This past weekend the Portland art scene was shocked to learn that Newspace Center for Photography was closing its doors. There hasn't been a formal statement about what happened from the board but the fact that a "for lease" sign has gone up on the building is a clue that it relates to their building. The board and staff was apparently working hard to find a solution so everyone is quite interested in what will be said today at 7:00PM in an open information session. Hopefully they are still considering alternatives like a move or reconstituting of the organization in a different form because their program has been socially engaged and excellent at a time when Portland absolutely requires it. If you care about photography and social engagement in Portland it would be wonderful to sit in and offer your 2 cents. Arts orgs die because of neglect and perhaps this shock treatment can spearhead support?
For some context, Portland has a terrible history of simply ending longstanding and very popular exhibition programs like the PCVA, PICA at their old Weiden + Kennedy Space
(something they haven't yet fully recovered from with a consistent and diverse year round visual arts program... their new home does hold promise though), the New American Art Union, Portland Art Center
, Museum of Contemporary Craft
and the just 2011 when Newspace moved into this exciting new space
. Obviously fundraising in Portland is challenging... there is a certain benign neglect (that isn't benign) and an aversion to leadership and strong vision that makes our art organizations bleed into each other as it is typical for 5 or more organizations to work together on a project. This leads to difficulty reaching donors who cant tell who does what? There is also a huge shift taking place in the way traditional art organizations are being used and supported
*Update & Analysis
Details about the closure came out in the Oregonian
. First off, that is never the correct way to close an institution... you issue a more detailed statement not just a town hall leaving details to news sources. Second, it looks like the lease was not the issue, instead it is the model. Relying on classes for revenue is a dicey proposition and most of the art schools around the country are facing decreased enrollments. What's more this was more of a skill center rather than a degree oriented institution so their courses are competing with online guides. The idea of merging with another institution never made any sense as that rarely works and the popularity of analog processing of photography simply isn't getting more popular (It does work for a specialist's club and Newspace was never just analog). What does makes sense is to form a new institution based more on a passionate club model rather than tuition based one. Curator? ...the club could generate programming. What's more photography has become more commonplace and less professional with camera phones. It is sad to say it but having a professional curatorial program might simply be beyond the means for a photography based institution like Newspace and I hope that this botched closure can turn into an institution that is right sized and more aligned with needs and support level of the community. As mentioned above there is a dramatic shift going on with how people interface with institutions and even the most well endowed museums are flailing at finding their targeted audiences. Newspace had a great 15 year run and I can see why the board got scared being responsible for such a shortfall (though we needed to hear more about the issues before the closure then they could morph into another institution). It definitely takes a committed core group of supporters with a clear idea (dont go the MoCC road of a reactionary approach to their subject matter
). Hopefully something good can rise from it as the space is excellent, in a good location and affordable. Portland needs relevant photography but we also need institutions that are configured in supple ways and its very true that patronage and programmatic tenor seem to be out of synch because institutions keep going back to old models that are already out of date.
P.S. no wonder Portland arts institutions are finding diminishing returns... they keep going back to the same models and ideas. No kickstarter is not the answer either. I'll have more on this issue in a much broader article (that Ive been working on for a long time) soon. The long and short of it is an institution needs to be right sized to its audience and board's level of engagement, but that also takes a savvy board/mission.
Newspace Closing Remarks? • 7:00PM • July 10th
Newspace • 1632 SE 10th • 503.963.1935
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