The Living School of Art (livingschoolart.info) can be seen by appointment only. Its primary audience isn’t outsiders.
The audience instead are the tenants of the East Portland apartment complex where the school is located. It also isn’t a school, per se, but more an ongoing art project or installation, which Amanda Leigh Evans started in 2016.
Evans holds an MFA in Art and Social Practice from Portland State University, a program that has a reputation for fusing social issues and art on levels that are both conceptual and practical.
So when she received a yearlong residency at the complex—from an arts nonprofit called Community Engagement—Evans proposed something that could incorporate anyone within the 150-apartment complex who wanted to join.
“The approach that I decided to take was just to be a neighbor, first and foremost.” Evans says. “Just to see what my neighbors wanted to do together. Being their neighbor isn’t all my practice is, but it is the foundation of this project.”
Five year in, the Living School of Art has eight galleries (in the building’s laundry rooms), two community gardens, a pottery studio and countless personal practices employed by the complex’s residents. Sometimes these practices are cooking classes, shared meals, or jewelry making. Part of Evans’ contribution is coordination and gathering resources to facilitate the art projects.
One of the easiest to explain is the community’s medicinal garden, which contains plants like calendula, dogfennel, echinacea and yarrow. Some can be picked and made into medicines. Some go nicely in a salad. Some, like the dogfennel, were planted to create interesting visual textures. The result is lovely and full of fat, busy bees.
The idea that a garden could be an art installation will be laughable to some, but Evans sees the effort put in by residents over time.
“Some of the herbs couldn’t adapt to Portland’s climate,” she says. “This garden is the product of many attempts.” SUZETTE SMITH.