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Imago Theatre made an international name with its touring production of Frogz, which the New York Times called "a mastery of mime, dance and acrobatics."

Image: Jerry Mouawad

Imago Theatre, a pioneer of Portland’s arts scene, has decided to sell its longtime home at 17 SE 8th Ave, just off E Burnside.

Imago co-founders Jerry Mouawad and Carol Triffle purchased the building in 1992 for $150,000, after having rented space inside the onetime Masonic Lodge for a decade. After taking ownership, Mouawad and Triffle built a 200-plus-seat theater, produced their own work (including the internationally successful Frogz), and hosted a wide range of work by local and out-of-town artists. Mouawad, speaking by phone Tuesday, says he and Triffle are giving up the building to devote more time to their creative work.

“The decision was about whether we wanted to run a large facility and spend most of our time administratively, but it was becoming more and more complicated to balance that with our desire to do art,” Mouawad says. “So much of our time right now is facility management. It’s basically about time and devotion to the arts. It sounds odd that we’re giving up our theater to do art, but it’s what we need to do.”

The building—around the corner from the Doug Fir Lounge and Jupiter Hotel, up the street from the 21-story Yard Building, and close to several other new luxury apartment buildings—is now assessed at more than $1 million, which Mouawad says is low.

Imago will close out its 2016–17 season—which includes an elaborate Beauty and the Beast-inspired show featuring more than 100 puppets and a giant whirring ship—at the theater. Third Rail Repertory, which has produced work in Imago’s space since fall 2015, will also finish its season. 

“We’d obviously like to see it preserved as a theater,” Mouawad says. “But that’s not up to us—that’s up to the buyer.”

Though the building’s fate is uncertain, Imago’s decision to sell feels like just the latest development in Portland’s ongoing struggle to keep arts in the central city. The list of arts organizations displaced in just the last half-decade goes on and on: Theatre Vertigo, Profile Theatre, Polaris Dance Theatre, Northwest Dance Project, Conduit Dance, the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

“If there’s a good side to all this,” Mouawad adds, “it might spur a conversation with funders and the city of Portland that there’s a need for venues.”

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