Precipice Fund

A group of major Oregon foundations has pooled its money to create a new arts relief fund. So far, the Oregon Arts and Culture Recovery Program has $1.3 million to distribute to nonprofit arts and culture organizations throughout Oregon with grants for emergency operating support and recovery activities.

Organized and administered by the Oregon Community Foundation, the fund will give preference to arts nonprofits led by and serving communities disproportionately impacted by the social and economic consequences of the outbreak of Covid-19. The application process doesn’t look too onerous, either.

Carl Morris (American, 1911-1993), Audition, 1946; reworked 1951, oil on paper board, Gift of Frederic Rothchild, © 1946 Carl and Hilda Morris Foundation, 76.39/Portland Art Museum

The emergency funds are intended to meet “immediate operating needs and losses related to the cancellation of performances, gallery exhibitions, fundraising events and more,”  according to the RACC press release announcing the start of the program. The group of funders will also look for “proposals with strategies that allow art organizations and cultural institutions to innovate and adapt to the challenges of Covid-19. Organizations serving as a hub or facilitator for the arts and artists in their local, state and regional communities will also be prioritized for funding.”

Most of the money will be distributed in smaller grants, $5,000 and below, though larger grants (up to and even exceeding $25,000 in rare cases) will also be available. 

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Vision 2020: Maya Vivas and Leila Haile

Pioneering at Ori Gallery: "We often joke about how we would love to not be the only Queer, Black-run art space in town."

North Mississippi Avenue’s Ori Gallery is about to celebrate its two-year anniversary, and founders Maya Vivas and Leila Haile have a lot to show for a relatively short span of time. Ori has had more than a dozen exhibitions featuring work from a wide range of artists who identify as QTPoC (Queer Trans People of Color).  They have held workshops on grant-writing, tattoo history, and methods for direct political action through art; and hosted life drawing classes, artist lectures, and parties. As if all that weren’t enough, Vivas and Haile were recently awarded their second Precipice Fund grant to support Ori’s programming into 2020. The two also maintain their own creative practices – Vivas is a ceramic and performance artist whose work has been shown throughout Portland and across the country, and Haile is a tattoo artist who specializes in working on melanated skin.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


Their collaboration as co-directors of Ori has brought attention to the voices of historically marginalized artists and contributed to the larger conversation surrounding equity, institutional bias, and the arts in Portland. Amidst a jam-packed schedule that included the opening reception for an exhibition of the Nat Turner Project’s Drinking Gourd Artist Fellows and the award ceremony for the Precipice Fund at PICA, Vivas and Haile found a few moments to share their thoughts on what the coming decade has in store for the arts and artists in the Rose City. (Responses without a name preceding them were submitted as joint comments.)

Maya Vivas and Leila Haile, taking charge. Photo courtesy Ori Gallery

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Social engagement: politics, resistance, and art

2018 in Review, Part 5: Oregon ArtsWatch visited creators in all media who are addressing problems ranging from racism to climate change

The world is indisputably in a precarious position — not just politically and socially, but economically and even ecologically. It is a moment of crisis. Artists play a crucial role in moments like these, helping the rest of us arrive at a shared cognition of what is — of seeing, sensing, and feeling that roil of life in a way that clarifies, opens eyes, and maybe even showing us a way forward.

What struck me in compiling this year-end reading list on socially engaged art in Oregon is the extent to which artists strove not simply to see and interpret, but to peel back layers, to reveal what is largely hidden — either by design or by accident — by institutions, by geography, and even by the telling of history. There may be no “new” stories to tell, but too many stories haven’t been heard by those who need to hear them, by people who perhaps want to see, but don’t know how.

So dive into this compilation. There’s a bit of everything: visual art, theater, music, conceptual art, literature. And, of course, the usual disclaimer: The choices here are highly subjective and presented in no particular order, and obviously are not intended to be comprehensive.

 


 

Witnesses in a churning world

Artist Hung Liu says “Official Portraits: Immigrant” (2006, lithograph with collage) is one of three self-portraits representing stages of her life.

Sept. 27: ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks checked out a fall show at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem called Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography. It featured a lineup of artists who look at the world through a lens that is both personal and cultural, and in a way that connects our present moment with history.

“The idea of art as a pristine thing, separated from the hurly-burly of the everyday world and somehow above it all, is a popular notion,” Hicks wrote. “But a much stronger case exists for the idea of art as the expression of the roil of life, in all its messiness and cruelty and prejudices and passions and pleasures and occasional outbursts of joy. Art comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is the world in which we live.”

The article is a mini-tour of the exhibition itself, with nearly 20 pieces accompanied by the artists’ personal statements reflecting the roil and rebellion of their creative processes.

 


 

David Ludwig: Telling the Earth’s story through music

Chamber Music Northwest performs ‘Pangæa.’ Photo: Tom Emerson.

July 27: “Pangæa was the single huge continent on Earth encompassed by one vast ocean over 200 million years ago – eons before dinosaurs, much less humans,” musician David Ludwig writes in the program notes for composition of the same name. “It was an entirely different planet than one we’d recognize today, lush with life of another world.” That’s the world Ludwig interpreted musically in the West Coast premiere of Pangæa, a piece inspired by the ancient Earth, and the threat of extinction as a result of human-caused climate change. Matthew Andrews talked to him about this extraordinary piece of music for ArtsWatch. Best of all: You can listen to it yourself.

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Beyond the walls: A social practice project goes global

Answers Without Words, a photography project, fosters creative dialogue between incarcerated artists in Oregon and photographers from around the world

I am watching a group of men set a scene to be photographed. Ben Turanski, one of the prisoners at Columbia River Correctional Institution, indicates I am witnessing “prison innovation” in the works. He and some others are turning one corner of a classroom space at CRCI into a faux hospice. He twists a long piece of plastic wrapper into a cord, like an IV, attaching it to the wrist of Joshua Wright, who is lying on a makeshift hospital bed. Now done setting the scene, Turanski sits beside Wright and takes his hand.

From several feet away, Ben Hall takes a photo with a digital camera. When I ask him about what is happening, he indicates that the scenario he is photographing is inspired by his time working hospice in prison.

“What changed you in prison and are you happy about that?” question by Sara Lamens from Belgium, answer by Ben Hall in collaboration with Ben Turanski and Joshua Wright, photographed by Ben Hall

Anke Schüttler stands outside the frame, making suggestions about photographic composition. Schüttler—a photographer by trade and an MFA candidate at Portland State University’s School of Art and Social Practice—is one of the facilitators of this art class at CRCI, a minimum security prison housing 595 *mostly* male prisoners in Northeast Portland, Oregon. (I add the caveat because, in my few hours visiting the facility, I was made aware of at least one female-identifying prisoner.)

Schüttler let me know that many of the incarcerated individuals participating in this PSU art class said they would prefer to be called prisoners, hence my use of the word here. Under the umbrella of PSU art class, these prisoners are also working artists-in-residence at CRCI.

For Wright, the patient in the hospice scenario, the title artist-in-residence felt generative. “You were in prison, yes, but you were also in residence,” he reflected. “You’re an artist. You took this time to pursue your craft. That’s a rare and brilliant idea, and to be able to utilize that in this space has been incredibly beneficial,” he continued, noting that the residency has helped keep him on track creatively while in prison, in addition to benefiting him upon his release. Wright is a published essayist and poet, living incarcerated with a terminal diagnosis of cystic fibrosis.

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“[If] someone is asking you a question, like, ‘What’s your favorite place?’, you just go there and take a photo of that place. But what happens if you cannot access that place?” asked Schüttler during the class lecture at CRCI that I attended. Before returning to Germany, her home country, Schüttler will be wrapping up her MFA thesis on a project she initiated at CRCI called “Answers Without Words,” developed in collaboration Roshani Thakore, another PSU Art and Social Practice student, along with the prisoners.

The name of the project is “pretty logical,” says Schüttler.

For the past several months, and with support from the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund, Schüttler has facilitated an exchange of written questions and photographic responses between incarcerated artists-in-residence at CRCI and photographers from around the world.

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Schüttler originally started visiting CRCI out of intrigue when she and her colleagues were invited by Harrell Fletcher, founder of the PSU Art and Social Practice MFA concentration. “Often times, when Harrell gets an opportunity here in Portland, he invites his students in,” said Schüttler. Harrell, who had done creative work with a prison in the past, was curious about CRCI and had been extended an invitation to visit an ongoing arts-based class there.

“We went, and had such a deep experience,” Schüttler recalled. “I mean, you’ve seen it.”

I have seen it. In spite of so many constraints, the four walls of the classroom contained an environment remarkable to enter into and be present within—at least, to my sensibilities.

“There’s something about these people…They have so much wisdom, and so much talent,” Schüttler continued. “Something that really stood out for me was also this vulnerability. When does that ever happen? A big group of men being vulnerable with each other? And it’s like, the last place you would expect that to happen is a prison.”

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High Tide in Astoria

Can extremely thoughtful, attentive urban design be art? The Tidal Rock project in Astoria may have some answers.

Tidal Rock—a green space in Astoria, Oregon, formerly overgrown and obscured from the public eye—has received a makeover courtesy of three artists, Agnes Field, Brenda Harper, and Jessica Schleif, who have rallied their community to create a space for public art in an unlikely spot. Known for its role in marking the water level for its coastal community, Tidal Rock is officially designated as a historic site. Since late 2017, the three artists have been hard at work cultivating the space as a place for temporary public art installations and community gatherings. A public art event at the site, taking place Saturday evening, September 8, is the sort of thing they have in mind.

Oddfellows dance collective at Tidal Rock; photo by Brenda Harper

When I connected with the artists to speak about Tidal Rock, I was shocked to learn that Field had severely broken her leg less than two weeks before this big event. “It’s just one of those crazy things that happens when you don’t expect it,” she said. “I was helping my friends with their new roller skates.” At this point, I let an unseemly pun slip out about rolling with the situation, to which she kindly replied, “I think that the truth. It’s the only choice you have.”

“I’m like, ‘gosh, how is she doing this?’” Schleif remarked of Field’s predicament. “She’s chipper and looks great.”

Field’s high spirits bodes well for Saturday’s event, and this pervasive positivity has likely had an impact on the progress of the project thus far. The artists talked me through some of the details surrounding how they were able to convince Astoria City Council to allow them to adopt the Tidal Rock site.

“I don’t think they had experienced anything like this before,” said Schleif. “It was a leap for them to start picturing what might happen.”

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the first and the last: An interview with kiki nicole and ariella tai

A new experimental film/video and new media arts project launches a series of programs by and for black femmes, women, and non-men

I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin. I am the barren one and many are my daughters. I am the silence you can not understand. I am the utterance of my name.

the first and the last, an experimental film/video and new media arts project germinating in Portland, takes its name from the epigraph above. It is spoken by the character Nana Peazant in the seminal film Daughters of the Dust, produced and directed by Julie Dash. In 1991, it became the first full-length film directed by a black, female-identifying director to be released in theaters across the nation.

Last week, I spoke with the first and the last curators, ariella tai (they/them) and kiki nicole (they/them), as they were gearing up for the Screening and Media Literacy Workshop with Melanie Stevens, taking place on April 19 and 20 at Ori Gallery. This will be the first of ten programs at various venues organized by the first and the last, including exhibitions and more screenings, skill shares, and workshops.

In a contemplative back-and-forth, tai and nicole—who are both black femme artists—articulated how the convergence of their experiences led them to create a series of programs by and for black femmes, women, and non-men in the context of the city of Portland, where the erasure of black communities and crisis of gentrification continue to propel dialogues and organizing efforts.

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How to create community with art, and other lessons from Field of View

An artist residency program for people with developmental disabilities rethinks the value of creative labor

Most stories are more complicated than they seem. To really understand why we–individually and collectively–have ended up at this particular moment in time under the often baffling conditions that inform day-to-day life, the simple story just won’t suffice.

This particular story, which looks at how five Portland-based artists ended up at a very special artist residency called Field of View, is far from simple. To understand how this program came to be begs for a brief glimpse into the ongoing public policy debate over how the State of Oregon should support individuals who experience developmental disabilities, for example. And all the nuances, twists, turns and triumphs in this story illuminate the Field of View resident artists’ resilience and creative capacity–as well as the possibility that art-making could play a vital role in the movement toward a more holistic, integrated city, state, and society.

My journey into this story began on a Sunday evening late this past August. Carissa Burkett, the artist who initiated Field of View, a program of the nonprofit Public Annex, invited me over to her home for dinner, where I met five of the program’s resident artists, along with Lauren Moran, Burkett’s co-organizer. Thanks to funding from the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund, Field of View was able to place these artists, all of whom experience developmental disabilities*, in three-month-long artist residencies around the community in Portland, at sites including King School, Performance Works Northwest, and the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

We sat on Burkett’s back patio that warm night and chatted for a couple of hours about the artists’ experience in their residencies. At the gathering, I met Dawn Westover, a visual artists who makes drawings; Sonya Hamilton, a painter and ceramicist; David Lechner, a visual and dance artist; and Olga Shchepina, a painter and sculptor. I also reconnected with Larry Supnet, a prolific visual artist whom I had met earlier in the year.

What made this gathering of artists especially interesting, in my eyes, was their familiarity with one another–the way they cracked jokes and smiled knowingly. I could tell there was a lot more to their stories as colleagues. “How do you all know each other?” I asked…

Dawn Westover’s Instagram @dawn_westover_art

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As it turns out, the story of these artists coming together goes way back–so far back that it required a detour into the history of the Oregon state legislature’s attempts to improve its services for Oregonians with developmental disabilities. Burkett filled me in on some of the details.

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