Oregon Art Beat

On the forced closing of Place Gallery

Or: How can you be in two places at once when you're nowhere at all?

Four years ago, Pioneer Place Mall did a very groovy “Portland” thing by beginning to provide and subsidize some of the empty spaces on the third floor of its Atrium Building to people and organizations wishing to open art galleries. Last month, the owners of the mall, General Growth Properties (GGP) rescinded that agreement with, Place, the first gallery that took them up on their offer way back when. Seems there was bad blood.

Oregon ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson wrote about the closing shortly after Place Director, Gabe Flores, made it public on the gallery’s website. Since then, other arts writers have weighed in on this abrupt end to the gallery’s lease agreement, including Alison Hallett for The Mercury, Richard Speer for Willamette Week, and Jeff Jahn on his site, portlandart.net. There was also a short segment on the local FOX affiliate, KPTV.

An appropriate sentiment/Gabe Flores

An appropriate sentiment/Gabe Flores

I won’t go into all of the details of the dispute between the building’s management and Flores (that’s what the links are for) ), but it seems to stem from the content of the art from the final show in the White Gallery portion of Place’s two spaces, and then Flores’ response to the objections by the powers-that-be. It’s worth a read. (link) Flores adds that the reason given for his eviction was that GPP had found a tenant to pay full rent for the space (Place was only responsible for paying utilities), yet he remains convinced that this was nothing less than a bum’s rush. The only response from GPP that I know of (GPP evidently did not respond to requests for a statement for any of the above listed articles) is a rather cursory and noncommittal written statement given to KPTV: “We do not publicly discuss tenant lease agreements, but please know Pioneer Place is very much a fan and in support of the arts,” GGP General Manager Bob Buchanan’s statement read. “Our goal is to create a unique and enjoyable shopping experience for all our customers.”

Before I get too deep into this opinion piece, I should disclose that I had an exhibit of my own work at Place last year. I have also written about the gallery on a couple of occasions, for both Portlandart.net and Oregon ArtsWatch. (One review was less than glowing.) I have had many conversations with Flores over the years and have grown to admire his fertile mind and enthusiasm for the local art community, even though sometimes both can get the better of him. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with his torrent of ideas, and his desire for inclusiveness has resulted in more than a few half-baked exhibitions (more often than not due to the presenting artist). The first couple of years of programming did not give me much hope for his ambitious little start-up, yet Flores and the gallery persevered, and the programming gradually improved.

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News & Notes: Arts for kids, Art Beat, Nico Muhly, SF Ballet, NW Dance Project

A survey of arts education in Oregon, behind the scenes at 'Foxfinder', classical music and ballet disputes, New Now Wow!

Joachim in a Federal Art Project class in Brooklyn, 1940/Wikimedia via the  Archives of American Art

Joachim in a Federal Art Project class in Brooklyn, 1940/Wikimedia via the Archives of American Art

The key context of the passage of the Arts Tax in Portland almost a year ago (62 percent of voters registered a YES vote) was local: Portland Public Schools had eliminated instruction in the arts from it elementary school curriculum, and the arts’ return was unpredictable at best, given the school board’s priorities and the state school funding process.

An Oregon Department of Education study of arts education across the state widens that context, and the overall picture in 2011-2012, when the survey was conducted, isn’t much better. Oregon does not offer arts instruction of any kind to many of its students (nearly 65,000 statewide), and almost none have instruction available in all of the arts disciplines (music, visual arts, dance, media, theater).

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