415 SW 10th (photo by Brian Libby)
BY BRIAN LIBBY
Not only has the local arts organization known for its TBA Festival (as in "Time Based Art") found a new home, but the move means a beloved Portland building's future is no longer TBA (as in "to be announced").
As Marty Hughley reports in Monday's Oregonian, the building at 415 SW 10th Avenue that has despite its distinctive multicolored checkerboard-patterned facade remained vacant for more than a decade will now become the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art's headquarters.
Assuming PICA has no plans to radically alter the building's exterior, this is a win-win for arts in Portland. It's giving the Institute a real home, and incorporating a bit of "The Works", its popular TBA Fest temporary headquarters, into daily operations. At the same time, although 415 is considered a decaying eyesore by some, it is a beloved midcentury building that transcends its unremarkable mid-20th century materials and decaying condition.
PICA has long had its offices in the Wieden + Kennedy headquarters, dating back to the building's renovation and opening in 2000. But it was always at the pleasure of W+K rather than being a true PICA home. What's more, the visual art exhibit space that PICA began with there was phased out several years ago. Although the 415 building isn't really big enough to host most of the major TBA Fest events happening each September, according to Hughley's article, the Institute will offer some small public events there. For now, PICA actually is only leasing the top floor, about 10,000 square feet of space including a roof-top patio above Southwest 11th Avenue. "The institute’s library will be expanded and events such as working residencies, film screenings, panel discussions and dinners will provide other opportunities for community engagement," Hughley reports.
A few years ago, Richard Singer, the developer who owns the 415 building, had looked to renovate it with a plan by Holst Architecture that, while dazzling in its design, would have radically altered the facade and its multicolored panels. But that plan, for a renovated mixed-use building, was abandoned when the Great Recession arrived in 2008. Neither PICA nor Singer indicated, at least in Hughley's article, whether such changes would be made. But the Institute seems to have a sense that the building in its present state is special and beloved, even if it isn't a work of irreplacable architectural history. “It’s very iconic, in an understated way,” PICA executive director Victoria Frey said of the building in Hughley's article.
415 SW 10th (photo by Brian Libby)
Frey also said that renovations will begin right away, with a goal of PICA occupying the building by the end of December. That too would seem to indicate the facade will not be destroyed.
Moving to 415 SW 10th puts PICA at an emerging arts-and-culture epicenter. Just around the corner is the Ace Hotel, with its adjacent Cleaners storefront for special events right next door. Across the street is Living Room Theaters and Powells Books is a block to the north.
That the Institute could move to this ideally situated downtown building may also be at least in part a silver lining to the troubled economy. "Frey declined to disclose financial figures of the lease agreement but said that PICA will be getting the space for far below market rate in the neighborhood," Hughley reports, "because Singer Properties has no other pending development plans for the building. A budget for the renovations has not been determined, she said, but a large portion of construction materials and services are being donated by the contractors -- Andersen Construction, Howard S. Wright, Lease Crutcher Lewis and Walsh Construction."
If PICA can continue to raise proper funds, one can't help but wonder about the organization ultimately occupying all of the building, or at least all but its ground floor. Singer has been unable to fill the building for pretty much all of the past decade, even as the economy and particularly real estate were at the height of their boom times. PICA, while not deep pocketed, is world-renowned for its TBA fest and could use the second floor of this three-story building for the permanent exhibition space it has woefully lacked for years. I'd love to eventually see a capital campaign by PICA to purchase the building outright or at least secure a long-term lease that would allow it to think of the biulding as a quasi-permanent home.
Although there are still unanswered questions about the building's renovation and the ultimate presence PICA will have there, reading Hughley's article this morning had me leaping out of what is otherwise a near-catatonic daily morning wakeup stupor. I was excited imagining PICA becoming a relevant presence again in the 11 months of the year when TBA is not in progress, taking its rightful place again as a year round organization committed to visual arts as well as performing arts.
And after years of advocating, counter-intuitively to some, that this delightful if pedigree-less little gem be preserved, that a member of the arts community would save the Checkerboard rather than the real estate community seems only fitting. Sometimes to create singular architecture you've got to be creative enough see the potential of what is hiding in plain sight.