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November 26th, 2003 RICHARD SPEER | Visual Arts
 

PICA's Problems

The 8-year-old arts agency cuts staff and exhibits due to financial shortfall.

     
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The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art will close its gallery space in late January and temporarily suspend its visual arts exhibitions. In addition, the position of visual-arts curator, held by Stuart Horodner, will be eliminated, and the hours of the exhibition preparator--a position held by Jörg Jakoby--will be scaled back from full-time to part-time.

"In chess, some moves are forced," says Kristy Edmunds, PICA's executive and artistic director, of the decision to eliminate $75,000 from the organization's budget between now and May 2004, the end of PICA's fiscal year.

According to Edmunds, the changes are a result of a downturn in national arts funding, coupled with belt-tightening after the institute's Time-Based Art festival failed to meet financial projections. PICA will continue its other arts programs, including planning for the second annual TBA festival, to be held next summer.

"Some people's initial reaction was, 'Oh, no, PICA's closing!'" says Kristan Kennedy, public relations and marketing manager. "That's not the case."

PICA was launched by Edmunds, a visual artist and curator, as a grass-roots organization in 1995, and the arts agency has earned a national reputation for its innovative, experimental programming. In that time, the agency's staff has grown from just Edmunds to 10 positions, and its annual budget increased from $150,000 in 1995 to $1.2 million in 2003.

The agency has offices in the Pearl District's Wieden & Kennedy building, and it leases additional space in the building at a reduced cost for a 2,200-square-foot art gallery. Last summer, the white-walled, high-ceilinged space exhibited William Pope.L's ambitious--if foul-smelling--eRacism, which addressed race relations via rotting hot dogs and curdled mayonnaise, garnering national attention for its unconventionality and sheer bravado.

The cutbacks were announced at the end of an intense three weeks of financial hand-wringing and philosophical soul-searching by the group's board, Kennedy says. With the temporary suspension of visual-arts exhibits, the agency plans to survey artists, gallery owners and arts patrons to gather information about PICA's future programs.

"There seems to have been a disconnect between PICA and the community," Kennedy says, "and so it's not entirely fair for us to blame these decisions on the community. We need to reconnect in the coming months. We don't want to be a box with four walls."

Departing curator Horodner plans to focus on writing and curating in other venues, while continuing to teach art and design at Portland State University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art. "I have a lot of thinking to do," Horodner says. "I have to think about what I can contribute to the community once I'm unhinged from PICA."

As for the local arts scene, PICA's loss may be a gain for the visual-arts-intensive Portland Center for the Advancement of Culture, a fledgling organization that has mounted impressive exhibitions like this summer's The Modern Zoo and Process on shoestring budgets and with minimal internal bureaucracy.

But if PICA does indeed return to its initial, more locally centered mission, PCAC could find itself competing with the more established organization for the same artistic talent, venues and, not insignificantly, donor dollars.


PICA will host a lecture by Lebanese artist Walid Ra'ad of
the Atlas Group, a research project devoted to preserving and studying native artifacts. City Council chambers, Portland City Hall, 1221 SW 4th Ave., 7 pm Friday, Dec. 12. $5 admission; FREE for PICA members. Call PICA at 242-1419 for information.
 
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