Independent Publishing Resource Center

Amid crises, creating art to heal

Portland's former Creative Laureate Subashini Ganesan-Forbes leads a city drive to nurture art for a time of grieving and healing

In April of this year the City of Portland announced a six-month grieving and healing initiative titled “Community Healing Through Art.” Led by the city’s outgoing creative laureate, Subashini Ganesan-Forbes, the six-month initiative uses community engagement to drive public art projects to promote healing among Portland communities after the extraordinary health and cultural crises of 2020 and 2021.

With initial support from the offices of Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Carmen Rubio, the project has grown to a $200,000 initiative thanks to funding from the Oregon Community Foundation and the Miller Foundation. As part of the initiative, 13 grants were awarded to artists and organizations in Portland to create individual projects totaling $65,000. A full list of the grantees, whose projects range from a Black Arts Summer Showcase music festival to a Parkrose district youth film project to end gun violence, can be found here.

The first of these projects began this week, a Joint Collaborative Garland by the Independent Publishing Resource Center. Local poets will contribute first lines of poems that reflect on the grief and healing of the past year. The zine library will be open through September for community members to contribute to the installation.

Arts advocate Subashini Ganesan-Forbes. Photo: Intisar Abioto

Ganesan-Forbes was appointed Portland creative laureate in 2018, and was succeeded earlier this summer by the dual laureates Leila Haile and Joaquin Lopez. But she’s continuing with the healing initiative, which she’d begun before her term ended. We talked with her about the initiative’s projects and what they might do:

TJ Acena: What is the history of this project?

Subashini Ganesan-Forbes: From the beginning I made it clear that, yes, I’m leaving as creative laureate but it’s gonna take a lot of time to even think about what the concept of community healing could be. The first month was a lot of organizing, thinking and strategic work. I’m super grateful I was given a lot of freedom to create, build, and initiate a lot of collaborations.

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Spaces: Artists make room for the arts

Our series on artist spaces continues as artists try to figure out where to make art during the pandemic

Thirty years ago Ken Unkeles first began renting space in his family’s collection of riverfront warehouses to artists, starting with the Carton Service Studios on Northwest Front Avenue. 

Completed in 1911, the building was initially home to the world’s largest prune-processing plant, then during World War II it served in the U.S. Navy as a ship-building complex, and from the 1960s it was a Standard Steel warehouse. The Unkeles family took their Carton Service cardboard-box-recycling business to the space in 1984, and in 1990 began renting unused upstairs spaces to artists Dana Lynn Louis, David Airhart, and Kathryn Hathaway. Though the Unkles family sold the Carton Service company in 2006, they retained the building, and today all three original artist-tenants are still there.

Today, Unkeles rents studios in three more converted warehouses: the North Coast Seed building, River Street Studios and NW Marine Artworks, the last of which is expanding. Building 5, currently under construction, will be home to an artist and maker space anchored by the nonprofit FLOCK dance group when it is completed next spring. “It’s going to be a sensational situation,” Unkles says. “It’s going to be momentous, I think: something positive. That’s kind of our attitude: ‘Let’s do something positive.’”

Ken Unkeles will add Building 5 to the NW Marine Artworks studios in spring 2021./ Photo courtesy Dana Lynn Louis

Unkeles strikes an optimistic tone, but he’s never seen anything like 2020. “It’s quiet, that’s for sure,” he says, but amidst the pandemic “the studios are getting used, because they’re the perfect environment for distancing,” he says. “Everything is really spread out. Some people have caught on to that. They’re using it as a refuge and a way to hunker down. But some people are really struggling.”

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