More than 15 years after Bryan Suereth founded Disjecta, he and the North Portland contemporary arts center are parting ways. Suereth, who is executive director of the sprawling former bowling alley near the Kenton neighborhood’s iconic Paul Bunyan giant statue, will leave on Dec. 31.
“Sixteen years ago I never imagined this organization would be as vital to the cultural landscape of the Pacific Northwest as it is today,” Suereth said in a prepared statement released Wednesday. “I’m extremely proud of the unique opportunities Disjecta provides to artists and patrons and of the incredible support we’ve received from this community.”
Neither Suereth nor the board gave a reason for his impending departure, and Suereth did not say what his plans might be.
“Bryan’s vision and energy as founder guided Disjecta successfully for over 15 years, and we are grateful for his service,” board chair Christine D’Arcy said in the same prepared release. “We are also confident and enthusiastic about Disjecta’s future.”
To many people in the contemporary arts scene, Suereth has been Disjecta’s face from its beginnings in an old Masonic Lodge on Northeast Russell Street. The move to Kenton in 2008 provided a much larger space in an out-of-the-way part of town that was beginning to revitalize. Disjecta became a key part of that rebirth. Known best for its contemporary art programming, the center has also hosted dance, theater, music, and other events. It’s also provided subsidized artist studios.
Disjecta and Suereth became known beyond Portland in 2003 when they assembled The Modern Zoo, at the time the largest-ever visual art exhibition in the Northwest. The center’s impact grew when it began to produce the Portland Biennial after the Portland Art Museum scrapped its long-running Oregon Biennial.
Disjecta took the idea and ran with it, giving it both more focus and a broader geographical reach. The center also instituted a curator-in-residence program, bringing in rising or well-known national curators to make the biennial choices with an outside eye. That usually has meant, among other things, visiting an extraordinary number of studios around the state. This year’s biennial was curated by Michelle Grabner, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and also was a co-curator of the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Grabner and Disjecta spread the 2016 biennial to sites in Portland and around the state, a decision that upset some art followers who discovered they couldn’t see the whole show in a single setting, but pleased and energized others who saw it as a smart way to create a genuinely regional event.
The executive director position will be filled on an interim basis while Disjecta conducts a national search for a new director. “We look forward to building upon a strong support base and the past successes attained under Bryan’s leadership, and look to accelerate our growth and further expand the reach and impact of Disjecta,” D’Arcy said in her statement.