:48 PM
Well said Bryan.
I would ask those commenting to get involved, support whichever organization fits their vision ( or both ) and help bring this arts community to a new level of maturity. Taking pot-shots at personalities serves no one. People like Bryan and Gavin, who are trying to do something, at least put themselves on the line to make something happen for all of us.
Portland Art Center board member
Posted by: dm at December 15, 2005 10:25 AM
For our many readers outside of Portland the exchange of comments in this thread might seem incredibly obscure. Suffice it to say Portland is underserved in terms of arts institutions yet boasts a huge number of artists (10,000+ in the last census and a very vibrant art scene. In the last 5 years it has only gotten more crowded and competitive.
Several entities are jockeying to fill the holes but as I have stated before, Portland has now just achieved adolescence. The vetting of viable organizations is all part off the growing pains and PORT is here to discuss and digest the intricacies of this process. Mostly, I am interested in seeing results (aka good shows and events) not cheap talk.
Point two, as a moderator I only use my one Typekey account which has the moniker of “Double J” to post comments. I have no need to engage in trollish, sock-using buffoonery (aka posting comments under an alias to create false consensus and less than frank posting activity). It's still the same account as the old “sheriff jeff”, I changed it months ago because I simply wanted something more congenial. Still, when I share my opinions you will know it (just like this post). If you have a question simply email me, don’t assume.
With that said, some earlier posts to this thread prove high irony is alive and well in Portland. …tsk tsk on you. Our posting provides an anonymous format for our readers but we moderators can see your email and IP address. Our policy is anonymity, don’t abuse it or we will be forced to ban you.
Thanks again for reading.
Posted by: Double J at December 15, 2005 01:43 PM
I would like to offer my two cents and respond to some of the vitriolic comments posted on this site (with advance apologies for the verbose nature of this response!). Having worked with both Disjecta and the Portland Art Center, I have a lot respect for both Bryan Suereth and Gavin Shettler. Portland Modern is one of those small arts organizations working to fill a void in our rapidly growing visual arts scene. We rely on other organizations and venues to provide exhibition spaces for the artists featured in our publication. Were it not for Disjeta, the Portland Art Center, Ogle, the Hall Gallery, Gallery 114, and Gallery 500, our project could not be fully realized and would be limited to just the catalog.
In the Spring of 2004, when Portland Modern was just an optimistic idea (as most projects begin), Bryan Suereth approached me about coordinating exhibitions for our first issue. I had never met Bryan prior to this and within a few weeks he had arranged for Portland Modern to exhibit at Disjecta, the Hall Gallery, and Gallery 500. For our second issue, Bryan generously included two Portland Modern artists' work in the unveiling of Disjecta's plans for the Templeton building. If this isn't an example of how Disjecta has contributed to and help build the arts community, I don't know what is.
Likewise, Gavin Shettler has always been a supporter of Portland Modern and our efforts. Most recently, Gavin and the PAC board have generously offered the Portland Art Center Annex in February 2006 for the exhibition of four of our artists' work. Considering our current publication includes installation, photography, large-scale drawing, film/video and more, a substantial and versatile space like the Art Center is crucial to our exhibition needs. So, thanks to the vision of Gavin and the PAC along with Valentina Barroso Graziano at Ogle, all six of Portland Modern's issue #3 artists will be exhibiting in February 2006. Once again, this is a great example of how certain individuals and organizations have stepped up to help build the arts community in our city.
Currently, there is a wonderful symbiotic relationship between arts organizations, businesses, and projects in Portland. Gavin Shettler and Bryan Suereth are two of the many individuals who contribute to the energy and optimism of the arts in this city as it undergoes some fascinating and complicated growing pains.
editor & publisher
Posted by: MB at December 16, 2005 12:21 PM
You should be embarassed and ashamed, I think you owe Paul and Gavin an apology. It's time to straighten up and grow up, your cute attitude is wearing thin.
Posted by: dm at December 16, 2005 12:32 PM
Post a comment
Thanks for signing in,
. Now you can comment. (sign
(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by
the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear
on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)