A Portland nonprofit that provides affordable space to the local arts community is going through a messy breakup with a local performance group.
Last week, the Ape Theater, which hosts improv, writing and acting classes as well as shows in the basement of the Alberta Abbey on Northeast Alberta Street, announced in a press release that they were being forced out by "developers from California" and new management at the Alberta Abbey Foundation.
The foundation, however, cites longstanding issues with the Ape as the reason behind the terminated relationship.
"I hate the idea of displacing a broader community of artists, but they lost the trust of tenants and staff managing tenants," says Prentice Onayemi, the Alberta Abbey Foundation's interim executive director. "Trust is one of the major values we want to cultivate here in the building."
Onayemi declined to elaborate those issues.
Alissa Jessup, Ape Theater's artistic director, contends she and her husband, co-founder husband Chris Caniglia, never received any documentation about any problems and were only told in face-to-face meetings that there were complaints about improvisors warming up in the hallway, as well as concerns about a lighted sign that hung on a gate.
According to Jessup, performers were kept from wandering around and Onayemi assured them he was figuring out the issue with the sign, which she adds had the proper permits.
The building the Ape called home was bought in December 2017 by Community Development Partners, a California-based business that specializes in affordable housing. (CDP also bought Milepost 5, a live-work project on Southeast 82nd Avenue.)
In late August, the Alberta Abbey Foundation announced it had reached a $725,000 agreement with CDP, which will fund a range of capital improvements. It also includes a 10-year renewable lease with a purchase option that allows the nonprofit to buy the building at a predetermined price anytime in the next 19 years.
Onayemi says CDP had nothing to do with the decision about the Ape's tenancy.
In April, Onayemi says, the Ape was placed on month-to-month probation. The conversation was revisited in August and a solution seemed likely—until Onayemi says the theater backed out.
"The bottom line for me and the Ape is we want to be somewhere where we're valued," says Jessup. "They've never come to a show we've done. They've never acknowledged us on their website. We'd rather go somewhere where we're valued."
In a press release sent Sept. 19, Jessup said the Ape received a 30-day notice and that a 90-day extension was denied. Onayemi disputes this timeline, saying he provided final notification about a Sept. 30 move-out date via email Aug. 13. The extension was considered but ultimately denied.
"I absolutely wish them the best. We really would have loved to have them in the building," says Onayemi. "But they had a pattern of alienating and upsetting people."
The Ape's last day in the enclave is Sept. 30. Organizers are now looking for a space that includes a theater, lobby and classrooms.
"We don't want to fight to create art," says Jessup.