Last week, a posse of PICA staff, board members, and artist traveled to the Airlie Center in Virginia for an intensive, five-day focused retreat as part of EmcArts’s Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts Round 8 program. As one of the four grantee organizations – including Northrop at University of Minnesota, Redmoon, and The Theater Offensive — we worked together on crucial decisions, realized new strategies, and achieved consensus about next steps in tackling our adaptive challenges. Patrick Leonard, our Communications Director, is writing about the process over on EmcArt’s ArtsFwd; we’ll occasionally post his dispatches here on the PICA blog to share our progress.

Audiences at Big Art Group's "The People–Portland" at TBA:12. Photo: Joseph Webb.

Audiences at Big Art Group’s “The People–Portland” at TBA:12. Photo: Joseph Webb.

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?

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