PICA’s Questions for the City

ArtsFwd asks the Innovation Lab grantees: What is the biggest question you and your team are wrestling with as you head into the intensive retreat?

TBA:12 Festival audiences watching Big Art Group's The People—Portland. Photo: Joseph Webb.
TBA:12 Festival audiences watching Big Art Group’s The People—Portland. Photo: Joseph Webb.

This is the first post from Patrick Leonard about Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s experience in the Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts. We asked him to reflect on the team’s thinking before heading to a five-day focused retreat. Read more from the other Lab participants here.

What is the biggest question our team is wrestling with as we head into the intensive retreat?

How do we operate in the city? Without a central facility for nearly all of our 18 years, the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA)
 developed a nomadic practice of presenting projects in borrowed spaces all across Portland. We know that this model makes us unique among our peers who are tied up with more traditional venues: it has generated public excitement about our work, it has made the most of a small budget, and it has allowed us to say yes to projects that other institutions must turn down.

For years, we’ve pursued an “if you build it they will come” approach, but the landscape has changed dramatically in Portland, and for PICA. Rental markets have rebounded, leaving fewer close-in warehouse vacancies. The local scene has welcomed two younger facility-based art centers. New demographics and growing neighborhoods have shifted the terms of activity and engagement. And we’ve built our own downtown hub, home to offices, a library, and a flexible space for a variety of activities.

So we ask: do we still need to move? Should we set down deeper stakes? Should we move even farther afield? Will people follow us if we change neighborhoods again? Does our model still best serve the needs of artists? These are complex and wide-ranging questions that cross all sectors of our work: our artists, our audiences, our financial realities, our marketing, and our growth.

And that’s the challenge we will face in our work in the Innovation Lab: how do we site projects in town, while addressing these competing and shifting concerns?

About PICA’s Innovation Lab project

Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA)’s project asks: In considering our ongoing model of using temporary, pop-up spaces and alternative venues to site work in spaces appropriate to artists’ needs, how can we challenge our assumptions about the value of this model? How can we preserve our practice’s core values while reshaping it?

Patrick Leonard is the Communications Director at the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art. He crafts and executes PICA’s communications strategy, continually seeking new ways to engage audiences and build context around contemporary art. In addition to marketing and public relations, he is responsible for PICA's website content and spearheaded the creation of PICA's first mobile presence in 2010, and a complete redesign of pica.org in 2013. With PICA’s move to a new facility in 2012, Patrick established the West End Portland neighborhood co-op—a consortium of independent retailers, restaurants, and nonprofits in downtown Portland, Oregon (wepdx.com).