Santa makes an early stop at Yale Union

The contemporary arts center gets a major gift, the dodo lives, and Fertile Ground is open for business

This particular column of ArtsWatch spent Black Friday in North Carolina, tending to family matters, large amounts of food, and the North Carolina Museum of Art, which is lovely in a suburban sort of way. If you are ever in Raleigh, give it a look!

We have returned just in time for Cyber Monday, but before we swamp our computer with the e-commerce that keeps America humming, we thought we should do a little News-ing and Notes-ing, just to stay in practice…

Yale Union now owns its building.

Yale Union now owns its building.

Right before Thanksgiving, Yale Union contemporary art center announced that the donor who bought its building, the Yale Union Laundry Building, in 2008 for $3.5 million had given the building to the center. The center had been renting the building from the donor for $1 a year, but the uncertainty around the ultimate fate of the building was a problem for the non-profit: Who would want to contribute to a renovation campaign if the building’s future was up in the air, after all?

The only single gift in the realm of the arts in Oregon this year of a similar magnitude was the Allen Foundation’s $3 million donation to rename the outdoor theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And the press release asserted that it was the biggest ever for a contemporary art center in the state, which I think must be true.

I asked Amanda Clem, who is in charge of Yale Union’s communications, what the gift means to the center. “Purchasing the building had been a goal of the organization’s from the onset,” she said, “and so the gift of it is very important for us. We can now jump right into fundraising, moving forward with plans to retrofit the historic building—with the security of knowing that the non-profit will maintain its physical place, and also that we have a truly wonderful support system of donors, members, and volunteers who play a vital role in helping build Yale Union up to its full potential.”

The donor, who originally bought the building for the art center to use, has chosen to remain anonymous. If you want to know who it is, DK Row did some sleuthing through real estate transaction records and revealed her name in a 2011 story for The Oregonian.

Renovating the building is a big job (Row’s story dropped the number $7 million) and so is funding a full-fledged arts center, so the system of donors, members and volunteers Chen mentioned still has major work to do, though the space in its current state is an excellent place to house the frequent rough edges contemporary art as YU has shown in its exhibition program.

For now, the goals are relatively modest. “We’re fundraising now, and our Board has pledged a $25,000 matching grant,” Clem said. “Every dollar we raise through the end of 2013 will be doubled until we reach $25,000. We’ve also re-launched our membership platform.”

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The Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble closed its “Song of the Dodo” last weekend, but you can’t keep a good flightless, extinct bird down. The birds will dance and warble again 7:30 pm Tuesday (Dec. 3) at Pacific University’s Tom Miles Theatre, 2043 College Way, in Forest Grove. Tickets are free, and you can reserve a seat by emailing Michael Johnson at john0774@pacificu.edu.

I’ve taken a couple of quick passes at “Song of the Dodo,” which I hold in high regard, the first as part of a Veterans Day story and the second a couple of weeks later. And I love the idea that it will reprise outside the city limits of Portland.

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ArtsWatch gets a little tingly when Fertile Ground, the January new performance festival, announces that its website is up and running. Which it has! We will spend a lot of time plotting our course through this year’s schedule, and we advise the same. And the $50 pass is one of the best bargains we know.

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