By Photographers Sabina Poole and John Herman, University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts
I felt that I came away even more engaged with the concept of commonality among disparate communities, such as native born farm hands in Eastern Oregon; low income workers and unemployed throughout the state; and people of color here in Oregon, particularly in urban areas.
–Arlena Barnes, student in MLC, 2015
…. I didn’t know that cities strategically try to recruit the “creative class”. I feel that on a whole, society marginalizes artists and art, placing the creative sector into the realm of luxury and frivolousness when in reality it is the artists and makers that help enliven culture.
–Chanin Santiago, student in MLC, 2015
The University of Oregon in Portland School of Architecture and Allied Arts | Arts and Administration Program’s intensive six day workshop, Mobilizing Local Culture: Portland asked students and community members to learn from the Portland experience—the artist | maker movement, the built environment, the community culture—and to think about how that can inform the growth and vitalization of other communities. The course sought to connect students with engaging discussions with a range of civic leaders, organizers, cultural entrepreneurs and arts managers to unveil issues of sustainability, equality, economics, planning, cultural development and neighborhood change. The course brought speakers who addressed issues both from an historical perspective (the how and why Portland sustains a maker | creative | artisan economy) as well as the current and possible future of this economy remaining in place and thriving.
On May 29, 1973, Senate Bill 100 was signed into law and the Land Conservation and Development Commission was created. It was a glorious step in the direction of statewide planning programs to protect and enhance agricultural investment, and would eventually prove to allow a steady move towards greater citizen involvement in land use decisions, and to establishing methods to preserve Oregon’s land for food production rather than development. At its fundamental core, Senate Bill 100 was in defense of farmland and with the goal of retaining local food production. Thus began the historical perspective on how and why Portland has a food culture, and a propensity towards fresh and local, explained Katherine Deumling, “slow food” advocate and author of Cook With What You Have. Deumling was one of the many presenters who came to the week-long workshop to address students and add to the simmering conversation exploring Portland’s artisan economy. As an avid gardener, cook and food activist, Deumling depicted Portland’s food culture as one cultivated and solidified with the passage of Senate Bill 100—much of Oregon’s farms and ranch land was to subsequently remain with an agricultural focus
Fast forward forty years or so, it’s now 2015 and Portland is a vibrant place and still surrounded by a countryside of food production from Eastern Oregon and Hood River to the Willamette Valley and surrounded by hillsides to the west teeming with grapes on the vine. It’s a veritable food mecca blending the ingredients of farmer’s markets, food innovation centers, super-chefs, foodie festivals both large and small, beer brewers, coffee roasters, chocolatiers, bread-bakers, culturally specific marketplaces, and neighborhood blocks devoted to parked “food trucks” with a noteworthy amount of the meats, vegetables, grains, and fruits served grown within the region. Into this ambrosia comes the fresh ingenuity of makers and artisans who turn out fantastically unique goods among many varying items: handmade furniture, or a welded creation (think ADX) to a handcrafted bike, to a forged iron ax, to a hand sewn leather briefcase, to a New York runway worthy dress (think Portland Garment Factory). Add in more than just a few literary-inclined afficianados who love to print with press and ink and are willing and able to show you how to do it (and have the 100 year old equipment for you to work on—have you been to the Independent Publishing Resource Center?). Toss with creatives selling from collaborative shopfronts or online forums (ScrewLoose Studio and SoapBox Theory) to vanguard artists experimenting with what the term “public art” really means (try Surplus Space where artists open their home and invite you in with the cozy temptation of baked cookies or a neighborhood BBQ—after all, what a better way to get you to visit a private home and a chance to preview the Watcher Files in their make-shift garage). To “Know Your City” here in Portland it soon becomes apparent that while a relatively small metropolis, Portland has something unique to offer the world in the way of urban growth and vitalization.
Instructor of Mobilizing Local Culture, Bill Flood is a lauded Northwest consultant who specializes in the areas of planning and facilitation, teaching and training, equity and outreach, network and coalition development, and program development, management, research and evaluation in the area of community cultural development and has had a prolific career reflecting his ability to strengthen and utilize local culture toward community improvement. Flood’s interest and love of Portland makers and creatives clearly shows in his carefully crafted syllabus for the workshop—a schedule and itinerary that keeps students on the move all five days exploring, meeting, eating, and conversing with a selection of Portland’s friendly, interesting, and articulate artisans, crafters, writers, bakers, builders, artists—the DIY’ers who are with their own hands and ideas creating a city that utilizes and upholds the power of local culture.
The workshop was open to enrolled students at UO as well as anyone (registering via Academic Extension) interested in better understanding how to work in ways that incorporate, enhance and appreciate localness here, in Portland, where a quality of life and a creative economy can be found that is fostering a lively, livable city. As Flood explained, this is the main dish of Portland, Oregon –a city that with open arms embraces those who come here (or are from here to begin with) and are brave enough to try and make a living off ideas. It is a certain commonality of these ideas, a shared interest in creative and maker pursuits that has spawned sectors of cooperation and collaboration and has begun to define Portland as having an ethos all its own. It is this ethos embellished with the amuse-bouche novelty of naked bike rides at night; bridges gritty in steel or bathed in glowing light; world-class galleries, opera, ballet, and symphony and theatre; First Thursdays, Last Fridays awash with openings, celebrations, faires, and festivals; hipster flair and a comfortable just-be-yourself vibe that greets the resident and visitor alike. It is the Portland distilled essence that has captivated a global audience (many thanks are also due to Travel Portland, Portland’s own in-house advocate and the tireless entity working to let the world know what’s going on here). And while the fun extras, the icing on the proverbial cake, as it were, might at first seem to be merely the embellishments on a city’s economic vim and vigor, a deeper examination and a closer conversation reveals—all these aspects are what converge to make Portland a special place. A place others can learn from and adopt this city’s approach to “influence public planning, the built environment, the artist\ maker movement, community cultural development, local economics and neighborhood change” (Flood).
This is the story of Mobilizing Local Culture. Flood, himself a long-time Portland resident with vast knowledge about Portland’s culture and places of interest, has brought to the University of Oregon a chance for students and community folks to join together and experience what the world-wide phenomena of “Portland” or “Stumptown” really is. Knowing enough about the city to connect the students with formative makers and thought-leaders, Flood has designed a course that relishes in the Portland spirit. Within a few days, Flood led students to numerous locations throughout the city. Here are just a few illuminating the depth and breadth of the workshop’s scope:
- ADX where students received a first-hand tour of the facilities guided by owner and founder, Kelley Roy and Matt Preston, marketing director.
- Independent Publishing Resource Center with a tour of the facility by director, Pollyanne Birge.
- Portland Garment Factory with a tour of the maker space by co-owner, Britt Howard.
- A tour of public art and an introduction to several Portland-based artists including, Garrick Imatani, Gabe Flores (with Surplus Space), Screw Loose Studio’s Cleo Davis, Kayin Talton Davis of Soapbox Theory. The introductions were facilitated by Public Art Manager, Kristin Calhoun of Portland’s Regional Arts and Culture Council,
- A tour of the new Portland Mercado with Jamie Melton, marketing coordinator for the Hacienda Community Development Corporation
- Tabor Bread with owner, visionary and founder, Tissa Stein
- In-class presentations included talks by Lola Milholland, Creative Projects Manager at Ecotrust; Katherine Deumling, food activist; Raf Spielman “Portland Eater;” Portland State University’s Charles Haying, author of Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy and Portland’s Artisan Economy—Beyond the Myth of Romantic Localism
- Presentations from Ron Paul, executive director of the James Beard Public Market; Laura Guimond, PR manager of Travel Portland; and John Connor from Made Here PDX
These are only a sampling of the site visits and presentations that took place during the week. Students also experienced a community arts discussion with the Alberta Neighborhood, visited the Community Cycling Center in Northeast Portland, the Portland Farmer’s Market, and engaged in conversations on equity and sustainability at Velo Cult Bike Shop, Know Your City, Jade District.
By the end of the week, students expressed a sincere appreciation for the connections they had made and the conversations they had engaged in. Five days into the intensive study of Portland culture, it was now evident that a monumentally important factor of the success of Portland’s artisan economy is the willingness to be collaborative and extensive in both business focus and reach: the business or project must support or be connected to the sense of neighborhood, a sense of care or compassion for those doing the work, and the people who live here.
Pollyanne Birge commented on how her Independent Publishing Resource Center folds into the Portland neighborhoods and shares an approach of cooperation and collaboration making itself an integral part of the city’s fabric and well-being:
There are many facets of the IPRC outside of our studio on SE Division Street. We are a maker space focused on literary and visual arts, to be sure, but we are so much more than that. We produce a dynamic yearly Certificate Program in creative writing in collaboration with Marylhurst University, employing many notable and renowned regional writers as instructors. We also have two outstanding outreach programs: the Media Action Project that focuses on youth gaining the tools to constructively critique media and work through issues of body image, bullying, gender identity, masculinity and equity. From a Number to a Name is an IPRC prison writing program in collaboration with Columbia River Correctional Institute where we engage soon-to-be released inmates in a skills-based writing course that also acts as a cognitive therapeutic practice with students working through lived experiences through the written word. The IPRC is located in the SE industrial side and is very appreciative to be amongst some very inventive and talented folks hell-bent on community development and collaboration like ADX, Scout Books/Pinball Publishing, Newspace, Milagro Theatre, Revolution Hall, NARA, Nutcase Helmets, and many dozens of restaurants and cafes. Businesses and nonprofits alike, these independent and synergistic organizations create a rich cultural and community-minded landscape, that while gathered in a specific geographical location, also reflect the “collaboration instead of competition” attitude of Portland’s maker scene.
Birge also draws attention to the people her organization has served and made a difference with as a prime reason for their success, and testimony to how Portland’s artisan economy has far reaching and broad influences in an array of social and economic situations that exist in this city. Being open, being friendly, being receptive seems to be a part of Portland’s collaborator aesthetic. Extending the opportunities in the creative corridors of Portland to a diverse audience brings a feeling of goodwill as well as contributes to a sense that we are all here together and the maker economy needs, also, to be a helper economy.
Birge says the idea of helping as a socially grounded community goal is far reaching and cites as an example of IPRC’s impact in the larger context of community…
”Nathan McNair, a recent From a Number to a Name IPRC Prison Writing program graduate who was featured in the recent Oregon Cultural Trust “Voices of Oregon Culture” campaign: ‘Prison has a way of deadening all of the senses. I went through a program at the IPRC while I was incarcerated…it really put me in touch with humanity. You kind of shut that off in an institution. On a practical level, I spent the last six months of my incarceration writing everyday. So when I got out and started looking for work I was writing cover letters. I wanted to explain the reason why I was incarcerated. I did that very effectively; in fact, 30 days of my release I found a good job, one that can become a career. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the program—it reminded me of who I was.”’– Nathan McNair”
MLC student Chanin Santiago expressed similar views commenting that:
“I feel the most transformative piece to the class was the realization of the positive impact artisans can have on local economy.”
Further articulated by Portland Garment Factory’s Britt Howard as she explained part of their reason for their close-in east Portland location was to ensure their workers could remain employed with them and have easy access and transportation to and from work. This sense of artisans expressing an appreciation for the people that their business depends on, for the people who make the projects happen and are the workers who bring the ideas to life, was a prevalent, and tightly interwoven thread. Not obscuring the cultural backgrounds of neighborhoods was particularly evident with the Mercado project—the creation of a living room-like marketplace geared towards the Latino community but open to all. There is an attempt to have the predilection here to develop places and think about being successful while keeping in consideration the cultures that exist with the people who are here and to provide what is needed as well as what is wanted. There is also an appreciation for a learning ethic, and a prevailing encouragement of those trying to succeed with new ideas.
That might be one of the lessons of this economy, Portland as a micro-climate of Oregon’s greater economy, wears its heart on its sleeve: projects, movements, organizations, businesses can seem idealistic, quixotic at times, but if a neighborhood is supportive, a community comes together and talks together and shares goals, and resources exist to help create and realize dreams, and if the place remains affordable, the ascent could continue.
Laura Guimond of Travel Portland cites five essential elements to Portland’s continued success:
- Shared values (continued obsession for quality and cooperation)
- A willing and present audience
- A citizenry willing to spend money on products made here; a citizenry that loves the place and has an appreciation of the place (the role of nature and access to green space)
- An authenticity and a genuineness of spirit
Portland, as a city, is moving forward at a great rate, in development, in urban growth, in popularity; it remains to be seen if it can sustain a maker economy and preserve a special corner of idealism. So far, it seems very willing to try.
Flood is already making plans for Mobilizing Local Culture 2016, slated to be offered next summer here at the University of Oregon in Portland. Interested in the uniqueness of the Portland cultural and artisan landscape and how that can be applied to your own community? Join Flood and his insightful journey across the city next summer!
Following is a photo essay with images from several excursions:
When Willamette Week arts critic, Richard Speer wrote his WW swan song and prepared to vacate his long-held position as arts-man-about-town, First and Last Thursday aficionado, and bastion of the Portland art scene to direct his insight towards several book projects, he first published a list of Portland’s top ten art exhibitions, 2002-2015. His taste and preference was readily apparent in this list—visual extravagance and fantasia reign supreme….and a sort of checklist for Portland’s favored exhibitions during a 13 year period was remarkably established as Speer lauded the extravagant or what “used to be better.” Into this list came the Portland2010 exhibition curated by the one-and-only Cris Moss. It was an extraordinary show, by any means, a “jaw-dropping” group collective with the likes of Shelby Davis and Crystal Schenk, Marne Lucas and Bruce Conkle, among others. And in a list that only includes ten exhibitions for an entire city and for an art critic’s career, as Speer gleefully points out, Portland played host to “146 (Speer-attended) First Thursdays and more than 3,120 exhibitions,” being included is no small feat.
Well done, Mr. Moss.
This same week we also read of Cris Moss in an online forum called PORT. Here there are a few words wrangling with the idea of Moss as a wanted entity…and a brilliant curator, or words to that effect.
And, so we come to the story of Cris Moss, highly sought-after curator, lauded gallery director, himself a multi-media artist who with one simple swipe of a google search engine comes up as something of a fantastic individual, (“Moss’ programming is considered to be some of the most notable in the Portland area”). The University of Oregon’s White Box recently brought on Moss as the new gallery director and curator, or in the words of one Portland arts writer, “the UO likely snagged Moss…” Indeed, perhaps we did, and it was a good move, to be sure. Already Moss is connecting, concocting and devising ways to move forward with the White Box with strategies and plans that would, I imagine, make Richard Speer pause. Speer challenged Portland galleries and gallerists to clarify their missions, focus programming and include local as well as international artists as a way to connect with the Portland populace. Calling for a cross-pollination of arts, dance, music, Speer left us with a sage prediction: the only way to save our city’s arts scene is to infuse it with public interest and active participation.
If Moss continues to rely on his pluck and circumstance, things, undoubtedly, will go well. He has much to call upon to help guide his position at the White Box. Hailing from the remoteness of a Billings, Montana upbringing, Moss remembers as a young child his parents constantly traveling and toting their offspring to historical museums, arts experiences and cultural excursions all over the eastern United States. The family always returned to homebase in Montana which only accentuated the remoteness and isolation to a youthful Moss. Surrounding the family with a plethora of “artist friends,” the Moss family saturated their children in a vibrant atmosphere of arts appreciation and comfort.
But despite a vibrant social exposure to arts and culture and a fairly affluent rural-based life (at those formative years committed only to the pursuit of snowboarding), Moss found the beautiful but desolate environment only propelled and heightened his curiosity and intrigue with what he saw on those frequent family vacations to large cities. His youthful exuberance culminated in his leaving home, he says “running away” at the age of 15, relocating to Seattle, Washington where very briefly he became a homeless kid of the streets. It was rough living for the teenager and Moss recalls eagerly returning to a high school situation in order to complete his education. He attended Garfield High School in Seattle’s Central District and experienced, for the first time, a diverse student body where Moss, as a Caucasian raised in the rural climate of Billings, Montana was now in the minority. He left the school dropping out again. But by his late teens, Moss was enrolled at NOVA high school, an alternative learning experience in Seattle. Here, he thrived taking courses in photography, and surviving on his wages earned working at night for various Seattle restaurants in jobs from dishwasher to lead cook; his mode of transportation, simply, a skateboard.
Eventually, Moss ventured back to Montana to attend University of Montana and turned his attention to a focus on the arts. He enrolled as a non-degree student excelling in his courses in ceramics, environmental studies, probability and statistics, and judo. He found himself immersed in his ceramics studies and entered a competition, NCECA, National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts –a competition his entry won.
Ceramics captivated Moss and he studied toward a BFA from the University of Montana in ceramics. Stopping mid-way through to move to Minneapolis where he worked for a snowboard shop and took classes at the local community college, Moss returned to UM, with the intention to finish his studies, however, friends had migrated to Oregon to Mount Hood and the snowboarding scene in the mid-1990s. Moss followed relocating to Mount Hood and living the life of a snowboarder on the mountain daily. A year later he moved to Portland where he got a job as a bike messenger and enrolled at Portland State University studying photography. From PSU, Moss transferred to Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) where he worked with and studied ceramics (mostly sculpture) and pursued his growing interest in video, combing the two. He still had plenty of time on the slopes and worked part-time as a lift operator and snowboard instructor to support season passes at Mt Hood.
Moss’ education in the arts quickly took precedence over his snowboarding lifestyle and he ceased boarding competitively to turn his attention to art school. By 2000, Moss had graduated from PNCA with a BFA in general fine arts. He had begun working closely with Portland gallerists and arts leaders, Elizabeth Leach, and (when he had been at PNCA) with Sally Lawrence (PNCA president), Gerry Snyder (PNCA dean) and the Philip Feldman Gallery. It was while working with the gallery directors that Moss was given the opportunity to work directly with the artists. This experience allowed him to learn the formalities of getting work into a gallery and instigated a broad range of connections. His interest in gallery work and representing artists quickly blossomed into the series of Donut Shops Moss opened –the inaugural shop being at 2nd and Alder in the SE Industrial area of Portland.
Moss used his experience and expertise he had learned from teaming with Feldman Gallery and working with artists in the Donut Shop ventures to combine video with sculpture installation and work in new ways with artists on the cutting edge of these technologies. Moss attributes the success of his Donut Shop exhibitions to “not being afraid, just talking to people.”
As his career grew and the success of his collaborations became evident, Moss was carefully formulating his philosophy on working with artists and creating meaningful exhibitions. The turning point came in the early 2000s when his work was written about in Seattle’s The Stranger,
All right, it’s in Portland. But gallery founder and curator Cris Moss is doing something I’ve heard a lot of artists talk about, but never finally do: starting a gallery that changes location with each show. This not only alleviates the ever-present real-estate problem, but also creates the challenge of a changing space. The first show, which concentrates on alternative media, features the work of Moss, Seungho Cho, Cynthia Pachikara, Nan Curtis, and Ginelle Hustrulid. Opening reception Fri Aug 4, 6-9 pm. The Donut Shop, 630 SE Third. Through Aug 18.–The Stranger
In June of 2001 Moss was invited to bring his Donut Shop #4 to the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington in what Moss describes as “[his] career taking a turn…[he] was getting attention in The Stranger..and now Whatcom was offering [him] a budget.” Being offered financial incentive to launch his Donut Shop was a somewhat revolutionary concept in the career of Moss who thus far had existed on the precipice of funding and accomplished most of his installations sans monetary assistance.
Hand in hand with his burgeoning career, Moss was developing a keen sense of how he wanted to work and the best practices in the field—and he was finding himself devoted to the idea that “each artist must be compensated and when there is funding, each artist must receive a cut of the money, a stipend,” he says. This is the Moss Mantra, so to speak, and is key in the support of visual artists —they are not just to be capitalized upon for their work– people need to make a living,” Moss encourages. The early 2000s were a time of Moss focusing on work of others, helping artists begin and maintain careers, and establishing connections with institutions, as he comments, “I had stopped putting my own work in the shows.” This was about to change.
Moss, now back in Portland, wanted to go to graduate school. Within a year he was heading to New York to study at NYU for studio practices and working as the director of the Steinhart Gallery in NYC.
In his first week of graduate school at NYU, Moss enjoyed a prestigious studio in the East Village where he had a pristine view of New York’s Twin Towers….until the fateful September 11. When the towers fell, Moss’ view changed, metaphorically and literally. He became interested in how this event saturated and effected different markets and sought to explore more the use of space, the absence of tangible objects and the presentation of physical entities and the interrelation of objects placed into spaces. Moss continued working with an internship at the Swiss Institute of Contemporary Art where he was involved in cutting edge exhibitions and helped with the installations and assisted the artists individually by brainstorming and “having fun with” the projects. Moss was delving further into his own work ethos and his philosophy on “inviting artists to go crazy with the spaces” was really taking shape. He encouraged the artists he worked with to “push the bounds of what the work is and to explore what [their] next level is…”
This work allowed Moss to realize that his “larger projects are wonderful to develop smaller projects and to let people see [one’s] talent in a different way.” As his curatorial practice flourished, Moss noticed that his “curating was becoming [his] own art practice.” And that his belief in the artist, first and foremost, as a person to be treated with respect and in a fair and considerate transaction-like process of monentary compensation, was surfacing as tantamount to his work practice.
In 2005 Moss was back in Portland, this time a willing-to-put-down-roots father and soon to be the curator at Linfield College’s gallery. He was offered teaching positions at Linfield as well, to instruct students in art and studio classes for digital photography and graphic design, gallery management and curatorial practices.
Ten years passed. And, this winter a career move back to the metropolis of Portland: Moss joined the White Box staff in January 2015. He comes to the University of Oregon with a varied work background where he has learned from his experiences to make good use of his education based in the arts. Addressing his education, he asserts, “it is a degree in problem solving, a degree in which you take your own steps and a degree in which you have to keep your head in what’s going on, build networks, and stay involved. You can’t be afraid, you have to look for your own solutions and promote your own ideas…don’t be afraid.”
Along with his new career at the White Box, Moss is delving into videography projects that began while he was still at Linfield. Paradoxically, and yet another curiousity-inspiring aspect of the Moss career path, he has been the executive director of production and videographer for the Ultimate Cage Fighting (Sportfight) events –filming the fighters in the ring, directing the camera crew and creating commercials for sport cage fighting.
I asked Moss to comment further on his goals for the future and for the White Box and, just for fun, on his dream job. He responded with a mindfully delivered statement punctuated by reason, and experience. His reliance on drawing from an adventuresome and fearless life well-lived and an education grounded firmly in the very essence of what he loves and holds dear stands as evidence of Moss’ genuine dedication to his field, his craft, his art. He practices what he preaches.
The Portland art scene has a long history of supporting contemporary and cutting edge exhibits. With the unique location, non-profit status, and facility (there is nothing that compares to the Gray Box in the region), the White Box stands in a position to build a foundation and reputation that pushes the Portland art scene even farther. By bringing in local, national , and international artists, the WB can promote and challenge some of the preconceived notions of what qualifies as art. The curatorial role of the WB will serve as a platform to make the WB a renowned venue for consistent, quality programming.
Oregon is one of the lowest ranked states for money allocated to the arts. I believe at one time it was the second lowest, it still might be. I am working on building a large enough operating budget that can support artists by not charging them to use the venue and in turn even giving them honorariums. As an institution that promotes and teaches professional art practices we need to treat artists that we work with in a professional manner. It is their profession, we house it, we should support it.
Recent meetings on the main campus in Eugene with the Department of Art and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art have illustrated a desire to forge strong ties between UO Eugene campus and the WB. The individuals that I spoke with share my concept to bridge any gap and are eager to start the process. I would like to initiate a format that brings visiting artists that are exhibiting at the WB to Eugene for artist talks and one-on-one studio visits with both faculty and students, and vice versa, bringing Eugene-planned lectures to Portland. The Schnitzer and WB could collaborate on exhibitions. This format will help in securing funds that allow us to pay traveling expenses and honorariums for the artists. The benefits of quality programming should benefit all of UO.
I’m not sure what my dream job would be. My thoughts change on a regular basis. I think that is good. As the world changes so should our involvement. Although, it would be nice to be a guide for extreme back-country snowboarding. –Cris Moss
Thank you to Cris Moss, for your time and insight.
A Selection of Work by Cris Moss….