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Thursday 11.01.07

« PORT's Bridge Design Contest | Main | First Friday Picks November 2007 »

Portland Art Center at a crossroads

Portland Art Center
Director Gavin Shettler in 2005 at the Portland Art Center's then new home in Chinatown

The Portland Art Center has been attempting to fill an important role in the Portland arts community over the past five years, as a non-profit supporting the development of young artists while bridging the worlds of galleries, museums, and educational institutions. Now they're looking back to the community for support to cover a $40,000 budget shortfall.

Although PAC has achieved some success with grants (a $50,000 grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust and $25,000 from the Lehmann Foundation) they have been unable to meet their sustaining private fund raising goals in Portland's difficult philanthropic environment.

They're currently inhabiting an ambitious 10,000 square foot space, but the rent, although below market value, has become a heavy financial burden at $5,000 per month. As the Goldsmith building's lead tenant, it creates market pressures for developer David Gold and his bank, requiring PAC to scale up financially. PAC currently needs to raise $27,000 for back rent and $13,000 to cover salaries for its two staff members by December 1st. That isn't a lot of money considering the Portland Art Museum raised 40 million dollars back in 2005, but those people have been completely absent as major patrons ($2,000+) for PAC. Shettler describes the situation as, "at a critical point."

For more information, please contact executive director Gavin Shettler at gavin.shettler@portlandart.org.

Posted by Megan Driscoll on November 01, 2007 at 12:32 | Comments (7)


When I heard about the news of the Portland Art Center, I couldn't help by asking myself a series of questions:

Has there been a slight disconnect between the Portland Art Center and the local artists?


Did that disconnect make it a little strange to hear about the money problems at the PAC?

Again, absolutely.

Is everyone tired of hearing about Gavin and Brian trying to one up one another?

Again, absolutely.

In tough circumstances, are Gavin and Kelly trying to do the best they can and do they ever make mistakes?

From my personal perspective, I do believe that they are doing the best they can. I think that would be first to admit that they made some mistakes in the way that their situation has been presented in the media. Like the rest of us, they are learning. No one is perfect.

I do think that it is important to have a venue for local artists that is different from the museum, the galleries, or other non-profits like Organism (which is focused on the international level, local or otherwise). Portland Art Center can, potentially, fill a vital role for artists in Portland. There must be an alternative to the musuem on the one hand and galleries on the other. Sometimes important work does not fit naturally in either of those venues.

Has the PAC always been successful in fulfilling that role of providing an alternate space to the museums and the galleries?

In principle, I think that they have, although while some of the shows have been quite good, others have left me cold. That might be my personal opinion but it might be also be about a disconnect between programing and the local audience. If the PAC does not pull through this it means that will they never have the opportunity to fulfill that role in the future. The experiment is over. It is like talking about the visual arts programming at PICA outside the TBA festival. We need somebody to fill this role.

I think that it is important for Portland to have a medium (okay, maybe large) sized exhibition space for work that is not immediately saleable or of a sufficient popularity to interest the museum. In a perfect world, it would be fantastic to see the PAC as a research and development lab in which local artists can try out ideas on either willing guinea pigs, uh, artists.

I had a good conversation with Kelly Rauer of Portland Art Center this afternoon. She was calm, focused, and admitted that the whole process has been a trial by fire but she is confident that PAC will see itself clear of its debts and will continue to serve the local community. She had exactly the right perspective to take this challenge head on.

She reminded me that although they are currently facing a deficit, they have already raised a $130,000 this year. Is it enough? Not quite but I think that it is a good start. There deficit is serious but it should not mean the end of the PAC. We would all lose in that in case.

I have always felt that if the Portland Art Center is really to succeed, ideally, everyone in Portland should feel a small sense of ownership. That the PAC might someday represent some critical component of what it means to be an artist in Portland. Then as community we can celebrate our success and rally together when things are not going as well.

If Gavin wants to be able to count on the support of the community, the community has to feel like it has a stake in the success of the PAC as well. The whole Gavin and Brian thing has to end and not just because it is not benefiting either one of them. It would be ideal as well if PAC's programming would add even more local artists to its programming.

I think this is a great moment, for all of the local artists and donors to look in the mirror and ask themeselves, what kind of art scene do they want to have in Portland? It is question that goes beyond the PAC and asks how Portland sees itself.

I think that that this question also goes beyond Gavin and Kelly. It is about how we see ourselves as artists and donors, and how we would like to present our work to the outside world. I think it is also a question that needs to address the lack of local support for the arts.

Rarely, do we have chance to make a difference but this is one of those moments. Each one of us can decide for ourselves.

Posted by: Arcy [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 2, 2007 06:39 PM

Perfect Arcy. You quite possibly summed up all my thoughts in that comment.

I would hate for PAC to essentially die on the vine like this, because once PAC comes to fruition, I think it will be a truly powerful space and institution.

I suppose my question is, how can a lowly artist like myself help with this situation? Maybe my feelings of uselessness are warranted in this situation, but I would love to know how someone could help besides being rich and throwing money at them (not that they would complain about that). :)

Posted by: Calvin Ross Carl [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 4, 2007 09:38 AM

I'm just so sick of the Gavin and Brian show and their relevance to Portland's expanded up and coming scene is debatable since we now sport NAAU, Rock's Box, Tilt, Sugar, Rererato, Ogle and even Rake. PAC is behind the curve and less prestigious than any of those spaces. Sad

Granted, Arcy Douglas' argument to let the issue slide has logical merits but against all logic Portland is still dealing with these two meatheads who have little art knowledge and demonstrably disappointing sophistication, which they over-compensate for with they preferences for enormous spaces.

After 5 years they simply lack the connections, budgets, and savvy to program such ventures. Granted Gavin isn't a promotional snake oil salesman like Brian but he is a bureaucracy loving suck up, and another arts carpetbagger.

Unfortunately he sucked up to every mediocre artist in town, spurned the really good ones and now has an exhibition history that highlights Portland's third string pretty well. A missed opportunity and they just aren't central to things here, no matter what they say. Besides if the Oregonian endorses it you know it is mediocre.

Reputation is everything and with projects like NAAU, Rock's Box, Rererato and Tilt & The Everett Station lofts I doubt there are any who doubt they have infinitely more local art scene momentum than found at PAC. Yet instead of focusing, PAC attempts to fill every identifiable need. That is small town thinking and Portland deserves better.

Sure it's a harsh reality but after 5 years they still don't get it, Portland is full of people with MFA's who do. Then again politicians like Sam Adams are suckers for mediocre arts endeavors. Maybe, I just find it difficult to believe Gavin Shettler will get better. 5 years has shown him to be an able administrator of a dull program. The administration doesn't matter, the programming does.

The fact is the landlord (and their top donor) gave them enough rope to hang themselves and Im sick of this big building strategy. International level programs like PAM, Reed, PNCA, Organism, PICA and Lewis and Clark can do really tight shows with less than a quarter of PAC's 10,000 sq ft. space. We should expect the same care at the emerging local artist level. We should want art spaces that cater to locals and bring them up to the next level rather than court those who can fill space.

I just cant see how PAC can do anything more than what weve already been often embarrassed by. Losing PAC might be very good for Portland since it provides room for serious efforts.

It just had to be said

Posted by: BetterUnderstanding [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 4, 2007 06:47 PM

Yes BU in regards to your concerns (via email), we will keep anonymous comments that way.

Also, I think you are being a bit harsh and they deserve to be defended. Recently PAC has done a few very well executed shows so give them another look. For example, Cry Babies was very ambitious, and cleanly executed. Mack McFarland's show was a complicated and diverse undertaking that was pulled off nicely. I havent been down there this month yet.

There is also a real need for large exhibition spaces for shows like crybabies had... Rererato doesnt have that and even Rake's larger space would have cramped that show.

Also, I dislike how this whole situation feels like a referendum on PAC, though it now seems unavoidable.

I also think the tendancy of Portland to constantly want to start all over again can be destructive. When Horodner was here at PICA people constantly griped and even applauded their closing in 2004 but there were lots of really good shows and it is short-sighted to throw that all away. I think Arcy makes that point well.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 5, 2007 09:18 AM

Good points all around.

The idealism that fuels the creation of an organization must inevitably confront that elephant-in-the-room...Economics. Individual artists must deal with it (i.e. a day job). No different for a gallery or non-profit.

I'm reminded of Ethos, the music education non-profit here in town. When it started the director Charles Lewis was working out of a class B office the size of a walk-in closet. He was knee deep in instruments, office equipment (all donated) and teaching piano to kids in a basement room at the U of P campus. Slowly and steadily it grew, and now it's a major contributor to the community teaching kids to learn and play music.

The Portland Art Center (and others) have had many advantages from the get go. Local connections. Generous benefactors and a complicit press (remember years ago WWeek touting PAC as the best non-profit to support?) Even with this, it still hasn't stopped passing the hat. Like a never ending OPB membership drive.

How about bringing in some energetic MBA students and have them construct a viable business plan?...if there is one. If the space is so important than it needs revenue. Put in some Video Poker. Sell cigarettes, beer, candy, whatever. Many sucessful rap labels were initially financed by dope dealing. Classic Napoleon Hill... giving people what THEY want first, can lead to getting what YOU need later. Albeit legally. Maybe then PAC can put down the "Will curate for food" sign and actually engage not just other artists, but the public at large.

I say good luck and best wishes.

Thank you for allowing me to comment.

Take care.

Posted by: Sean Casey [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 5, 2007 11:34 AM

In response to previous comments.

First, PAC is not in competition with Disjecta or Bryan Suereth. Our mission is to support all of the arts community. We hope for the success of Disjecta. It plays an important role in our community just as PAC does. If one takes the time to truly look at these two organizations, I believe you will see that they have different missions, serve different parts of the community, and are at two different places in the life of the organizations. PACís current situation does not have anything to do with Disjecta.

PAC has succeeded in providing a place for emerging artists to experiment. I believe we have accomplished our goal of providing a unique experience for showing and seeing new, contemporary art. The very nature of experimentation is a leap of faith. Some times exhibits at PAC miss the mark. If everyone liked everything we exhibited, I would be very disappointed, for then we would truly not be experimenting and taking risks. I do believe that no matter the month, going to PAC is exciting. You never know what you will find. Where else can you see up to 6 exhibits ranging in medium and content than at PAC?

PACís programming is currently submission based. We invite 2 people form the community to revue and select work. For 2006 it was Terry Hopkins and David Eckard and for 2007 is was MaryAnn Deffenbaugh and Bruce Conkle. Yes you are right that I am not a curator but an administrator. My job is to create the space for exhibition. A large percentage of the artists we have shown have MFAs. Clearly, those responding to this stream are actually referring to specific individual artists that they would like to see present work at PAC. That would be great. The facility is a place for the community. I believe that you can still present intriguing and exceptional work and be a populist at the same time. I am not talking about lowest common denominator. I am talking about a challenge to Portlandís art community. Come. Take advantage of this incredible space.

PAC is not the end all be all just as much as no one space can be. PAC is part of the overall arts community. A health community needs strong programming all different levels from small spaces to large. PAC will never please everyone and we donít try too.

We do have a strong business plan, but you have to remember that we are not a for profit business. That means that only 20% of our budget can be generated by earned revenue. Just like the museum or any other arts non-profit, we are supported mainly through donations and grants. That means that my job is to continually beg for money (which, by the way, is not that much fun), for in arts, there is very little government help. I do this because I believe in helping our arts community. 5 years in the non profit sector is still considered young and just getting started, which we are. The road to sustainability is a very long road. Actual non-profit designation by the IRA does not occur in the history of a non-profit until you are 5 years old (we just got ours). The organization actually needs a budget of $500,000 a year to be truly able to maximize our programming. So clearly, we still have a ways to go.

PAC is volunteer driven. Its ongoing success is determined by the input of the community. This is from artists who exhibit, to gallery sitters, to volunteers helping to pull out carpet. PAC is the community. My role is merely as facilitator, and steward of this amazing facility and organization that Portland has built. I feel lucky to be able to be a part of it.

The best way to help is to spread the word that PAC is vital to our community. Everyone makes a difference, from the $35 member to the gallery sitter to the foundation. You are right. PAC canít survive without everyone being engaged. PAC is an art center built by and for you. It can grow into the contemporary art center we all want and need. It is here for you.

Finally, PAC believes in transparency. We are not here to fool or miss lead anyone. We are still growing and developing. We have a ten-year plan and realize that the best way to get there is by small steps. As you have already seen. PAC will continue to get better and better.


Gavin Shettler
Executive Director

Posted by: Gavin1 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 5, 2007 04:59 PM

Hi All,

To say the PAC has catered to 3rd rate Portland artists is pretty far off base. PAC has held some of the most exciting contemporary exhibits I have seen here or anywhere for that matter. Is Mac Mcfarland a second or third tier Portland Artist? The show Alchemy | Christine Wallers and Steve Peters was one of the best exhibits I have seen anywhere in the last few years and I do manage to get out of Portland occasionally. There have been many many other highlights, and some low lights too, but contemporary art is by its nature going to be pushing the envelope. My thinking is that kind of comment is probably motivated by fear of competition. People often fail to realize competition is actually good for business. Why are McD's and Burger K across the street from each other? Because together they create both a destination and a desire for the product that they are selling.

I suggest that anyone who cares about PAC write letters to the editors in the local papers. This is something folks outside the immediate arts community should be concerned about. We need a contemporary arts center, and PAC has been doing a pretty good job so far. Maybe they could be excellent with a little support.

Also PAC is a non-profit are any of the listed NAAU, Rock's Box, Tilt, Sugar, Rererato, Ogle and Rake?


Posted by: folly [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 6, 2007 11:59 AM

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