Albina District

PNCA, Willamette U. will merge

ArtsWatch Weekly: The Portland art school and Salem private university join forces; reading is the new going out; deaths in the arts family

THERE’S A NEW-OLD SCHOOL IN TOWN: Two high-profile Oregon private colleges, Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Art and Salem’s Willamette University, have announced plans to merge, The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported Thursday morning. The boards of the two schools approved the merger on Wednesday, and PNCA’s faculty, staff, and students were told in a general announcement at 9:33 Thursday morning. The Oregonian’s Jeff Manning reports that the two schools have been discussing a merger off and on for five years, and the talks turned more serious 18 months ago. The Covid-19 crisis and PNCA’s failure to meet enrollment goals played into the agreement, The Oregonian said. The merger still “needs approval from regulators and the accrediting agencies of the two schools,” which is expected in 2021, Manning reported.

Pacific Northwest College of Art straddles Portland’s Old Town and Pearl District. Photo: PNCA

The two schools will maintain their own campuses and names. It hasn’t been so long since PNCA considered taking over the late Oregon College of Art and Craft, which folded after PNCA and other potential suitors decided against merging. PNCA also, after taking control of  Portland’s venerable Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2009, closed the museum down and took charge of some of its collections in 2016. Willamette University has been expanding quietly, Manning reported, including last year’s addition and move to the Salem campus of California’s Claremont School of Theology with its faculty and 300 students. This week’s announcement doesn’t define what this newest merger might mean to Willamette’s existing art department, or whether it will have any effect on Salem’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art, which comes under the university’s wing.

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Reckoning, and walking, with Portland’s past

In the 1960s Kent Ford helped found the city's Black Panther Party. Now he leads walking tours of the Albina District, linking past and future.

“I can’t tell you where we are going,” Mr. Kent Ford proclaimed while walking down the streets of North Portland’s Albina District followed by an attentive tour group, “but I can tell you where we’ve been.” 

Mr. Ford, 77, moved into Portland’s Albina District in 1961, when it was the heart of Portland’s Black community. In the ’60s he was a founder of the city’s Black Panther Party. Now he serves as a link between Black Portland’s past, present, and future, keeping alive what’s happened and teaching new generations through his walking tours.

We don’t always get the chance to engage history in the more intimate sense. More often than not we go about acknowledging history’s constant knocking on our front doors by sitting in a classroom or reading books and news stories. 

Mr. Kent Ford, bringing the history home. Photo: Brandon Chadney

Sometimes, though, we are lucky enough to experience history in the more intimate way— to not just acknowledge it, but also to open our doors and invite it into our home. When we invite history in, often by visiting hallowed grounds or listening to someone share stories about surviving a historic time, we invite an emotional connection with the past, not just an intellectual one. 

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