Arts News

Can City Council Help Save Portland’s Endangered Arts Spaces?

The council hears 24 recommendations for preserving affordable arts spaces.

By Fiona McCann January 11, 2018

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Art pods in the parks? High-rise arts spaces? Creative places in public buildings? These were among 24 ideas proposed at a city council work session on Tuesday, January 9, with a goal to preserve affordable arts spaces in Portland. The list of recommendations, from a report spearheaded by Commissioner Nick Fish, was presented to the city after two years of research and consultation with other cities to identify best practices.

Some of the recommendations were warmly received by the commissioners present, including a proposal to re-establish the position of Arts Concierge: Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the Bureau of Development Services, responded immediately with the news that she not only supported the idea but had already requested such a position. Mayor Ted Wheeler appeared galvanized by a proposal to double down on rooftop use for arts events, recalling his own mayoral campaign launch on the rooftop of the Washington High School building (now Revolution Hall) in 2015.

Other recommendations garnered instant pushback, such as a proposal to exempt space dedicated to the arts from floor-area ratio and height limits, which Commissioner Amanda Fritz said “almost had me running screaming from the room.” She also expressed skepticism at a proposal to use parks for art pods along the lines of Portland’s food cart pods.

Commissioner Fish, however, made clear that while some proposals may be more palatable than others, the intention is to identify those that seem “readily achievable” in the first instance and work towards their implementation, asking city government and stakeholders to identify “which of these items we should move on first and why,” before a February 15 presentation on the subject.

For his part, Mayor Wheeler welcomed the proposals and pointed to the contribution the arts make to the city’s livability. “I want to assure people that this is a 'both, and' proposition,” he said, making clear that addressing the city’s housing problem remains a priority. But he added that the lack of arts spaces “gets to the core of our community.”

The two dozen recommendations come at a time when arts organizations and practitioners have been squeezed out of central locations by the current real estate boom. The closure of the Towne Storage building in 2015, once home to dozens of artists and craftspeople, was specifically cited in the presentation. Several arts organizations—Profile Theatre, Third Rail, and the IPRC among them—have been forced to find new homes in recent years as rents rise around the central city, and others have closed, such as the Fremont Theater and longtime jazz venue Jimmy Mak's. 

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