Gavin Shettler knows a thing or two about luring scenesters into the hinterlands to look at art. Back in 2003, he was one of the driving forces behind the Modern Zoo, a sprawling if polarizing mega-show that drew large audiences to Cathedral Park Place, way out yonder under the St. Johns Bridge. Six years later, Shettler is creative director at Milepost 5, a condo, apartment and studio complex on the fringes of Northeast Portland. He and painter Chris Haberman are now curating Manor of Art, a ginormous group show in which more than 110 artists will commandeer the former Baptist Manor Retirement Home on the Milepost 5 property, filling each of the facility's 110 rooms with art. It's an audacious idea for a creepy, semi-dilapidated space (yes, it does smell like a former nursing home), but it's just the kind of challenge Shettler relishes.
It's been tough going since he assumed the Milepost 5 gig last March, still smarting from the implosion of his erstwhile brainchild, Portland Art Center. When the real estate bust hit, Milepost 5 took it hard. "The business model just basically broke," Shettler tells WW. "But our banks [Albina Community Bank and Sterling Savings Bank] have been amazing in working with the developers and getting us through this thing."
Spearheaded by entrepreneurs Ted Gilbert and Brad Malsin, the complex of live-work spaces was marketed as "an intentional community," complete with community garden, where artists could own condos, rent apartments and make art in studio spaces. Shettler says sales are picking up, with a total of 13 out of 54 units sold and 10 renting as apartments. Owners and tenants include well-known artist-curator TJ Norris (who curates Milepost 5's lobby space), Hand2Mouth Theatre, Blue Voice Media and a bevy of other creatives including three musicians, a playwright, a sound artist, a writer, two journalists and a chef. Despite the development's challenging (euphemism for "shitty") location abutting notorious 82nd Avenue, Shettler says there have been no burglaries and no car break-ins. The "prostitution problem," very much in evidence last year, has been curbed thanks to added police patrols and a Community Watch program. And the condos are being offered at dramatically reduced prices.
Still, despite an encouraging pick-up in sales, the project is effectively stalled until the developers can secure funding to renovate the artist-studio portion of Milepost 5. To draw attention to the building's potential, Shettler and Haberman organized Manor of Art, hoping to transform the scary, stinky rooms and hallways (you can almost see ghostly nurses rounding the corners toward you, brandishing catheters and 3-inch syringes) into a tableau of bustling, youthful energy. In addition to the visual arts offerings, the 10-day festival will feature 20 bands, guided tours and discussions. Participating artists include Tiffany Lee Brown, Kelly Rauer, Alicia Rose, Adam Bailey, Jason Brown, Richard Schemmerer, Troy Briggs and Tamara English. There will also be a sizable contingent of lesser-known artists who have yet to make it to the Portland A-list but are looking to Manor to be their "big break."
"Quality is going to be all over the place," Shettler says of the artwork slotted to fill each room. "I can guarantee that." But he points to the loosely curated Modern Zoo as an example of how sheer multitude can function as a barometer of the breadth and depth of a city's art scene. "We're expecting between 3,000 and 5,000 people," he says, "which will be the biggest show we've had here—and the second-biggest show I've ever been involved with." Shettler, who is looking fit and well rested in the aftermath of his Portland Art Center debacle, seems confident of the show's success, and with economic indicators looking encouraging, who can fault him? Who, in fact, could have imagined that in the aftermath of the worst economic meltdown in 70 years, the first sprigs of a local renaissance might—just might—break forth in a place where decades of Depression-weaned oldsters came to die?
Manor of Art at Milepost 5, 900 NE 81st Ave., 998-4878. Free. For hours, band schedules and information about guided tours, visit milepostfive.com. Manor of Art runs Aug. 14-23.