oregon college of art and craft

$50 million? It’s a beginning

ArtsWatch Weekly: An emergency lifeline to Oregon's cultural sector staves off pandemic disaster. But the economic problem is still urgent.

FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS SOUNDS LIKE A LOT. AND IT IS. But spread it across the entire state of Oregon to aid a cultural infrastructure devastated economically by pandemic shutdowns and the cash runs out pretty quickly. The Legislature’s Joint Emergency Board approved the bailout on Tuesday, as part of a $200 million general economic package distributed by the state through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. The significant cultural part of the package came after a spirited lobbying push by groups and individuals, and notably recognized an economic truth that is often overlooked: Cultural workers are workers, and when they lose work they undergo the same stresses as anyone else thrown out of a job. “People who work in cultural organizations have families, have to pay the mortgage or the rent, have children to feed,” Brian Rogers, executive director of the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Oregon Arts Commission, said in a telephone conversation on Wednesday. “Without these funds coming in, these organizations are having a difficult time.”

The Emergency Board, and the state itself, can’t solve all the problems of the reeling cultural sector by themselves. The $50 million E Board allocation is exactly what it says it is – an emergency measure, meant to lend a significant hand during a disaster and help stave off collapse. It can’t magically make up the lost income of an entire industry that’s been hit exceptionally hard by the pandemic. A statewide Cultural Trust survey in May projected a $40 million loss by June 30 for the 330 cultural groups (out of more than 1,400 that the Trust tracks) that responded. It’s now mid-July, with no clear end in sight, and the losses keep piling up. For perspective, the $4.71 million that the E Board is delivering to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which got the biggest allocation granted, covers a little more than 10 percent of the festival’s annual budget.
 

Everything’s coming up virtual. The 70-year-old Salem Art Association Art Fair and Festival, pictured in a previous year, becomes a virtual event this year, celebrated long-distance on Saturday and Sunday, July 18-19. Photo courtesy Oregon Cultural Trust 

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Resourcefulness and resilience: Local thesis shows in a global pandemic

Graduating art students pivot from in-person thesis shows to an array of virtual offerings

By BRIANA MILLER

There is a lot going on in the world right now, and in the midst of it, a newly minted class of fine art and craft students is setting out into the world. The timing couldn’t be better – we need their hope, creativity, resiliency, and ingenuity now more than ever. Equally, the timing couldn’t be worse – nearly all of their final in-person thesis shows were cancelled because of Covid-19 related closures. But art and artists are attuned to change, and as the pandemic forced colleges and universities across the Portland Metro area to close their campuses, their art departments moved swiftly to adjust expectations and find meaningful ways to culminate their degree programs. 

“Our role was to be responsive to the moment and work with the circumstances and not despite them,” said Jess Perlitz, who teaches sculpture at Lewis & Clark College and is the co-chair of its Department of Art. “Something about the arts is to be prepared and resourceful and resilient. We got to model that.”

For many schools, delaying or postponing the thesis exhibition wasn’t an option. Students left as campuses closed in mid-March, and because they were graduating, any plans to return were uncertain. As a result, institutions pivoted to thinking of the final exhibitions as virtual, building new online galleries or substantially enhancing existing web pages. 

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Going, going, gone: 2019 in review

A look back at the ups and downs and curious side trips of the year on Oregon's cultural front

What a year, right? End of the teens, start of the ’20s, and who knows if they’ll rattle or roar?

But today we’re looking back, not ahead. Let’s start by getting the big bad news out of the way. One thing’s sure in Oregon arts and cultural circles: 2019’s the year the state’s once-fabled craft scene took another staggering punch square on the chin. The death rattles of the Oregon College of Art and Craft – chronicled deeply by ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson in a barrage of news stories and analyses spiced with a couple of sharp commentaries, Democracy and the arts and How dead is OCAC? – were heard far and wide, and the college’s demise unleashed a flood of anger and lament.

The crashing and burning of the venerable craft college early in the year followed the equally drawn-out and lamented closure of Portland’s nationally noted Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2016, leaving the state’s lively crafts scene without its two major institutions. In both cases the sense that irreversible decisions were being made with scant public input, let alone input from crafters themselves, left much of the craft community fuming. When, after the closure, ArtsWatch published a piece by the craft college’s former president, Denise Mullen, the fury hit the fan with an outpouring of outraged online comments, most by anonymous posters with obvious connections to the school.

Vanessa German, no admittance apply at office, 2016, mixed media assemblage, 70 x 30 x 16 inches, in the opening exhibit of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU

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Former president Denise Mullen responds to the loss of Oregon College of Art and Craft

The small art college faced a difficult financial environment and failed to pursue a possible path to solvency

By DENISE MULLEN

Editor’s note: Denise Mullen has written a public response to the decision by the board of directors of the Oregon College of Art and Craft to fold the college and sell the campus to Catlin Gabel School. Mullen served as president of the college from 2010 until September 10, 2018. Her response discusses the difficult fiscal environment that all small colleges face, especially arts colleges, and her efforts to develop a path toward financial success while she was president, efforts that  were not taken up by the board of directors.

The almost unbearable sadness that I personally feel at the loss of Oregon College of Art and Craft begins with the current students, alums, faculty, staff and Board members and extends to those through the years of this remarkable institution that have helped shape what OCAC has become today. The loss is greater than that of a loved one because of the numbers of people affected.

Denise Mullen

Beyond the OCAC campus, there have been public outcries, calls and serious offers to save the college. Our Portland community feels this loss as a blow to our collective cultural identity, and rightly so, but you might not be aware of the larger loss to higher education that the OCAC closing—as well as the merging and closing of so many other small private colleges—is having on higher education across the country. This reflection on, and lamentation for, OCAC will attempt to put the specifics of OCAC in the context of the larger crisis in higher education.

*****

The OCAC faculty members have created a learning environment that is unique—yes, unique—in college art education today. Combining the haptic (the neurological benefits of the handmade) with materials knowledge to carry out conceptual and expressive ideas is not the norm in current art instruction. Further, the faculty has been unflinchingly devoted to teaching the OCAC students—not a characteristic of all faculties. The bold students who have chosen OCAC have made exponential use of the faculty’s time obtaining their undergraduate and graduate degrees, not to mention those enrolled over the years in the youth and adult programming. After all, the origin of OCAC was an informal group of professional crafts people, led by Julia Hoffman, during the industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. OCAC is the history of Portland, forming a through-line from the native populations to the lumber families to today’s focus on the craft of the hand-made. It is Oregon personified. And it’s going the way of the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Marylhurst University’s Art Gym (and Marylhurst itself), even the Art Institute (the one in Portland among others)—all lost to our community. Why?

A part of the answer comes from the change sweeping higher education today in the U.S., specifically how the many small, private, specially-focused colleges that play a critical role in the education of our populace have been affected. There have been numerous articles on this topic recently. Having been in visual arts higher education for more than 40 years in public and private, multi-purpose and art-specific colleges in the U.S. and Canada, and as the immediate past-President of the Oregon College of Art and Craft, I speak from direct experience.

We all know we are in a period of declining college enrollments due to a smaller national demographic of college-age students and an increasing erosion of confidence in the value of a college degree. Return on investment, or ROI, is regularly questioned in the media given the debt students must often assume to complete their degrees. With private colleges averaging $30,000-$50,000 per year in tuition (OCAC is on the low end with undergrad tuition in the low $30s and grad tuition in the high $30s) access to many private institutions is simply not financially possible for a large component of college-age students in the middle class, much less those families and students with lower incomes, without loans. Many of these families could not save for college and many who did, had their funds diverted after the 2008 financial downturn. With the rise of the digital world and the subsequent changes in accessing information, a costly educational experience is increasingly questioned as the gateway to successful careers, though the data show otherwise. In addition, the recent admissions bribery scandals have further demoralized those striving to enter honestly. Through the fog of controversy, a college education is still the proven requisite for a lifetime of success whether in a career or simply as a knowledgeable person.

The Oregon College of Art and Craft campus/Photo by Bruce Forster

As with all aspects of the educational system, the current trends are more pronounced in our smaller colleges (under 500 students) making these institutions, like OCAC, the “canaries in the coal mine.” During the past five years, we’ve seen seven of OCAC’s sister, free-standing art colleges with modest endowments forced into a decision to close or merge because, among other factors, they were not able to remain financially viable with only two revenue streams—tuition and philanthropy. The Memphis College of Art closed; The Corcoran College of Art + Design and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in DC merged with George Washington University and the National Gallery respectively; the Lyme Academy in Lyme, Connecticut, merged with the University of New Haven (this merger has broken down after several years, and the Lyme Board is looking for other options); the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston merged with Tufts University; New Hampshire College of Art is preparing to merge. OCAC and PNCA once again investigated merging, followed by merger talks between OCAC and PSU.

In each successful merger, the art colleges desired to remain distinct entities within the larger institution and, over time, did not. According to a number of experts in the field, including Portland’s William Deresiewicz (http://www.billderesiewicz.com/), art colleges are an excellent source of creative thinking and innovative problem solving. These characteristics of the creative process lead to independent thought and innovation and are applicable to any career a graduate might pursue. When small private art colleges close or merge and lose their distinctive educational approaches, an important aspect of higher education is diminished: independent thinking through the creative process.

It’s interesting that in the above list of merged or closed art colleges, a new building factored in the demise of three of them. As with so many small colleges that either purchased or built a new building, the aftermath of that initiative, particularly post-2008, was often not fully understood nor thought out. Prior to the building of the architect-designed Jean Vollum Drawing, Painting and Photography Building completed in 2010, OCAC consistently ran modest operating deficits that were covered by private donations. OCAC’s operating deficits post-building (before depreciation) more than doubled annually. The college leadership set about to meet the challenge, with the help of the new building, to raise the profile of the college, extoll the advantages of the OCAC educational experience, and plan the financial strategy to nourish them. Graduate programs, approved for the college by the regional and national accrediting agencies in 2012 (retroactive to 2010), provided an influx of enrollment on the graduate level. But rather than increase revenue, grad enrollment countered a decline in undergrad enrollment due to the demographic shift.

*****

On the fundraising side, the college regularly raised more than $1 million annually (on the high end for freestanding art colleges of comparable size). And though the annual gala brought in increasing revenues (and record revenue in 2018) a well-planned Major Gifts Campaign, vetted through a feasibility study, failed to launch in 2018 in a landscape of multiple regional capital campaigns. For context, Oregon has one of the highest percentages of non-profits per capita and a small, yet enthusiastic, philanthropic community to support them. Further, former regional and national foundation funders changed their focus areas from higher education and the arts to social and cultural initiatives after the 2016 elections.

At issue is not just art colleges. Looking at other categories of small colleges, Sweet Briar College, a woman’s college in Virginia, and Bennett College, a black woman’s college in North Carolina, mustered one-time fundraising campaigns when faced with closing. Sweet Briar and Bennett have survived for the moment thanks to their “extreme” fundraising initiatives. Sweet Briar raised $21 million (primarily from the efforts of alums) and Bennett, $5 million (led by a gift from a well-known philanthropist) to address their immediate financial challenges. Now they must consistently maintain their non-tuition revenue generation, beyond the period of crisis—a hard task indeed. Most recently Hampshire College has joined the ranks of small private colleges at risk with its Board moving to close the institution.

In 2014, facing these trends and realizing that the dual revenue streams of tuition and philanthropy were not sufficient long-term to support the OCAC model of mentor- and materials-based education—an excellent educational model and a challenging financial model—the OCAC Board and administration adopted a multi-pronged strategic plan which included pursuing a third revenue stream. Larger deficits were temporarily approved to fund the strategic plan and its components: launching a major gifts campaign, intensifying student recruitment, and developing a third revenue stream. During this time, senior staff voluntarily donated 10% to 20% of their salaries to the college and faculty patiently waited for salary increases.

The third revenue stream focused on the one asset the college had: land. A defining characteristic of OCAC is its bucolic campus positioned on the western edge of Portland. In that same year, the college partnered with the PSU Masters of Real Estate Development program to undertake an analysis of the four-plus underused acres that wrap the perimeter of the campus. The goal was innovative: a mission-related and institution-enhancing development. The 2015 PSU MRED report developed into a 2018 Request for Qualifications (RFQ, the desired form for the local community) requesting responses from local, national, for-profit and non-profit developers to partner in creating multi-generational, market rate and low-cost artists’ housing built around the college campus. Housing was to include student housing, artist live-work space (addressing the well-publicized loss of artists’ studio space in the region), community “maker spaces” and mission-related retail (again addressing the need for affordable rents for art-related businesses) on the active Southwest Barnes Road/Leahy Road traffic corner. The strategic location of OCAC between Portland and Beaverton was seen as a connector of the two cities.

After focused research and cultivation of developers, housing and community experts, city officials in both Portland and Beaverton, the RFQ was set to release August 2018. The expectation was to generate sufficient revenue to cover budget deficits (at pre-strategic initiative levels), keep the college in the black, and retain college ownership of the property as an asset.

*****

An added challenge for small educational institutions and non-profit organizations is that they are often characterized by “one-person offices,” an attribute shared by many non-profits in Portland. They are thin-staffed and offer modest salaries rendering these positions less desirable to the work force and subject to high turnover in an age of roving millennials and high demand for expertise from the for-profit world. This phenomenon has been characterized as providing middle level support when high level support is needed to carry out innovative initiatives. (Note: a local performing arts professional has suggested pooling staff among multiple non-profits, an idea whose time has come and echoes the trend in shared office space.)

The real estate plan, while unproven, could have assured OCAC’s survival, intact, for the future. What was needed was a longer financial runway provided by the campaign and a collective commitment to a new way of thinking and doing business beyond tuition and philanthropy as the only sources of revenue. With the completion of the RFQ’s path forward, I stepped away from OCAC for personal family reasons to spend time with my dad who passed away three weeks later.

In a perfect storm of events, the entering 2018 class was below target in numbers though above target in quality. The accompanying major gifts campaign failed to attract a lead donor from among our philanthropic community, and the Board opted to pursue merging as a safer solution than the real estate plan. After two failed merger attempts, the college has announced it will close and sell the land to fund a teach out to allow students to graduate this year or find suitable institutions to which all other students may transfer. It is the death knell for the 112-year old cultural icon and its unique and proven educational model that combines the haptic with the conceptual.

*****

What can we glean from the OCAC example, and those of the other institutions enumerated above? Can we continue to let valuable educational and cultural institutions fail locally as they try to solve endemic national issues within higher education, or can we find ways to support their efforts in the uncharted waters of new directions? Relying on local, enthusiastic Board leadership and over-stressed segments of our philanthropic communities to keep these small, innovative educational institutions in business while they serve students from across the country and beyond doesn’t seem a good formula for success.

Of course, you could say “isn’t this just a natural evolution” of higher education to have these vulnerable institutions close? In response, all of the above-mentioned colleges make strong cases for their ability to educate students who would not have excelled at other institutions and who have gone on to make major contributions to their fields after graduation. It is also important to point out that, as with OCAC, many of these institutions are educating students with significant financial need. Over 90% of OCAC students required financial assistance. In the extreme, if these small private colleges continue to go under, the gap between those who can afford an education and those who can’t will widen and further exacerbate the divide between an affluent, educated class and a poorer, less-educated class. Recent studies have shown that social mobility in the U.S., a long-standing hallmark of our country, has dropped substantially in recent years. The collective loss of these colleges that had functioned as social and economic equalizers will increase the barrier to social mobility.

To lose these institutions, including OCAC, is to lose a mode of education that helps ensure more members of our society are educated in ways that move them and their communities, and yes, the nation and the world, forward. More than ever we need our graduates to be innovative, creative, informed thinkers to help us navigate the rapidly changing world around us. Shouldn’t we also support our institutions in innovating and iterating to find inventive solutions to secure their existence? Many have argued that the prevailing educational model of larger, enrollment-driven institutions, both public and private, and even the well-known, endowment-funded private institutions, tends toward producing generations of followers and not leaders. Given that, how can we tolerate losing these small, specially-focused educational models that are proven to be successful in educating productive, independent thinkers, many from marginalized communities who would not thrive in a mainstream learning environment?

The OCAC model, where the question of ‘what’s best for the students’ has always been the litmus test in decision-making, is an atmosphere that does not coddle students but rather teaches self-reliance and personal responsibility. Through the intense development of creative skill sets, generations of students have been challenged to find new ways of solving difficult problems. The shared experience has fostered a sense of belonging to a community since its founding by Julia Hoffman in 1907. To see the larger Oregon community—OCAC students, alums and fans, arts and community leaders, former and current Board members—passionately rally to support OCAC and keep the doors open to a valuable educational and meaningful cultural institution has been heartening. To have been successful would have been a step in solving the nation’s higher education problem, a positive commitment to sustaining our Oregon cultural ecology, an active demonstration of Portland’s commitment to organizational innovation and a commitment to the students of OCAC. To see the doors close on this chapter of the Oregon College of Art and Craft is truly sad for our local community and adds one more statistic to the looming national higher education crisis we face.

Catlin Gabel School, the new owner, will no doubt make positive use of the property and its facilities for its students and for the community at large. It’s even possible that their stewardship will contribute in some ways to solving the higher education crisis. Who knows, possibly one of the ideas we contemplated at OCAC, the incorporation of high school students into collaborative, project-based programs with undergraduate and graduate students, or similarly inventive ideas, will be developed. OCAC alums would be an excellent source to engage in this process of vetting ideas.

The hope is that the attributes of the OCAC educational experience will live on in new forms through conscious appropriation and incorporation into other colleges and organizations. OCAC and its students deserve no less.

Denise Mullen
Past-President, Oregon College of Art and Craft

It’s over. OCAC is sold.

Catlin Gabel School has bought the Oregon College of Art and Craft campus, and the venerable craft college will cease to exist in May

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.

Outside the kiln at Oregon College of Art and Craft/Photo courtesy of OCAC

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.

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VizArts Monthly: Art blossoms all over town

The local art scene bursts into action as we mark the last graduating class at OCAC

Spring is upon us, and the art scene is blooming like the cherry blossoms downtown. In the same month, you can see the thesis shows by the 112th and final graduating class from OCAC and PNCA’s first year of MFA students to study in their new location, The Glass Building. If you’re walking around for First Thursday you can catch a high-concept group show at PDX Contemporary or a set of handmade quilts showing the ravages of climate change at Erickson Gallery. Then there’s the massive range of events during Design Week. However you want to divide art from design, you can sort events by either discipline on the festival’s site. If you’re looking for a party, PICA has its Meta Gala at the end of the month.

Takasaki at Nationale

Where did you sleep last night?: Shohei Takasaki

Through April 23
Nationale
3360 SE Division
Portland-based painter Shohei Takasaki’s first solo show at Nationale cast a colorful, abstracted eye on domestic scenes. Geometric forms and color fields intersect with recognizable objects found in the home, like a sock or a cracked egg. A playful intimacy pervades the bright colors of these canvases, filled with impressions of time Takasaki spent with loved ones.

via The White Gallery

When is a bowl of fruit just a bowl of fruit? Hiromi Lee and Prithvi Chauhan

Through April 12, 2019
Reception: Thursday, April 4, 6–8 PM
Littman + White Galleries
1825 Southwest Broadway
This two-person exhibition was curated by Jeremy Husserl borne out of frustration with the expectations thrust upon artists of color to “only create with a social justice meaning,” in the words of the press release. The title comes from a saying favored by the mother of one of the artists, which suggests that sometimes the art can speak for itself. Lee and Chuahan choose to cut loose and express themselves in this show that focuses on “the fantastic, the colorful, the controversial, and most of all the human condition.”

Installation view from Charmed

Echo: Joe Feddersen

Through April 20, 2019
The Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA)
511 NW Broadway
This exhibition features a new series of prints produced by Feddersen while artist-in-residence at PNCA’s Watershed Center for Fine Art Publishing and Research. Working in collaboration with MFA students and program chair Matthew Letzelter, Feddersen produced new, large-scale prints that connect to his 2014 piece, Charmed. Comprised of more than 400 pieces of fused glass, Charmed will be displayed with the new prints. Together they develop a visual vocabulary that is as informed by ancient, mystical glyphs as it is by modern logos and icons.

Game of Skill by Stephanie Simek

Speculative Frictions

April 3 to April 27
PDX Contemporary
925 NW Flanders

The title for this research-centric group show was inspired by poet Joan Retallack’s idea of a “poethical wager on the Experimental Feminine.” Contrasted with the scientific method’s focus on testable propositions, this wager proceeds according to what Retallack calls “a feminine dyslogic.” Artists 0rphan Drift, Caspar Heinemann, Emily Jones, Ranu Mukherjee, Lisa Radon, and Stephanie Simek draw on artistic techniques, writing, “wrighting”, and diverse presentations including video, sculpture, and installation. A show guaranteed to spark some form of insight, even if it can’t quite be put into words.

PNCA MFA First Year Exhibition

April 4 – April 23
The Glass Building
2139 N. Kerby Ave.
First year graduate students in three disciplines (Visual Studies, Print Media, and Collaborative Design) present their work at PNCA’s newly acquired building in a still under-the-radar North Portland industrial neighborhood. The Glass Building also houses the school’s ceramics facilities and graduate studios, and it seems only fitting that students will share the developments they have made in their first grueling year of a master’s degree program in a brand new space.

Landscape: Opium Poppy

Landscape: About Space and Time, Sang-ah Choi

Northview Gallery
PCC Sylvania Campus
12000 SW 49th Ave.
Opening and Artist Talk
Wednesday, April 10, 2–4 PM
Weekend Reception
Saturday, April 13, 2–5 PM
Bursting with energy, Choi’s graphic work on paper combine accident and precision in dizzying patterns that cover the whole visual field. Carefully rendered in acrylic, felt pen, and graphite, the shapes seem to fly across the paper in an all-over blast while at the same time reading like a decorative pattern. Reminiscent of of Takashi Murakami or Julie Mehretu, there’s a lot going on in Choi’s ultimately unique visual style.

Hillside Burning at Night Above Suburban Neighborhood Park, Woolsey, CA

Unraveling World: Quilts of Flood, Fire, Collapse: Amy Subach

April 4 – 29
Erickson Gallery
9 NW 2nd Avenue
Artist Amy Subach is perhaps most well-known for her series Erotic Selfie Quilts which are exactly what they sound like: handmade quilts depicting erotic selfies – and the oversaturated social media landscape to which they belong – with humor and dignity. For this show she turns her eye and her needle to the deluge of images of the frightening effects of climate change, adorning her quilts with images of flooding, the destructive California wildfires, and melting permafrost. Each piece carries a title with the specifics of the time and place of the event depicted.

Untitled 112: OCAC Graduate Thesis Exhibition

April 19th, 6–9pm
Disjecta Contemporary Art Center
8371 N Interstate Ave
OCAC’s final graduating class will show their thesis work at Disjecta this year. The BFA Class of 2019 posted the following as a collective message from the final graduating class of this local institution on their Facebook page for the event:

Celebrate the culmination of our education and our recent body of work.

We are conceptually driven individuals who strive for excellent craft and innovative solutions. We explore our own identities and experiences beyond ourselves to feed our practice and our future.

Our community arrives at this point with a 112–year history of ingenuity and discovery as its source of growth, and now as its foundation going forward. We embrace our futures, untitled and endless in their possibilities with a dedication to our craft.

Commentary: How dead is OCAC?

It's Craft Spring as various groups mobilize to keep Oregon College of Art and Craft alive

What happens when you try to close the debate before the debate ever gets started? At this point the Oregon College of Art and Craft board is starting to find that out.

During the week since my last commentary on the OCAC board’s decision to close the college and sell the campus, a lot has happened, much of it in the form of good, old-fashioned community organizing and behind-the-scenes negotiating. Of course, you don’t have to look far on social media to detect some anger and vitriol, too.

The primary center of popular opposition to OCAC’s plan to close happens to be… Friends of OCAC, which was started in December “to share the importance of this historic and celebrated institution with a new generation of Portlanders through events and projects designed to connect, support, and grow the widespread OCAC community,” according to its website.

Friends of OCAC has asked its supporters to sign a letter that invites the OCAC board to come to a town hall to discuss OCAC’s financial situation and do some “constructive brainstorming” to support the school and its programs. The group suggests Monday, February 25. OCAC agreed to a much smaller meeting this weekend (or maybe even today) with a few representatives from the Friends, the faculty and the board.

The February 20 protest against the OCAC’s decision to sell the campus and shut the college without significant debate within the OCAC community.

I was drawn to a couple of sentences that support the idea that transparency (or democracy or whatever you choose to call it) has been a problem at OCAC and suggests a way to remedy that problem.

“Over the past few years, and especially during the merger and closure decision-making processes, the extended members of the community have felt left out of the information loop. Friends of OCAC wishes to address these concerns by connecting OCAC’s extended network back to the school, inviting them home and making them feel welcome.”

The first five signatories on the letter are Dakotah Fitzhugh (community member), Mardy Widman (a much beloved former OCAC staffer), Judilee Fitzhugh (OCAC alum and an adjunct faculty member in the fibers department), Marilyn Zornado (Extension program instructor), and Georgiana Nehl (drawing/painting and foundations professor emerita). And then more than 1,000 names follow, many of them well-known former students, faculty members, staffers and active arts supporters. When I look over the list, I think, “These people are enough to prove the viability of OCAC in some form or another going forward, just by themselves.” They are still taking names, so you can join this august group yourself. All your asking for is an open discussion about the future of the college.

Generally, the signatories give their name and their relationship to OCAC. I quite enjoyed the connection that Shay Gallegos offered: “I have a friend that has gone here and it has been incredible in her life. It’s so sad knowing that a great institution like this might close. Please take the time to think of how great it has been for past students as well as hopefully future ones!!” Exactly.

Meanwhile, I’ve been exchanging emails and phone calls with architect and former Portland City Council candidate Stuart Emmons, who has been trying to drum up some interest for OCAC in the city’s philanthropic community. “I really think it can be saved,” he said. “It can be saved and it should be saved.” He’s put together an in-depth strategic plan that leads to solvency over the next three years, and he’s trying to advocate for a some sort of property sale-leaseback plan that will keep the college going while it sorts things out. He thinks that better recruitment of new students, debt delay (the college owes a local bank more than $1 million, he said) and a better approach to fundraising will lead OCAC out of its current situation.

He also thinks that the board should favor proposals that would keep the OCAC campus in the craft education business, an entirely reasonable suggestion. His frustration with OCAC seems to be similar to that of the Friends group—the board doesn’t seem to be open to any other approach than its own. And the board’s approach to it all seems to be tag it, bag it and bury it as swiftly as possible, and then maybe we can forget it. Emmons, though, is like the kid who looks into the coffin and hollers, “Hey, grandpa’s not dead.” And then watches gramps shudder, wheeze and sit bolt-upright to the amazement of all. Or maybe I’ve seen too many movies (“The Shipping News” is a good example of the genre.)

Because how do we know that OCAC is actually dead if the board won’t explain the situation to us? Classes are being taught there even as I type.

Anyway, Emmons has many lines in the stream (just to move my metaphor away from grandpa and his premature burial)—potential buyers of the property or major donors to a re-dedicated college or craft center.

Finally, a large and growing alumni group has emerged and has also petitioned the OCAC board. Here’s the first paragraph of the group’s letter:

“As members of the alumni of the degree programs at the Oregon College of Art and Craft, together with the greater OCAC community, we have been devastated by the news of the Board of Trustee’s decision to terminate the degree programs at the college. We are further alarmed by rumors of the rapid pace with which steps are being taken to entertain offers to sell the campus or otherwise dismantle this incredible institution. As critical stakeholders in the make-up of the college, we urge you to delay any decisions that would bring about a permanent end to OCAC. Instead, we appeal to you to partner with us and other important stakeholders of the college to explore alternative solutions to the current crisis.”

And the group has an additional request. “Before it is too late, please give us the necessary time to bring new calls for support to potential donors, to civic and cultural leaders and to the greater Portland community. We also request that an alumni representative not serving on the Board be in attendance during the presentation of any offers to purchase the college or the property.”

The names on the petition, like the Friends list, is full of artists, many of them recent OCAC graduates.

Will the resisters triumph? In a way, they already have, because they are reminding us of important lessons we learned and perhaps forgot, or lessons we never learned and should have—lessons that have to do with working together for the common good.