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Sunday 12.11.05

« Reeding the Oregonian | Main | Backyard Icing »

Toughlove for the Portland Art Center

Director Gavin Shettler at the Portland Art Center's new home in Chinatown

On December 8th the still unproven Portland Art Center unveiled its plans for its new home in Chinatown to a good crowd on a cold night. So far they have sold one enormous $10,000 painting by Cecilia Hallinan but lots of nice work and some cheesy stuff is still for sale though. Thankfully, the artists get 60% of the proceeds here.

There will be at least three galleries within the complex, each with a focus on installation art, young unsigned talent and one rental space for other visual art organizations, respectively. More on the galleries later, but I think there needs to be some tough talk regarding PAC that needs to be addressed. Let's see how they handle the tough love. Wearing a suit in Portland says you either want to be taken seriously or its a funeral...

With a lead in-kind gift of $100,000 for the downtown space from developer David Gold (yes an art friendly developer believe it or not), Gavin Shettler and his marketing/development staff of one seek to raise another $200,000 for build out and operations (a lean staff is good for a young organization). This is a much more feasible plan that others we have seen recently but it is still very challenging.

Although $200,000 isn't a lot of money comparatively... if one considers that sum equals the cost of 4 Mercedes E350 class sedans, a popular car on the Westside. It is considering the crowd who showed up last Thursday. Few on hand could afford such transportation. In fact many serious art supporters didn't know about the event and were at another party instead. Doh!


In fact, on Thursday Shettler boasted about the fact that of the $90,000 raised last year, no gift was larger than $1,000. That's good in terms of broad grass roots support, but for an arts organization that has existed for 2.5 years with a previous building and programming it speaks of how deep the support runs. Here is a reason the art-smart money has stayed away. It's the programming, money follows talent and PAC needs to be a lot more impressive if they want to be downtown.

PAC's previous shows have been pre MFA caliber…not post MFA caliber except for a professional theater production by Liminal. Although interesting, the Liminal show didn't seem to understand that installation art is held to different standards than experimental theater (without actors it failed as installation art and merely looked like an odd deserted set, like it was.) My point is PAC hasn't quite addressed the hoard of ok to occasionally very good installation and video artists in town. So far they seem determined to champion only the OK ones who are still learning and one experimental theater group. This support of installation art had been a stated part of PAC's mission and yet the city's best installation artists can be found anywhere but at PAC. There has been a momentum drain and let's just say they need a sophisticated hit and no amount of wishful thinking for future programming in a future space can overcome less than riveting shows we have already seen unless they turn it around. I'm not alone in this view and the Oregonian has reiterated it several times, most recently here.

A real nagging question as to how much sophistication and/or art expertise in the organization exists and although Shettler frequently mentions White Columns as a model he really needs to live up to the lower level of the Soap Factory before bringing that comparison up. Also, quotes like, "um a that is the primary demographic of our helping" just don't inspire confidence amongst the educated (there was a palpable chill from that one). Gavin's come a long way but he's got some serious bucking up to do.

As for the gallery spaces it isn't ideal but has potential. The numerous support columns insure that no space will be all that open. Open space is important for installation art so hopefully some of these columns can come down without hurting the structural integrity. I love the fact that it is downtown and will have window spaces that address the street; great idea and the fact that it is right by the ornamental gate to Chinatown is perfect. The floors just need some paint, a neutral grey or hard to maintain white (for impact) not the brown paint of the old PAC galleries would do. Generally installation artists don't like colored floors unless they are choosing the color. My last gripe is the planned rental gallery space. Yes the universities need extra space around thesis time but who do you rent to for the other 8-9 months of the year? It just doesn't seem like good revenue stream, even if PICA were to rent out the gallery once or twice a year.

These are nagging issues and please don't take my persnicketyness for a thumbs down. I want to see the Portland Art Center succeed but Gavin and Co. have to address these issues (they have already come a long ways). Quality means everything and PAC needs to manifest it on a uniform level to survive.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 11, 2005 at 23:22 | Comments (3)


I am David Mosher, a board member of Portland Art Center. Thank you for coming to our event and thank you for your critical dialogue, you are a much needed voice in our art community.
We do have a lot of work to do at the art center, but what a great opportunity we, and our community have been given by David Gold and Howard Davis.
As an owner of Art Media, I have seen this art community grow a hundred fold over the last thirty years. With the Modern Zoo, we as a community reached a pinnacle of intensity, showing ourselves and others that there is a smoldering energy of creativity here in Portland.
I got on the board because it is time for this community to take the local arts to it's next level of maturity.
I hope to bring some business sense to Portland Art Center to help create a viable and long-living organization. It is is a slow and sometimes frustrating process, trying to get the right peoples(supporters) attention for something like this, but I can feel it building. Even though there were other events going on last Thursday, we still brought in over 250 interested and curious guests.
It will be our job to turn those guests into supporters.
It is good for us to hear from you and others about what is going right and what is going wrong. We may not agree with everything you say, but at least you say something.
Watch us over the next few months, keep commenting on what we are doing and let's hope we get our message out the the community in a way that will help the Portland Art Center fulfill it's mission and make the most of this wonderful opportunity.
David W. Mosher

Posted by: dm [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 12, 2005 09:16 AM

Thanks David,

These are critical issues and one of the things I like most about the PAC organization is that is is responsive to constructive criticism. PAC has been growing by leaps and bounds but some Portland media has a tendancy to treat all community barnraising efforts with kid gloves. I don't think it has always served the organizations all that well.

Of course I dont expect everyone to agree with with my assessment, but that said I'm definitely the most vocal tip of a much larger iceberg. PAC needs to change their minds.

Overall, congratulations on a successful event and the announcemt of the difficult but ambitious plans. If only other board members of other visual organizations in town were as pro-active as you...

It's a critical time for the center and all this is done in interest of strengthening your position.

Thanks for doing what you do.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 12, 2005 10:44 AM


On a minor note, as an installation, the Resurrectory was intended to feel like a deserted workspace. I enjoy being in an alien professional environment afterhours. I'm sorry this didn't carry so well for you. Did you make visits late in its run after much had been added?


Posted by: Housepappa [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 16, 2005 02:49 PM

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