VISUAL ART

A bit cheeky but for the tongue to a sore tooth

Ashley Miller's Sweet Things at Blue Sky Gallery

Given the title of Ashley Miller’s exhibition, Sweet Things, one might expect her photographs to contain a certain amount of eye candy, perhaps something gooey, or on a conceptual level, saccharine and cloying. Not so much. Instead, the confection on view through Feb. 3 at Blue Sky Gallery has been lost to the sidewalk where the ants have found it. Innocence has been replaced by repulsion, and one gets the feeling that Miller finds this rather sweet in and of itself.

However, this may not be the takeaway for every viewer, left wondering why the artist created such grotesqueries. Yet, in that wondering, if one then bothered to read the PR for the show, one would understand that Miller is interested in “the subtexts of desire, consumerism, and overabundance present in product and food photography,” adding, “modern society is built on overabundance and addiction.” Plus, she would have us all implicated, our revulsion springing from recognizing our own state of corruption. Indeed, she confesses that she is just as much a victim as well; only she has an outlet, because “this state of anxiety is the starting point for my work…peddling the fetish.”

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Portland State will not acquire Oregon College of Art and Craft

After testing the feasibility of swallowing OCAC, PSU declines to move forward

After a week of thinking about it—or in the business parlance of our times, after conducting a “feasibility study” or “due diligence”—Portland State University officials informed Oregon College of Art and Craft officials on Thursday (January 24) that the university had decided against acquiring the college and its bucolic acres on Southwest Barnes Road.

That was some pretty fast due diligence (or at least “official” due diligence), because the university publicly announced its interest in OCAC only on January 17. (For those coming to the story late, the arts and crafts college’s discussions with Pacific Northwest College of Art about a possible merger concluded in mid-December without a deal.)


Outside the kiln at Oregon College of Art and Craft/Photo courtesy of OCAC

The key paragraph of the PSU statement, attributed to PSU president Rahmat Shoureshi: “We explored this because we were excited about the potential opportunity that an acquisition would honor the legacy of art and craft at OCAC, support the arts in our region and bolster our own College of the Arts. But our study of different acquisition scenarios, including those involving private philanthropy, showed the potential costs would be too high for PSU.”

I reached out to OCAC to find out the college’s view of PSU’s decision and how the art college might proceed from here. I haven’t received a response from OCAC yet (after holding this story for a couple of days), so perhaps they are still pondering.

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OregonLive’s Jeff Manning has been the chief media contact for PSU in this matter, and he might have phoned in a story with just that information—”no deal because acquisition costs were too high.” But Manning is an excellent reporter, and he didn’t get that way by phoning in stories. So he continued reporting and answered some questions at both ends of the core information: how the idea came up in the first place and what a possible resolution might look like going forward.

The idea came from developer Jordan Schnitzer, who gave PSU $5 million to start a campus art museum in 7,500 square feet over two floors of Neuberger Hall last spring. According to Manning, Schnitzer encouraged Shoureshi to pursue the acquisition of the college, but Shoureshi’s statement indicates that the philanthropic dollars weren’t there to shoulder the costs of absorbing OCAC (or maintaining it going forward), from Schnitzer or anyone else PSU checked in with. (Which would be an interesting thing to know—how extensive WAS PSU’s search for money to acquire OCAC?)

At the other end of the story, Manning revealed that Portland developers Jim Winkler (whose son sits on the OCAC board) and Bob Niehaus had offered to buy the property and lease it back to the school. “A sale-leaseback would give them some time to get their act together,” Winkler told Manning.

I reached out to Winkler for confirmation and elaboration. “I made an offer to purchase and lease back the OCAC campus to the school in order to give the school a longer runway to work out the terms of a merger,” he responded. “My objective was to help the school by providing it a patient and interested landlord. The offer included a right of repurchase by the school. I am deeply saddened by the potential loss of another important arts institution in our community.” He also said that OCAC hadn’t responded to his offer (as of Monday).

The campus is a considerable asset. The college has listed the campus as worth around $10 million on its federal 990 forms, though the Washington County tax assessment for the property is $13,840,620: $5,087,810 for the land and $8,752,810 for the buildings. These days, those assessments seem to run a little on the light side, because real estate values generally are going up.

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In his story, Manning speculates that OCAC could be near the end as a functioning college: “The school has struggled financially, and it’s unclear how long it can continue to operate,” he writes.

I don’t think we have a clear picture of OCAC’s finances, because OCAC hasn’t revealed anything about its financial condition or why it has been pursuing various merger and acquisition scenarios. Therefore, we don’t know to what degree it has “struggled financially.” Most Oregon arts organizations in the state “struggle financially” to one degree or another, of course, but unlike most Oregon arts organizations, OCAC owns a valuable piece of real estate. It also is supported by the Oregon College of Art and Craft Foundation, which had net assets of $1,930,700 at the end of its 2015-16 fiscal year, according to its federal 990 form that year, the last one available to me.

In his first story announcing that PSU was considering the acquisition of OCAC, Manning painted a dark picture of OCAC’s finances: A 2017 budget deficit of $685,649 with a large debt of $1.5 million coming due. But it’s common for companies of all sorts, even nonprofits, to spend more money in a year than they will make in order to invest in revenue-building activities. So, it’s entirely possible, even likely, that in 2017 OCAC invested money in a plan to build enrollment numbers, say, by developing new programs or increasing its recruiting efforts. The deficit number without the context doesn’t really mean much, especially since the OCAC foundation had sufficient funds to cover the shortfall. The same with the loan: It’s also possible, even likely, that the payment on the loan has been forgiven in the past and that OCAC expects whoever holds that note to continue the practice.

Inside the 2017 BFA Thesis Show at OCAC./Photo by Beth Conyers

The reason I’m proposing “even likely” is simply because former OCAC president Denise Mullen, who left the college in September citing personal reasons, has a reputation as a careful administrator, and I doubt that she’d run an unplanned deficit that large with an imminent debt payment of that magnitude. At this point neither Mullen nor OCAC is talking for the record about these matters, so this is speculation on my part.

So, until OCAC talks more about its financial situation, we simply don’t know how close to the edge it is. Manning covers that for journalistic purposes with his “it’s unclear” construction, but the overall impression he leaves through the two stories is that OCAC’s situation is dire. Which it might be—we just don’t have enough information to know. And we don’t know how palatable to OCAC the offer from Winkler and Niehaus might be, just that they haven’t responded so far.

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In my first story about OCAC’s search for partners, I talked a little about why I thought the cultural fit with PNCA was, at the very least, problematic. Still, PNCA and OCAC are both small, independent art schools. They are a little like Portland and Seattle, different in some ways but more similar to each other than they are to most other cities. PSU is the “other cities” in this simile. It’s hard for me to imagine a PSU acquisition scenario that would have preserved any of the DNA of OCAC, in which case the last of Portland’s major design institutions might well have disappeared inside a much larger institution with different ideas about arts education.

McMinnville’s gallery scene primed to expand

An old house gets new life as a destination for arts immersion; plus, on the arts calendar: gallery shows, arts walk, a film festival, and poetry on the radio

There’s a buzz in McMinnville concerning an 84-year-old house on the corner of Baker and Northeast Seventh Streets, which marks almost the exact center of town. In the last decade or so, it’s functioned as a florist, a salon and a home-goods store. Now, there’s great news for art fans. Come spring, it will reopen as the McMinnville Event Center for the Arts.

Holli and Mick Wagner will open the McMinnville Event Center for the Arts at 636 N.E. Baker St. in March. Photo by: David Bates

MECA is owned by Holli and Mick Wagner, who also run nearby vacation rentals. They will open the gallery at 636 N.E. Baker St., a few blocks north of the city’s downtown district, as a home for visual art, as well as readings, live music, and classes. I got a sneak peek behind the papered-over windows last week as they prepare 2,500 square feet of space for a stage and works from more than two dozen artists.

“The mission here is really to create a destination space for people to come and immerse themselves in the arts,” Holli Wagner told me. In recent years, Yamhill County’s wine industry has exploded, with one result being a downtown district that is thick with restaurants and tasting rooms. Wagner sees a future with an equally active gallery scene. Already, more than a dozen can be found just in McMinnville.

“Not only are we a destination for agriculture and wine,” she said, “but now we have an opportunity to set ourselves another goal and become a destination for art.”

They’ve set a March 9 opening date, and they’re dishing out teasers on the usual social media. Check them out here.

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The unexpected potential of venetian blinds in the forest

A review of Rebecca Reeve's "Sun Breathing" at Upfor Gallery

By LUSI LUKOVA

New York-based artist Rebecca Reeve debuts new photographic work in Sun Breathing, her first solo exhibition at Portland’s Upfor Gallery. In her archival pigment prints, Reeve imposes grid-like forms or painted elements on the natural environment. She then photographs these optic interventions, intentionally muddling the internal and the external as a means to explore the dichotomy between restraint and unbounded potential.

Readily recognizable foliage and nature scenes form the crux of Reeve’s content. The addition of vibrant reds, yellows, and blues made by Reeve’s brushstrokes and not readily visible in the prints, are what distort these standard photographs into more fantastic and illusive scenes. Organized chromatically on the three main walls of the gallery are two sets of two prints and one of three, each grouping separated by the primary colors painted into them. On the wall opposite the set of two red prints is the final piece of the exhibition, Sun Breathing #8 (2018), which is the only work that combines all three of those colors to create an artificial rainbow resting on the vegetation. Although the inclusion of these vivid colors obfuscates the realistic quality of the land forms, they simultaneously serve as bold hooks that drive the audience deeper into the image. Where naturally-colored foliage typically camouflages itself in the wild, allowing for a much hastier overall portrait, the reds, blues and yellows painted by Reeve and then photographed in situ make the viewer precisely aware of each individual leaf and twig that might otherwise have been missed. Pushing against unfocused, cursory glances, the longer one studies these landscapes the more forcefully the applied colors come to feel as natural as the background shades of green.

Rebecca Reeve, “Sun Breathing #4,” (2018) archival pigment print, 30 x 37 inches, edition of 5. Photo by Mario Gallucci, courtesy the artist and Upfor.

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‘Amazing landscape’ inspires Sitka Center resident artists

The five new residents, who will introduce themselves Wednesday, include an underwater photographer and an artist whose work is linked to animals

Artists Isabelle Hayeur and Felix Prater, who began residencies at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology this week, both journeyed from afar to practice their craft at the retreat dedicated to fostering creativity, curiosity, and education.

They are among five new residents who will stay through May 1. Others are whale researcher Fred Sharpe, writer Matt Jones, and mixed-media artist Brenda Mallory. On Wednesday, Jan. 23, the group will share a bit about themselves at the Resident Show & Tell at 6 p.m. in the Boyden Center.

Residents spend from 2 weeks to 3-1/2 months making art, composing music, writing, or conducting research without the limitation of a product-driven residency, program coordinator Sara Haug said. “Residents are given the time and space to explore creative pursuits that are enhanced by the Sitka Center’s mission of existing in space dedicated to the intellectual pursuits of art, ecology, and the fusion of both.”

Isabelle Hayeur often works in waders in her quest to photograph life underwater.

Residents do not receive a stipend but are provided a private, fully furnished cabin and a studio or workspace for the duration of their residency.

If you can’t make Wednesday’s gathering — apologies for the short notice — you’ll have another chance when residents do final presentations April 27 in the Boyden Studio. In the meantime, here’s a look at two of the artists visiting our coast.

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The start of an art-full year in Yamhill County

Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center and The Gallery at Ten Oaks in McMinnville kick off 2019 with six exhibitions well worth a look

Looking ahead at what 2019 holds for Yamhill County’s art scene, nothing has astonished me quite like the calendar for the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. A dozen exhibitions are booked and the year is virtually full, although one can be reasonably sure that the occasional pop-up will happen — like the current exhibition of art by students from George Fox University.

Stan Peterson’s “Together” (carved and painted basswood) is part of “A Catalyst of Empathy” show at the Chehalem Cultural Center.

Program manager Carissa Burkett had room available in the center’s half dozen exhibition spaces, so she called the university’s art department, and they delivered. Lists like these are subject to change, of course, but what’s currently on the calendar ought to give you some idea of how ambitious this nonprofit art center is in connecting the community with visual art produced by Oregon artists.

I was there earlier this month on a gray Wednesday morning and spent a wonderful hour or so soaking up the new exhibitions. Here’s what’s going on:

Tim Timmerman’s “Genuine, Authentic” (watercolor, gouache, colored pencil and collage on paper) in the “Catalyst of Empathy” show

A Catalyst of Empathy by Tim Timmerman & Stan Peterson: In the Parrish Gallery you’ll find nearly 30 mixed media works by George Fox University art professor Tim Timmerman and more than a dozen wooden carvings by Portland artist Stan Peterson. Collectively, the pieces “explore narratives that speak with sincerity through a somewhat whimsical lens, striving as best as they are able to encounter the ‘other’ with benevolence and generosity.”

I was intrigued by the way Timmerman seems occasionally to vary his drawing style, particularly
with faces; to my eye, it was not immediately obvious that all the pieces were done by the same artist, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s an interesting show, and children are likely to enjoy the sculpture work, most of which pairs animals with other animals or people. The show runs through March 2.

Toward the rear of the building in the Founder’s Lobby, you’ll find 35th & Harrison, which features oils on wood panels by Abi Joyce-Shaw that contrast the objects she and her partner brought to their apartment with the fixed architectural features found there. The exhibition “considers the ways in which temporary housing is transformed from an impersonal to personal space. Personal possessions, acts of care and traditions make these spaces our own. The objects one selects to display and live alongside provide a tangible reflection of the resident’s character, or, by extension, a reflection of the relationship between people.” This show also runs through March 2.

Head down the east hall, and you’ll find that George Fox University Student Exhibit, in the Central Gallery, which runs through Feb. 2. There’s work here by 14 students — oils, photography, drawings, sculpture and even a comic and a zine entitled Stalked On Campus.

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Oregon College of Art and Craft finds another potential partner

The OCAC-PNCA merger is off, and Portland State is OCAC's new suitor

While the Oregon College of Art and Craft was seeking to join forces with Pacific Northwest College of Art this fall, it was also talking to Portland State University about a possible deal. Those talks are heating up. The statement yesterday from PSU: “Portland State is currently conducting a feasibility study of a possible acquisition of OCAC.”

Written mostly from the perspective of PSU, Jeff Manning’s story for OregonLive today framed the story as part of PSU president Rahmat Shoureshi’s efforts to expand his university’s arts footprint.

“We’re committed to investing in expanding our College of the Arts whether or not we pursue this opportunity,” Shoureshi told Manning. Shoureshi said that adding the faculty and facilities of OCAC would make the PSU College of the Arts a top 10 arts department nationally.

Manning also reported that OCAC had incurred $685,649 in expenses beyond its total revenue in 2017, that the school owed more than $1.5 million to lenders at that time, and had a $1 million payment due in 2018. OCAC didn’t reveal whether the college or its foundation had made that payment, but Shoureshi said that OCAC wanted PSU’s decision on the merger made by April. “They’re under financial pressure,” Shoureshi said, “they need answers.” PSU’s involvement in a rescue of OCAC is contingent on raising money to cover the costs of the merger, Shoureshi said.

The Oregon College of Art and Craft campus/Photo by Bruce Forester

The OCAC campus on Southwest Barnes and Leahy roads is a considerable asset. Previous 990 returns by the college have valued it around $10 million, and the acreage right along Barnes and Leahy could easily be developed without disturbing the campus itself. And at the end of its 2015-16 fiscal year, OCAC’s foundation had assets (mostly in the form of investments) of $1,930,700.

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I reached out to OCAC for more information about the fall discussions with PNCA, and the college asked to postpone talks with me until the end of January. I’ve reached out to them again to answer some new questions about their perspective on the PSU acquisition, but they haven’t responded to my queries. If they respond later today, I’ll post their answers here.

UPDATE: Here is the OCAC official statement, which is all they want to say at this point.

Portland State University and Oregon College of Art and Craft are exploring a potential agreement for partnership that is mutually advantageous to both parties.  Uniting OCAC and PSU would establish a more robust foundation for Portland’s higher education in the arts, while expanding and diversifying opportunities for students.

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If you read Manning’s story on OregonLive today, you might have thought, “Didn’t OCAC merge with PNCA this fall?” The quick answer: They didn’t, though we can be forgiven for thinking so. That’s because the public narrative about the proposed merger between PNCA and OCAC plunged into the murky depths this fall. After a round of positive stories about the likely success of merger talks early in the process, two of the city’s legacy journalism companies, The Oregonian/OregonLive and OPB, both published stories announcing that the merger had been approved and was going forward. That was wrong, and six weeks later any possible deal was off the table.

Let’s just look at the bullet points:

  • September 10: President Denise Mullen leaves OCAC for personal reasons. Jiseon Lee Isbara, Dean of Academic Affairs, is appointed Interim President for the college.
  • Early October: PNCA president Tuski announces to PNCA students, staff and faculty that the boards of the two institutions were in talks about joining forces.
  • October 3: The Oregonian’s Everton Bailey Jr. quotes Tuski in a story on October 3: “In our first meeting, people at OCAC were thinking the same thing that we were, that if we could do this, we could really take the next step to be an art, design and craft school that rivals anything in the country, and that’s really the goal,” Tuski said.
  • November 1: Oregon Public Broadcasting’s April Baer reported that the merger was set: “Oregon’s two major, standalone art schools have voted to merge,” she wrote. And then she said the schools were negotiating a memorandum of understanding to determine the shape of that merger. Her quotes from Tuski and Isbarra seemed definitive proof of the merger: “By any measure, OCAC is in a place that needs to explore proactive solutions for a sustainable future,” Isbara told Baer. “The current higher education environment has proven to be precarious. We believe the merger will strengthen the merged colleges’ future.” And Tuski was already imagining that future: “It will be a new culture created by faculty, staff, students and alumni of both schools,” he said. “Art, design and craft schools about creating something new, authentic or original. This is where two strong art schools are going to do this together.”
  • November 2: The Oregonian’s Douglas Perry built on the OPB report: “The Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft have voted to combine, OPB reports.” He adds later, “A new name and how exactly the two schools and their programs will combine remain to be worked out. Some job losses are expected because of the merger.”
  • December 14: The Oregonian’s Amy Wang reported: “After three months of discussion, the boards of both schools voted Friday against the merger, calling it “not a feasible option” at this time, according to statements from both schools.”

As it turns out, the PNCA board on October 26 resolved “that PNCA will continue to discuss the possibility of a merger with OCAC and will begin the process of negotiating an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding], which, if agreed to by both parties, and voted on independently by each college’s Board of Governors, will begin the merger process.” That was an important step in any merger, but it clearly doesn’t actually constitute a vote to merge. And by December 14, those boards decided against the merger, having failed to agree on a memorandum of understanding.

Maybe there is some humor in this—a misunderstanding about a memorandum of understanding. Typically, merging organizations give themselves several exit ramps during the merger dance. If early talks go well, they often start negotiating an MOU, basically a non-binding agreement that they have enough common interests to keep talking. After they agree on an MOU, they start negotiating the merger itself, a binding legal agreement that actually merges the two institutions. In this case, PNCA and OCAC, for whatever cluster of reasons, were unable to produce a memorandum of understanding, let alone dot the i’s on a contract to merge.

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The idea of a merger between Portland’s two arts colleges—Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft—has never made real sense to me, if we take financial necessity out of the equation. We’ve heard about talks along these lines for a long time, even before the Portland Art Museum mothership ejected PNCA from its pod in 1994, perhaps simply because few American cities support more than one art and design college, none the size of Portland.

But the cultural differences have always seemed insurmountable to me. OCAC sits on ample acreage on Barnes Road, and its mentorship approach to teaching the fine points of the craft tradition even today recalls the best parts of the Medieval apprenticeship.

PNCA has spent most of its history as an independent institution either in the middle of the transforming Pearl District or, now, situated on busy Northwest Broadway, between the Pearl and Old Town. And its program has adjusted to the constant shape-shifting of contemporary art practice and to the rise of Portland as a significant American design city.

For most of their history, the two have been rivals for students, donors and even for such cultural “prizes” as the Museum of Contemporary Craft. PNCA won that contest, though only a few years after the victory, it shut down the museum and sold off the building. Which still stings in many corners of the city’s arts community.

As American arts and design schools have, both PNCA and OCAC have struggled financially. Costs are up and enrollments are down across the board. But during the past decade, both have had solid leadership and, despite the economic headwinds, they’ve accomplished some major feats that required effective organizing and mobilization of Oregon’s smallish donor base. OCAC expanded its campus and became an accredited college, while PNCA managed to secure that new HQ on Broadway. Still, the fundamentals—especially the decline in the number of college-age students and the society’s hard-right turn toward profit and thus chasing white-collar jobs, entrepreneurial success or both—have been against them.

Their weakness is relative. The PNCA budget is more than twice the size of OCAC’s and its enrollment numbers are substantially larger, 595 to around 180, though Manning pegged OCAC enrollment at 138.

PSU is vastly larger than either PNCA or OCAC. It will spend around $590 million in its 2018-2019 fiscal year. And in addition to the economic, cultural and demographic changes that PNCA or OCAC face, PSU also has to deal with the vagaries of state politics. Manning’s story goes into those in some detail. The cultural differences between an urban state university and a small, private art college are immense.

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We will add to this story (or more likely, write additional stories) as this new chapter in OCAC’s history unfolds. An “acquisition” and a “merger” have different meanings after all.