PICA hones its barn-raising skills to prove that temporary art space works.
While school may be out for the summer, all of us here at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) are already back in the classroom. For the past three years, we’ve temporarily occupied Portland’s decommissioned Washington High School as the base of our annual Time-Based Art (TBA) Festival, hosting galleries, performances, talks, and a late-night social space. As one of the foremost presenters of contemporary performance and visual art, our TBA Festival is unique in the nation for presenting work from across disciplines and encouraging a similar mingling of audiences, artists, curators, and students. Our late night events are as packed with performers who just stepped offstage, as they are with local art lovers out to see the show.
Each year, we’ve entered the drafty old high school in the middle of summer to construct galleries in the classroom, rig and light the abandoned theatre, and build spaces for audiences to socialize. And every October, when TBA concludes, we disassemble our pop-up venue and return to our office home. But this annual work is nothing new to PICA; for the nine years of TBA, we’ve operated our Festival hub in neighborhoods across the city out of four different warehouses, a rehabbed theatre, and the high school. In fact, over the course of PICA’s 16-year history, we’ve managed our day-to-day office life and programs very similarly, moving spaces, sharing offices, and presenting art in borrowed venues.
We speak of this annual activity as a “barn-raising,” because it’s only possible thanks to the incredible community we’ve gathered here in town. PICA marshals more than 300 volunteers annually, calls in donations and labor from a handful of local contractors, and puts a lot of sweat equity into every space we inhabit. One of our closest partnerships has been with Boora Architects, whose staff has taken on an annual design challenge, building everything from makeshift theatres to dining halls to our current mobile box office, housed in an old shipping container.
These temporary spaces require a big outlay of effort each year, and over the coming months, our goal is to professionalize our itinerant practice and make it easier for us dispatch our staff and crew to different facilities. Alongside our usual TBA work, we’ll be creating more flexible and portable furniture and structures, as well as investing in basic wireless technical equipment. With the help of ArtPlace, we’ll continue our nomadic operations and carry the energy of our TBA facilities over to our other programs throughout the year.
As we write this post, we’re already hard at work readying the school for TBA—the staff has moved our offices across town, our visual preparators have dry-walled the galleries, and artists are starting to work on-site to cast local performers and finish their installations. There’s a lot yet to be done, but we’re more than ready to begin the work.