Back in June, a cohort 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.

During their week-long retreat, PICA’s innovation team began thinking about their audience as “fellow travelers moving on parallel journeys” with their nomadic programs. Image: Kristan Kennedy.

During their week-long retreat, PICA’s innovation team began thinking about their audience as “fellow travelers moving on parallel journeys” with their nomadic programs. Image: Kristan Kennedy.

What is one major “a-ha!” moment your team experienced during the retreat — and how will it influence how you move forward?

We entered our week-long retreat at the Airlie Center in Virginia thinking deeply about space: where we host our programs, where our audiences live and work and play, and where we can make the biggest artistic impact. But over the intensive week of conversations, and wrestling with facts and feelings, we realized that space itself might be a red herring.

PICA has a long history of nomadic practice, presenting work in new locations across Portland, and this has deeply ingrained us with a pied piper mentality of enticing audiences to follow us between programs. This perspective is very much along the lines of “if you build it, they will come,” framing the problem in terms of convincing an audience to move TO our events. In our minds, everything was to be solved by bigger billboards and more conversations with developers and realtors.

It wasn’t until our facilitator, Bill Noonan, recounted a story of hitchhiking as a young hippie that we realized we had the model all turned around. As he told it, PICA isn’t the destination on the road sign, but rather more like the van that picks up the hitchhiker—we’re fellow travelers moving on parallel journeys. With this simple observation, our focus suddenly shifted from place to people. Sure, some of our interventions through our work with the Innovation Lab will revolve around built environments and better signage for our many locations, but we’re now moving forward with a new attention to hospitality. What does it mean to host a traveler? It entails welcoming, feeding, sustaining, and engaging them. This is our challenge.

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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