PICA—the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art—is an interdisciplinary contemporary art center in Portland, Oregon, though for almost its entire 17 years, there hasn’t been a “center,” per se. Rather, PICA has operated from small shared offices to present visual art and performance in makeshift galleries and converted warehouses all throughout town, most notably through the annual Time-Based Art Festival. With the support of ArtPlace, PICA has launched a two-part project to streamline our itinerant practice. First, the organization has secured its own facility in downtown Portland—a flexible space that will house offices and accommodate a wide range of activities for PICA’s audiences and artists, from lectures to screenings to conversational dinners to small installations. Then, in the ramp up to this year’s Time-Based Art Festival, PICA will invest in its mobile infrastructure, upgrading the tools the organization has to present work in unique locations all over town.
PICA has just completed their space construction and finished moving in last week—from amongst the boxes and sawdust, ArtPlace spoke with PICA Communications Director Patrick Leonard about their work.
ArtPlace: Do you have partners on the project?
Leonard: The very nature of PICA’s work requires collaboration. Without our own galleries and stages, we couldn’t present artist projects if we didn’t partner with peers and businesses and building owners who had space for us to experiment. We work closely with everyone from the local colleges like the Pacific Northwest College of Art and Reed College to small galleries and groups like BlueSky or Cinema Project. Each and every warehouse we convert into a venue is a collaboration with a developer who worked with us on the space. And we’ve teamed up with businesses to realize certain artist projects, such as when we paired artist Kalup Linzy with local animation studio LAIKA/house.
ARTPLACE: What is the toughest thing about collaboration?
LEONARD: Well, you have to be comfortable ceding a certain degree of artistic control when you work with outside partners. But that letting go can be exciting, as well. A lot of curation is about trust—we make a call on an artist we believe in and we say, “Show us what you’ve got.” Last year, with Nathan Howdeshell (of Fast Weapons Record Label and the band The Gossip), we asked him to arrange a night of the TBA Festival, because we loved his aesthetic and his work. He really went wild with the night—everything from a magazine release party in the bathrooms to a one-act play to a film screening to live sets by the bands Ghost Mom, Dangerous Boys Club, and No Age. It was not the night that PICA would have booked on its own, but it was absolutely epic!
ARTPLACE: What is the most rewarding thing about collaboration?
LEONARD: Those unexpected possibilities that a new voice raises. The new audiences and communities you can meet.
ARTPLACE: What advice would you give to those having trouble making a collaboration work?
LEONARD: Take a chance on it, but be clear with yourself where your own organization has room to give, and where it needs to hold fast to its own identity and practice.
PHOTO: Ghost Mom performs in an old high school classroom as part of the Fast Weapons night at the 2011 Time-Based Art Festival. Taken by Chase Allgood.