On Wednesday night the Portland dance community will say a sad goodbye to Conduit Dance. Conduit has been an incubator for contemporary dance in Portland for 20 years, and on June 15 it announced that it had given notice at the Ford Building studio, its most recent home, and would be suspending all operations and programming as of July 23, 2016. Friends, artists, supporters, students and audiences of Conduit are invited to Wednesday’s evening of dancing and remembering with snacks and refreshments. Conduit has also asked its friends to come prepared with their Conduit stories and any archival material they may have to include in Conduit’s archival project.
In 1995 Conduit was founded by dance artists Linda K. Johnson and Mary Oslund as a home for contemporary dance artists to work out new ideas in the form, through teaching, rehearsing and performing. The studio, housed on the fourth floor of the Pythian Building on Southwest Yamhill Street, was collectively run by Keith V. Goodman, Michael Menger, Gregg Bielemeier, Tere Mathern, Johnson and Oslund. Each person contributed to the rent and in turn was given a certain number of hours to rehearse, teach and perform. The amount of activity in the space was immeasurable, and classes were packed with students.
In 2001, Mathern and Oslund became co-directors and began to mold Conduit into a nonprofit organization expanding its role in the community. In 2009 Mathern took over and became Conduit’s first paid part-time artistic director.
Over the years Conduit has served as a home to independent artists and small companies, hosted classes by Portland teachers, hosted master classes by visiting artists, presented scores of performances, produced summer programs, and curated performances showcasing new and interesting talent and ideas. Many of these activities were unique to Conduit: no other company in Portland was doing them.
Over the years Conduit successfully weathered several financial storms and survived until March 2015, when it was forced to leave its downtown home in the Pythian Building. The struggle to find an affordable space that met all of the group’s criteria was extremely difficult, but it finally landed in what seemed to be the perfect space in the Ford Building in Southeast Portland in October. Unfortunately, Conduit’s collaborators discovered that building new programs, in a new location, quickly enough to generate money to pay operations costs, became too much. Additionally, the floor was deemed too hard to dance on, and the space wasn’t big enough to rent out for performances, which had been a major part of Conduit’s income in the past. So after 20 years of supporting dance in every way it could, regrettably, and with great sadness, Conduit has decided to close its doors indefinitely.
So here we are at the end. Now what? Will Conduit completely dissolve or reemerge in a new form? Will someone else rise up, take the reins, and begin something new? What does our dance community need? Where will the institutional support come from to create the next hub for contemporary dance ideas? Places like Conduit do exist in other cities, and are successful, like Velocity Dance Center in Seattle and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Oakland. What makes those places successful, and how can we replicate them here?
While we ponder these questions and gather our energy for the next round, let’s focus on the good times and gather together at Conduit on Wednesday night to remember who we are as a community, what we are capable of, and what we love to do most: dance.
The truth is, everything has a lifespan. Everything must come to an end sometime. As the poet Shel Silverstein said, “There are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part, So just give me a happy middle. And a very happy start.”
So here’s to another “happy start.”
A Wake for Conduit || Celebration & Farewell Party
Conduit Dance, 2505 SE 11th Ave. #120, Portland, OR
7-9 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2016