News & Notes: Blackfish by the numbers, Angela Mattox and Randy Gragg

I’ve been working on a couple of stories lately, outside of News & Notes, on two of the state’s major arts institutions. In one way or another, these are going to start to unfold during the next couple of weeks, some of them right here in News & Notes, so this is a good time to discuss very briefly the context of those stories.

The first is simply the public’s right to know what is going on inside organizations that were established in the public interest—and the reasonable limits of that right. My perception of this right to know animates both stories, with very different results, because they involve very different situations. Although there are legal rules and standards that apply to this public right, I’m not going to utilize them in either story, meaning that I’m not going to sue anybody to get information or make a wide-ranging public records request. I am going to push for and publish information that I think directly applies to the public right to know, though, tell you what I’ve decided not to share and why, and let you know how interested in sharing information people have been.

Freely available information is crucial to the effective functioning of a democratic society. Unfortunately, many of our institutions don’t behave democratically, either in this larger sense or in their internal structures. That’s the second context for these two projects: to encourage systems that are more open, both to the public and to their employees and stakeholders.  I’m not an absolutist about this: Sometimes decisions must be made without the participation of others, but a good rationale must be advanced to justify them. And that rationale should be available for discussion later. As a general rule I believe that the more widely issues are discussed the more likely we are to arrive at better solutions and build the support it takes to execute those solutions in complicated situations. Both of the situations I’m looking at are relatively complicated.

Finally, I think both of these areas are important to investigate because they both bear on the health of the state’s artists and arts organizations  and the health of the culture as a whole. I consider both of the organizations at the center of the stories to be central ones. A lot depends on their success. Their failure would have wide-ranging consequences. In short, as a citizen of the state, I want both of them to succeed.

OK, enough of that. I have a few more interviews to conduct before I post anything, or I would have begun yesterday.

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Randy Gragg, my old colleague at The Oregonian, has just accepted a new post directing the John Yeon Center at the University of Oregon (Brian Libby’s interview with him outlines his new post and responsibilities), but he’s also remaining as editor-at-large for Portland Monthly, and in that capacity will continue to host the Bright Lights: Discussions on the City series of onstage interviews. Which is excellent news!

TBA13 2This month Angela Mattox, the artistic director of PICA, will join Gragg on the stage of Jimmy Mak’s, 221 NW 10th Ave.: 6 pm Monday, Nov. 18, free. For newcomers to ArtsWatch, Mattox’s responsibilities include designing PICA’s Time-Based Art Festival every year, a collision of fine and performing artists from all over the world. That means that Mattox herself has to do a vast amount of research, because the edgy and emerging artists she and PICA favor are hard to find. They aren’t necessarily promoted by their countries of origin. The intellectual demands of understanding and making a coherent program out of these artists is also intense: The traditions and current cultural resources they draw on aren’t widely understood in the West.

The press release says Mattox, who has worked on the last two incarnations of TBA, “will discuss her evolving views of the city, its taste in art, and her own evolving aesthetic. She will present some highlights from 2013 TBA Festival along with work artists she believes are defining the current international dialog.”

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dozano 2Next year, Blackfish Gallery, the artist-run cooperative in the Pearl District, celebrates its 35th anniversary, which I find personally noteworthy because the gallery started the same year I moved to Portland! These two anniversaries have nothing much in common actually, except that we’ve both seen a LOT of changes in the visual arts landscape during that time. Some of these emerge in this Blackfish By the Numbers, the gallery recently distributed.

  • Year in which Blackfish opened its doors: 1979
  • Estimated number of other art galleries operating in Portland at that time: 3
  • Estimated number of galleries operating in Portland today: 250
  • Number of artists who founded Blackfish: 18
  • Number of founding artists still showing at Blackfish: 4
  • Number of artists’ surnames combined to form the Blackfish name: 2 (Barbara Black and Julia
  • Fish)
  • Number of galleries—including Blackfish—that started First Thursday in 1986: 7
  • Total number of First Thursday goers who visited Blackfish exhibits in 2012: 7032
  • Year Blackfish moved to its current Pearl District location, 420 NW 9th
  • Number of artists who have made their professional debuts at Blackfish in our annual Recent
  • Grads exhibition: 540
  • Number of years, and counting, that Blackfish has hosted the Recent Grads exhibition: 18
  • Number of exhibitions Blackfish has mounted in the Czech Republic: 2
  • Average number of arts and education-based organizations that Blackfish offers its space to—
  • rent free—each year: 37
  • Years between the current oldest and current youngest Blackfish artists: 50
  • Estimated number of artist/members in Blackfish’s history: 158

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