Every Friday afternoon, in a former shipbuilding warehouse in the Central Eastside, a group of grown-ups reenacts a timeless grade school ritual: show and tell. Here, however, the treasures on display are interactive art and snippets of code. The participants are members of the XOXO Outpost, a new pay-what-you-can shared workspace that’s the physical manifestation of Portland’s wildly successful, forever-sold-out XOXO Festival, and one answer to a vexing problem: how to afford to do creative work in a city of ever-climbing rents.
XOXO was founded in 2012 by graphic designer Andy McMillan and OG Internet dude Andy Baio (he helped found Kickstarter) to celebrate art and technology produced by “independent creators” making stuff on or around the Internet. The event has become a kind of digital Velvet Underground: few people actually see it live (attendance is capped at 1,000), but everyone who does is inspired to start their own cool thing. (This year’s conference is scheduled for September 8–11.)
Opened this spring, the 13,000-square-foot XOXO Outpost is an attempt to spread that magic over the rest of the year with around 65 like-minded souls handpicked by the Andys.
“Nobody here is cool,” says Laura E. Hall, a writer working on a book about the classic video game Katamari Damacy. “We’re nerdy in a very specific way.” Other Outposters include Feel Train, a duo who design serendipitous Internet experiences, and The Recompiler, a feminist hacking zine. Many projects simply don’t make enough to rent a solo office. Thanks to corporate patrons like GitHub, MailChimp, and Instrument, Outposters pay on a scale that slides all the way down to zero.
It says something that both Andys are Portland transplants (five and eight years, respectively) who immediately felt at home amid the city’s appetite for experimentation and creative ferment. The XOXO Outpost is their bid to keep that spirit alive, rising rents be damned.