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January 23rd, 2008 Stephen Marc Beaudoin | News Stories
 

Portland Art Center Is Dead

But its headaches may live on for its director, and for Commissioner Sam Adams.

     
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IMAGE: Erin McCallum

There won’t be any more late-night arty cocktail parties or First Thursday festivals at the corner of Northwest 5th Avenue and Couch Street.

But there will be, for at least several months ahead, lots of questions, headaches and lingering accusations over the Portland Art Center deciding last week to close its doors at the Goldsmith Building.

The decision to kill the center’s downtown space, a key part of the city’s visual arts landscape (see “A Messy Picture,” WW , Jan. 16, and WWire for more details), came at a meeting of PAC’s new board; center staff, including executive director Gavin Shettler and programs manager Kelly Rauer; and longtime PAC supporter George Thorn.

Seth Nehil, who joined the center’s board after the previous board recently resigned en masse, says the group decided to close because of a tough local fundraising landscape and the money drain of leasing 10,000 square feet of space in Portland’s ever pricier Chinatown.

“This is a huge loss, on a number of levels,” says Mark Woolley, a Portland gallery and performance-space owner. “It immediately raises lots of questions.”

Shettler says it will take the art center at least a month to close. Among the lingering questions beyond that closure are concerns about a “Portland arts community” website project with ties to Commissioner Sam Adams and a former Adams office intern.

The website dates back to when arts community roundtables and discussions produced the idea for the City of Portland to help sponsor a comprehensive website for all city arts events, says Adams’ arts and culture liaison, Jesse Beason.

When Beason heard in 2006 that Shettler’s arts center was pursuing a similar idea, he decided to use the center as a “fiscal agent” for the website project. That meant the city, through Adams’ much-touted Creative Capacity initiative, would kick in just under $20,000, and the art center would raise the remaining $10,000 or so for the website’s datbase coding and graphic design..

But Shettler says Adams and Beason handpicked Michael Richardson, a 22-year-old former Adams intern who’d worked in the commissioner’s office for nine months, for the project.

Richardson, whose new software development firm, Geekfire, is responsible for the project, admits he lacked prior experience working on a website of this scale while adding that it was his understanding PAC has tried before without success to do the Web project.

More than a year after Geekfire started to get paid for the project—tentatively called pdxopenart.org—the site still won’t be available as a resource to the arts community for at least six more months. And with the art center’s closing, it’s unclear who will actually run the site.

“We are supposed to be talking about it over the course of the next few weeks to see if the project might transition to our office over the next few weeks,” Beason says. “But nothing is set in stone.”

For Woolley, the Web project’s delay means a key promise to the arts community remains unfulfilled.

“I would say it’s a high priority,” Woolley says. “It would be wonderful as a dealer to be able to point people to that resource.”


Read Richard Speer’s eulogy for PAC.
 
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