Oregon College of Art and Craft is history – or will be at the end of May. The beleaguered craft school’s board of directors announced on Monday in a notification to the school community that it has completed its sale agreement to the nearby Catlin Gabel School, a private pre-K through high school institution. OCAC will continue to operate until what has turned out to be its final class of about 140 students graduates in May. Lower-level students will have to transfer elsewhere.
OCAC’s demise is the second major blow to the state’s craft scene in three years. It follows the death of the Museum of Contemporary Craft in February 2016, and even though Oregon has long held a significant position in the American craft movement, it leaves the state’s craft community with no major institutional representation.
The sale to Catlin Gabel, which emerged early in the year as the site’s main suitor, was expected. OCAC had explored merging with the Pacific Northwest College of Art or Portland State University, but both schools declined, and the OCAC board decided not to pursue some other suggested proposals to save the college at least in some form.
OCAC has been running deficits for several years.
“Let’s not mince words here: Closing the college and selling off the campus is the worst possible outcome for just about everybody,” ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson wrote in this Feb. 15 commentary. “It ends a craft community and keeps anyone else from ever joining it. Sometimes, your community isn’t large or committed enough to go on, and then, yes, that’s the end of things. But asking your community to help you figure it all out should be the prior step.”
Much of that community, including graduates, students, staff, and friends of the college, protested that it had been left out of the decision-making process. Many had coalesced in December 2018 in a group called Friends of OCAC, which sought to support the college and find alternatives to shutting it down. Many college advocates felt they were never listened to, and by February of this year, some were on the sidewalks carrying signs in public protests.
Text of Monday’s announcement:
April 29, 2019
Dear OCAC Community:
As we approach Oregon College of Art and Craft’s closure following the spring term, we are pleased to announce the sale of the OCAC campus to our longtime neighbor, Catlin Gabel School.
While this news may be bittersweet for much of our community, we also know many will be relieved that the campus has been sold to a school with deep connections to OCAC.
Both OCAC and Catlin Gabel are private, nonprofit educational institutions. Serving students from preschool through 12th grade, Catlin Gabel is also philosophically aligned with OCAC, offering ceramics and woodworking instruction for its students starting in elementary school, along with a robust general arts education. Even as many school districts have reduced arts classes and electives due to budget constraints over the years, Catlin Gabel has continued to offer childhood art education. Many of the school’s students go on to pursue arts degrees.
The connections between the two institutions go beyond art education. Catlin Gabel originally received at least two campus buildings, Vollum Humanities Center and Toad Hall, from the Vollum family—the same family that granted OCAC its campus, then a filbert orchard, in the 1970s. Both the Catlin and OCAC campuses were designed in part by the late local architect John Storrs and landscape architect Barbara Fealy. The schools have been neighbors for more than 40 years.
Selling the property will help OCAC fulfill all of our expenses through the end of the academic year and clear any financial obligations after this spring. This arrangement will also enable Catlin Gabel to enhance its long-term strategic, enrollment, and campus goals, including its desire to provide students with more opportunities related to academics, social life, athletics, and the arts.
While the sale is final as of today, OCAC will temporarily lease back property from Catlin Gabel to ensure our students are able to complete the May term and allow for an orderly closure after our final commencement ceremony on May 19. OCAC plans to cease all operations at the end of May 2019.
We will continue to share updates on the upcoming closure as new information is available. In the meantime, we hope you will join us in welcoming Catlin Gabel to the campus.
OCAC Board of Trustees
Jiseon Lee Isbara, Interim President & Dean of Academic Affairs