The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) is an interdisciplinary contemporary art organization that hosts the annual Time-Based Art Festival each September. The TBA Festival takes place at venues all around the city of Portland, Oregon, with a central hub known as THE WORKS that has been sited in various rehabbed buildings and sites over the Festival’s 10-year history. With the support of ArtPlace, PICA has invested in more resources for their pop-up programming and is working to make their temporary venues and activities even more visible in the community.
ArtPlace recently asked PICA about their role in shaping Portland’s future course.
ArtPlace: What will be different in your community as a result of your work?
PICA: Over the years, we’ve made quite the impact in town, whether introducing new ideas and artists to Portland or launching local artists onto a national and international stage, but where our influence has perhaps been most visible is in steering a conversation about the renewal of our urban core. We’re an inherently nomadic group, popping up in new sites for nearly every project and year of our existence. In the ten years of TBA, we’ve presented work on dozens of stages and in scores of galleries, and we’ve transformed six buildings into our late-night Festival hub, which we call THE WORKS. Within THE WORKS, we host performances, late-night concerts, visual galleries, and outdoor beer gardens; it is sort of a 10-day art center. In turn, these spaces have been redeveloped by various builders and civic concerns, after seeing the activated potential that PICA brought to each site.
Among these many spaces, our home for the past three years at the decommissioned Washington High School is probably the biggest story of renewal we’ve been a part of. Located in the middle of an inner-Southeast residential neighborhood, the school had been out-of-service since the 80s, slowly falling into disuse as a sad, blighted, and crumbling building. When PICA got into the facility in 2009, we had to fix broken windows and plumbing, clean out the musty classrooms, and replace copper wiring in the walls to restore power. In the end, our presence there over the many months of clean-up and production, as well as for the two weeks of TBA, brought a new vitality to their neighborhood site. Many neighbors told us it was the first they’d felt safe using the adjacent park in years. At this same time, the school district was considering a sale of the property, and our activity attracted the attention of a local developer committed to historic preservation. After a few intervening years and a lot of negotiations, the deal has finally gone through, and this developer will be renovating the old school into a mixed-use housing and art center, once more bringing life to the old halls. It feels really good to see this old, beautiful edifice that we’ve all come to love so dearly find a new role as a vibrant part of the community.
I suppose we’re a bit of a “pied piper” of creative re-development—inspiring developers and civic leaders to see the value in disused neighborhoods and buildings, and getting the community to re-invest in the future of these neglected spaces. We’re lucky enough to use the old high school for one last TBA Festival this September and we’re excited to fill it once more with artists and projects as we celebrate it’s bright future.