The End

I was asked by Cameron Hawkey to answer a few questions about Try Harder PDX for an article he was working on. I felt like the combination of his questions and my responses made for a good public ending to this project, and so this will be my final posting to this site. I had hoped to have more reviews before ending the project, but work sometimes had me out of town for as much as a month at a time, so I couldn’t even manage a review a month. I had, at one point, offered to pass the site along to another person, but ultimately, they decided against taking on the project. Portland needs criticism—of both its artists and arts institutions. It is only through utterly honest, unflinching, criticism that the arts community will find the words to make a case for itself and end the current institutional contraction.

1) What’s the story behind starting Tryharderpdx? Why did you decide to start a blog of art criticism for Portland?

Frustration is pretty much the story. Frustration with the dulling effects of collective back patting. Frustration with seeing artists growth stunted by a lack of honest feedback. Frustrated at heads turning away when somebody expresses a critical opinion about an artwork, as if just hearing a “negative” thought might cause injury.

2) Your writing is anonymous. Aside from the appeal of mystery, why? Some say anonymity is merely used to deny accountability. Will you ever reveal your identity to the public?

The primary inspiration is Foucault who offered a vision of the world in which people are actually critical thinkers, and can evaluate a text to determine its operation and make an informed judgement about its usefulness based on their specific critical lens. Also, traditionally, criticism has been anonymous. The history of anonymous critical writing is far longer than the history of branded criticism. Another aspect is that I used to write monthly for two different art magazines. People who knew me for my critical writing tended to treat me as a contact, a delicate conduit to some ragged notion of exposure. That type of attention never interested me. I also welcome the chance to use a persona, to perform thoughts in a way I couldn’t while writing for an advertising-driven publication. It’s all of those reasons combined. 

Aside from all of that, plenty of people know who I am. Its only really anonymous if you’re out of my orbit. The site was up for less than a day before the first person identified me. I only have so many stories, and not so many people speak like me, so if you’ve ever met me, there’s not much mystery. The galleries I work with know about the blog, but they all have such a deep level of knowledge about how artists have engaged with the world about them, they don’t see anything untoward. 

3) You've moved on to another city and you're parking your domain. Why stop now? Is art criticism something you'll be continuing in a new city?

I tried to use a skill I had to give Portland something I thought it needed. Portland is a rather established scene that is receding, because nobody has really made the case for what art does, why it should be supported. Its economic history is twined with business and tourism, but now it needs a level of sustained self critique to get out of its intellectual stagnation, something to say "Now that tourists are coming here for the food and ignoring the art, we still matter." 

If I find that there is a need for my voice here, I’ll pick up a pen. I had intended to stay out of local art politics here, but in a matter of days I started working on establishing a new nonprofit in partnership with an LGTBQ+ activist and a federal defense attorney. I think the key is trying to figure out where ones skills would do the most good in a particular moment. Right now the object is to help grow a more nascent scene, that’s a different task, a different persona, different goals and a completely different approach. 

4) You seem to be very disillusioned with the arts scene in Portland. What's your beef? Is it specific to Portland, with Portland's artists, or is it a broader issue?

My beef is with hypocrisy, with people who want to make sure they know one’s pronoun, but don’t care so much about buying art from galleries that are known to steal from their artists. They care so much about your feelings, unless they are ripping food from your mouth. It’s a beef with people who get the feels from typing #metoo, but don’t believe local victims of censorship. It’s a beef with people who talk incessantly about community, inclusion and support, but who refuse to speak up about injustices in their own community for fear of losing their position or damaging their “hustle.” If I had to generalize the Portland art scene, I’d say it was a bunch of cowards who harness current political platitudes for self aggrandizement.

5) Tryharderpdx labels both galleries and non-profits as “poorly run, ideationally bankrupt, divisive cults of personality.” Who’s doing it right?

Private Places. Here/There. Fuller Rosen.  They are each truly independent voices that are thoughtful about what they show, digging deep into their own intellectual resources to give Portland what they feel is the best of their specific understanding of art. I think Holding Contemporary and Melanie Flood Projects are also places that should be supported. 

In terms of established commercial galleries, PDX Contemporary is the best from a values perspective. Jane has, at times, exhibited her share of crazy, but she is comfortable with a role of supporting her artists, and by any account I’ve heard, doesn’t try to meddle. I think that Nationale also falls into the category of artists first. 

6) What are examples of other cities in the U.S. with energizing, well-funded, thriving arts scenes? Who is Portland being compared to?

Your question promotes the falsity that Portland’s art scene would shift dramatically with in influx of money, that capital is the only thing keeping Portland from being New York. From my perspective, complaints of poor funding are just deflecting bad management. Look at how much gets spent on TBA, yet it’s designed for tourists; it’s never had any intention of enriching the lives of local artists, let alone everyday Portlanders. Local artists go to the TBA bar at the end of the day more than they go to the performances. 

I can point to 6-digits in lost donations at PAM because curators there either didn’t reply to emails, left people hanging for months, or simply didn’t understand an offer and couldn’t manage the research—and if I can point to these sorts of losses, there’s probably dozens of other people who can too. The money PAM is losing to the changes in RACC funding is chump change to what they are losing to their lack of professional standards. Vision is far more the issue than money, both patrons and artists need to be more critical and vocal about where arts money goes. 

In terms of what I compare Portland to, I construct a vision of what Portland ought to be doing through written and oral accounts of how art scenes have emerged, faded, expanded, reemerged, etc. I look to a composite of histories of places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Detroit, Berlin and try to understand the conditions that resulted in various expansions and contractions in those art scenes. I then consider how Portland is doing creating conditions that are conducive to both art making and art viewing. It’s not about trying to keep up with the Joneses. Portland will never be New York, but it should strive to create the best possible conditions for its artists. 

7) Are there any art scandals in Portland that the people deserve to know about?

I know that WW wont print names so lets do it like this: There’s that gallery that’s been accused of stealing from artists at various points over about 25 years, and their erstwhile protege has a gallery that’s been accused of stealing from artists, and they both keep a close orbit to a local ultra wealthy collector and so people feel they have to put up with any and all measure of shit because somehow this grotesque cabal represents the big time and if they just shut up and take it they might end up in a third tier Miami art fair. And then people appear on the scene like the “feminist” who encouraged one of her artists to trade sex for an exhibition opportunity, and this charming man who gives advice to pretty much any organization that will listen, based on his history as a businessman, meanwhile he’s lost, literally, tens of thousands of dollars because he either can’t or won’t balance his checkbook.

The scandal of Portland isn’t even that artists will degrade themselves for these small crumbs; the scandal is that the crumbs Portland offers fell off some nasty piece of Costco pastry.  

8) If you were a wealthy patron of the arts, what would you do for Portland’s art scene?

As a hypothetical rich guy, I would give each department at PAM an acquisitions endowment on the condition that the museum restore, in earnest, the position of Chief Curator, and hire a director competent to support that curator’s vision. I would encourage some level of curatorial housecleaning, starting with the stunningly incompetent Julia Dolan. 

Beyond that, my imaginary dollars would create a space specifically for emerging artists within the region. It would be a place to show and connect for people who have demonstrated a potential, but are still figuring things out. Learning to mount a show is a skill that develops from practice, and there aren’t enough opportunities for beginners to hone those skills. PICA’s Precipice fund is so idiotic. It assumes that within every artist is a hidden administrator who can juggle nonprofit administration, a studio practice, a day job and ostensibly have some measure of private life. It’s unrealistic and sets artists up to fail. They even explain that program with the “teach a man to fish” proverb. They use a bromide that illustrates a conservative worldview that stands directly in opposition to everything else PICA says it is trying to do. PICA could put their existing infrastructure to such better use on behalf of local artists, but they simply don’t have the management talent to figure it out.

My hypothetical patronage would fund a second art space that works to help artists graduate out of the emerging field, focusing on exhibiting longer term, more refined projects. It would only give solo shows, and it would never interfere with or second guess the artist’s intentions. It may show artists from outside the region, but its thrust would be regional. It would prepare artists for export, resulting, eventually, in a national reputation. 

For each of these, the director would have to be focused on building bridges with the community, not pandering. Art does change the world, but it does so by identifying the social unconscious, not by shouting political buzzwords. A director needs to welcome people into the organization, to be a friendly face that makes introductions and stays above the fray. Once an artist is given a show, they need to be left to do the their work without undue influence. (To be clear, there is a difference between critical feedback from peers and critics and institutional art direction.)

My imaginary dollars would be spent regularly with honest galleries invested in bigger ideas and intellectually bolder work. 

9) Do you have a clear definition for what is and isn’t art?

Art is what an artist says is art. Beyond that, it’s about interpretation. Does one accept the artists statement or take the work in a different direction? Should the work be examined through a formal or conceptual lens? What are the historical references or philosophical dialogs that relate to it, and then how do you begin to determine quality given a specific project and set of thoughts. It becomes very complex, very quickly which makes it so maddeningly wonderful. Anything can be art, but that doesn’t mean anything termed art is either interesting or important, and that’s a tough concept for a lot of people to understand. 

Work becomes interesting because multiple dialogs emerge from the same work. I wrote about the sublimated zeal for the Portland Trailblazers in Avantika Bawa’s show at PAM. The exhibition had been written about a number of times, and every article stuck rigidly to the terms of the press release. In just a couple months the dialog seemed unbelievably stale. I thought Avantika would enjoy a text that took into account how she spoke of her inspirations in more casual circumstances. I thought she would enjoy seeing a totally different take on the work. She pretty much hated it, and wrote to tell me as much. Yet for me it was an earnest and necessary contribution to the very possibility of what that work might be. 

10) What art gets you out of the house to go see it? Why not look at it on Instagram and call it a day?

Instagram images versus art in the wild is like watching an episode of Dynasty versus talking on the porch with a neighbor. Art is an intellectual process in which thoughts are conveyed, subjectively and unevenly, through materiality. Instagram gives you the broad strokes, a bit of flash, it’s all Alexis slapping Krystle. There’s no possibility of looking closer, because there’s nothing about the work to be gleaned from seeing its processed image devolve into pixels. Art in person is more expository, it tells a longer, more nuanced story. 

Where I am right now, I have to travel 75 miles for a museum, and I do so without prejudice. Its a small, three room space, but the director is fantastic. We became fast friends and she’s making the proverbial silk purse from a sow’s ear. She’s all about solution, and only mentions her budget in the context of how she subverts it. That’s a real arts professional. She once mentioned an idea for a show that sounded more like something that would happen at MoMA than a tiny little museum in the middle of nowhere. I thought she was just spinning fantasies, but then she started explaining where the work would come from. She was serious; she’ll make it happen. The depth of knowledge about what was collected around her, which she acquired very rapidly, and the determination to historicize it in her museum blew me away. I have never seen that level of curatorial talent in Portland. Nothing. Even. Close.

I’ll check out art anywhere. In inspecting a building for investment purposes, I noticed a tenant’s paintings that I felt added depth to the staid dialog of identity. I flagged her in my mind, if I can find or create the right circumstances, I’ll contact her about exhibition. It’s just about looking closely, trying your best to understand what the work is doing and how it fits with the dialogs you want to interrogate at a given moment.

Why can't you be more like...


I recently received a message from somebody who wanted to know why the more political things I post don’t look more like Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project, and more specifically, why I wasn’t writing articles like Josephine Zarkovich’s Arranging the Deck Chairs.

The simple answer is that I’m writing to artists, not to a general public. I’m writing to people who, ostensibly, value irreverence and rebellion, who think about the local arts ecosystem and do a face palm. I am not concerned with some imagined political center. I’m interested in ideas that travel from the bottom up, and that’s how I approach the blog. I have nothing bad to say about Ms. Zarkovich, she is a force, and her dedication is always impressive. But I’m doing something different.  

But let’s talk about taxes anyway. The Portland Arts Tax, had the potential to lead the nation in municipal funding for arts programming, yet it’s a case study in managerial incompetence. While the Arts Tax is mentioned by outsiders as proof of Portland’s liberal credentials, it is not a progressive tax that spreads the financial burden equally among those with the means to contribute. It’s an abusive, regressive tax law that is punishing to those at the lowest incomes while remaining utterly negligible to people of means. In essence, Portland “liberals” voted for a law so regressive it has a Mississippi drawl. 

The arts tax, in case you are one of the roughly 25%-30% who avoid paying it, is a flat rate of $35. Once your household income exceeds the poverty line, any adult  member of the household contributing more than $1,000 to that income has to pay $35. 

A two person household in which one person earns $1,000,000 while the other has no income would pay $35.

A two person household with a combined income of $16,500 with each person contributing equally would owe $70. 

Yes. The household that would own no federal tax, no state tax, and would receive free state health coverage, for whom food insecurity is the norm, would pay twice as much as the millionaire couple in $1,000 sneakers. I wish I was making this up!

The the bulk of the Arts Tax money goes to public schools. The millionaire probably lives in an area where existing property tax levies give their local schools a dramatic advantage, because the money the wealthy couple pays in property tax stays in their wealthy area. The Arts Tax, however, has our hypothetical working poor subsidizing the arts education of wealthy children. 

Administering the Arts Tax costs nearly twice as much as voters approved, so the City Council decided to lift the spending limits on administering the tax without seeking voter approval, fearing that if the tax were to be revisited, it would be repealed. And that’s the rub. This tax will eventually be repealed, and there will be prejudice against the arts community for its perceived overreach. You can’t expand something that people hate, so rather than being a stepping stone to European style government arts funding, it is unlikely to ever offer anything more than it does now, and even then its days are numbered.

The arts community should have been critiquing this back in 2012, in the lead up to voting on Measure 26-146. Somebody in a position of leadership should have had the understanding and foresight to recognize that punishing the poor in the name of art will only come back to bite your ass.

Lisa DeGrace Exits Blue Sky Gallery

LDG ANgel.jpg

Lisa DeGrace will be leaving her position as Executive Director of Blue Sky Gallery. After only 3 1/2 years, she can say something that no other exiting director has been able to say, “I have made a difference.” 

Blue Sky Gallery is an organization so stuck in the past they’ve had the same Board President since the Ford Administration. Their curatorial team, or Exhibition Committee, is a group of mostly elderly, mostly white, mostly men who may or may not have any background in photography. And yes, it is a photography gallery. They routinely alienate newcomers who might bring a difference of opinion to the committee, and can become befuddled by such common practice as photographers not printing to standard sized sheets of paper. 

Lisa was able to wrest a tiny bit of power away from this Exhibition Committee to form a Diversity Committee which, among other things, sought out professional curators, and presented people of color as artists, rather than merely the subject of travel photography. She treated the organization like a serious gallery with an educational mission rather than a clubhouse. To accomplish something within this petrified forest, I imagine every day of those 3 1/2 years looked something like this:


Thank you, Lisa. You tried so much harder. Your contributions were noticed, meaningful and appreciated. 


With every change in our fragile arts ecosystem, the landscape shifts a little. Some people see opportunities to raise their influence while others find their spotlight has dimmed. Now that classes at OCAC have ended and the final commencement ceremony has concluded, it seems appropriate to think about how the collapse of OCAC, and the scandalous lack of dialog around its closure, affects Portland’s ever-shrinking art scene. 


Jordan Schnitzer The undisputed biggest winner to emerge from the closure of OCAC is Jordan Schnitzer. He’s not just funding the projects he wants to see realized, he’s now turning out the lights on the things he’s bored with. Traditionally, major donors assert control by offering checks with stipulations, but when Schnitzer publicly announced OCAC’s ending, and then put his weight behind Catlin Gabel’s purchase of the property, he entered new philanthropic territory. He now wields the power to decide the life and death of local institutions, so expect an art scene that increasingly reflects his values. Until somebody in Portland figures out how to make arts philanthropy a competitive sport for the wealthy, as it is in larger cities, it’s Jordan’s town.

PNCA In a story of poetic justice, PNCA apparently tried to initiate a merger with OCAC in the not so distant past and received a response that might have seemed something of a middle finger. But in this institutional rivalry, its the once-dejected who reaps the spoils. PNCA got the benefit without the burden—those 100 or so revenue sources students as well as their choice of equipment from the erstwhile campus without adding any debt or taking on the financial responsibilities of a second campus.

OCAC Board of Directors I don’t have access to the minutes of their meetings, but from what I’ve seen of tax documents and heard from faculty, this seems to be yet another Portland do-nothing board. Finances aren’t working out? Leverage everything you have until there’s nothing left. Incompetent president? Whatevs, firing people is like hard and and stuff. And yet nobody is calling out the board. They let the institution they were entrusted with fail and insulated themselves from repercussions, having allegedly manipulated faculty into shutting down criticism of their actions during the closure process. (More on that later.) The board gets credit for their cultural contributions without anybody ever hearing how disastrous those contributions actually were. 

Denise Mullen She got her non-disparagement agreement, so other than spotty fragments of internet gossip, there isn’t much out there to steer potential employers away. She’ll spend a bit more time posting foggy landscapes to social media captioned with the cryptic self-reflection of a sexagenarian emo, then she’ll be back in the six-digit saddle, ready to do for some other college all that she did for OCAC. 


Portland OCAC offered something unique, a perspective that just can’t be found in other places. The education the school offered was patently out of fashion, and attempts to seem more relevant were often misplaced. But it was a haven for students who were concerned with raw power of materials. OCAC offered the originality that Portland pretends to embrace. The loss of this school moves Portland a little closer to its sad future as an AirBNB for the tech class in which food culture and liberal politics are even paler gimmicks than they are now.

Disjecta In a tone deaf fundraising campaign, Disjecta tried to raise money from the specter of OCAC’s closure! Tacky, right? Totally. I know! And so did a whole bunch of other people who found the letter insulting. I don’t know if they ever hit their $20,000 goal; I stopped watching after a month when donations had long stagnated a little past the half way mark. Who was it who said Disjecta couldn’t survive the loss of Bryan Suereth? They are as boorish as ever! 

Students OCAC offered a particular type of education. It wasn’t a highly ranked school, but that’s because it was so far out of the mainstream that wasn’t ranked. It was a place for people who wanted strong foundational skills as the cornerstone of an art practice based upon material and workmanship. For the most part, displaced students will end up at PNCA, a low-ranking regional art college that has never really managed to distinguish itself for anything other than being located in Portland.

OCAC Adjunct Faculty Every time an adjunct is asked to do something beyond the scope of their paid duties, which is often, it comes with an unspoken threat of unemployment. Adjuncts, who are fully subject to institutional whim, are forever conscious of remaining in good standing as that’s the only route to maintaining their paltry salaries and making sure they are remembered in the rare case of advancement opportunity. After the school’s closure it looks like their severance package is worth even less than a potential unemployment claim—and they can only choose one.

Stuart Emmons Admittedly I had private run-ins with him as he attempted to dictate the tone of my Instagram postings. I eventually blocked him after two failed requests for him to cease contact. I’m sure you’ve forgotten, but Emmonds is the guy who wrote that entirely unconvincing op-ed that was published by The Oregonian. He emerged with such confidence, touting a string of preservationist wins, and near-wins. (Near-wins are losses if you haven’t figured out the lingo of positive thinking.) Yet he never presented a coherent plan to save OCAC. Nothing even close. In the end, I can only verify that he raised about one 500th of one percent of the funds necessary to purchase the campus. If he raised that amount every month, he would have saved the campus in just 170 short years. 

Winners who are Losers

At the point that Jordan Schnitzer announced OCAC was not financially viable, the efforts to save the school should have begun in earnest by circumventing the people who let the school fail. The main objectives should have been neutralizing Schnitzer’s statement and raising awareness of what it means for Portland to have a school like OCAC. At the point that news of the closure was made public, everybody involved in the school should have been hitting social media in an attempt to attract the attention of traditional media and enter the larger public consciousness. The overall message should have highlighted what the school contributes, while placing blame for its finances on something specific and fixable, creating a perception that the ship can be righted.

Instead, certain faculty were apparently told of secret plans from within the board to try to save the school. These faculty went to work discouraging students from criticizing board members, had students contacting strangers online to request removal of posts, and harassed people writing about the closure in ways they found unacceptable. So these faculty who pretty much failed at shared governance and seemed to fall for every lie thrown at them by the administration, it now seems fell for one more lie. There is now grumbling that this group of faculty were deliberately provided with false information in order to minimize scrutiny of the board. Quelle surprise. Instead of drawing necessary attention to their cause, the efforts of these faculty created an information vacuum. Schnitzer's assertion of non-viability went publicly unchallenged while student protests felt managed and perfunctory. Social media postings were more maudlin than incendiary, as everybody played their role.

By most every account I've heard from both faculty and students, Denise Mullen was an incompetent administrator, but some of the faculty weren’t any better. When the school needed a massive push to draw attention to its cause, they even attacked their own students to shut them up. And in this vacuum, whether by design, opportunism, or obliviousness they negotiated severance packages for themselves which I’ve heard from a reputable source are 100% of their annual pay.

Finally, Some Answers

In terms of figuring out what happened with OCAC’s finances, the two most obvious places to look are at fundraising and admissions efforts. The amount spent on fundraising is recorded on the annual reports that the school files with the IRS, which don’t seem to change much as the college’s financial issues worsened. In terms of how the admissions effort were handled, it’s harder to get a clear picture through public records. The following is a description of how how the Admissions department was administered in the years prior to the closure announcement that comes from a source within OCAC.

“There were three directors of admissions under the recent president. Massive turnover in her tenure (every other office too) All tried hard to do their best but were hamstringed by DM's micro managing and low budget. Between admissions director 2 and three there was a 1.5 year lull. 2016-2017 there was no full time director of admissions! The last DoA had great energy and did what he could with what he had but ultimately resigned and sent a letter to the board that cited an inability to do his job under Mullen.

During the lull she was unable to hire a replacement. At one point she hired a woman from Chicago who negotiated a deal to stay in Chicago... Not sure if she ever actually did anything but I heard she was hired.

Recruiting was not a high priority for some reason. OCAC only ever had two recruiters when PNCA had 8+. Not nearly enough investment in admissions to make the numbers needed.”

When faculty lost their retirement benefits at the end of 2013, it was kept quiet. There wasn't any real public protest. One can say that it was an internal matter that was best kept private or they might say that it presented an opportunity for outside intervention. What was the discussion like among faculty?

Austerity measures started fall of 2013 with the studio managers going from full time to part time. Then spring 2014 the 4% of salary contribution to retirement funds was "temporarily" put on hold. And Department Heads went from teaching a 2/2 load to a 3/2.

There was fear but a sense of doing what needed to be done to get through a tough financial time. Faculty were continuously reassured that there was no danger of closure just a tightening of the belt to make way for some new initiatives.

We were reassured by DM in the spring of 2018 that every thing was OK but we should all think creatively about how to leverage what we do best to raise the profile of the school and increase enrollment.

Faculty repeatedly asked about when the retirement plan would be reinstated and were brushed off every time. Question dodged.

Advice for OCAC Students

Dear OCAC Students,

Several of your peers have asked me what students can do regarding the closure of your school. After a lot of thought and an attempt to get basic information from the group of potential saviors operating within the college, my best advice is to protect yourself. More specifically:

1) Get a lawyer . 

2) Run, NOW, and get that lawyer with experience in “mass torts,” which will allow numerous students to have their concerns addressed together.

3) Seriously, if you don’t get a lawyer now, you might lose money that you’ll be paying back, with interest, for literal decades to come. If you came to OCAC right out of high school, you might be paying back wasted money for longer than you’ve been alive. You need somebody whose sole purpose is to advocate for you, and no matter how much you love your school and your faculty, they cannot advocate exclusively for your cause and at the same time advocate for their own.

There is a group of faculty within OCAC that claims to be working with a former president of the college to save the school. I was contacted by one of OCAC’s department heads, purporting to be part of this group. They have been monitoring Instagram trying, sometimes successfully, to get individuals to remove content that they feel might offend people, such as postings that call out members of the current OCAC board of directors that collectively voted to shut down the school. I asked this person a couple of very basic questions, including how much money is needed to save the school. They refused to comment. 

To be clear, the group that might seem best positioned for the sort of rapid fundraising that’s required right now is spending its time trying to police the internet, but will not provide a fund raising goal. If you are counting on these people, you should be absolutely terrified!

Announcing a goal is the most basic information of a capital campaign, it’s what the whole campaign is generally built around. Announcing a goal should be the focus of their communications, not private information. A goal—even if it’s a range—is something to rally around, to let people feel like a massive task is achievable, rather than some amorphous, scary figure that cannot be named. 

I think you might really want to examine your faith in a potential savior who wastes time trying to silence the internet, yet doesn’t have a clearly stated monetary goal. Without a fundraising goal, it’s hard to see this as a serious endeavor. A cynical person might feel it is an attempt to use the specter of hope to get a group of students to shut up and move quietly into the night. A more charitable person might consider it a death rattle, a last expression of grief before passing. 

There are definitely efforts to save the school, though within the school they won’t say who, if anyone, they are coordinating with. Before you abandon your self interests, you need to ask yourself: What if you lose $10,000 by not speaking up, and then OCAC closes? What if you lose $15,000 and OCAC continues to operate, but not as a degree granting institution? What if you lose $20,000 and OCAC continues, but only after a hiatus during which you’ve already graduated from another program? What is you lose $25,000? I think students are under the impression that if they don’t make waves, the school might reopen, as usual, for the fall semester. That seems really, really, really, really unlikely. The only fundraising I can currently verify sits just a few dollars above $3,000, while estimates for saving the school—whatever form that might take—range from $3,000,000-$14,000,000—and the people running the show won’t say what their actual goal might be. Even with that money, the school still isn’t meeting expenses, so it’ll be donor dependent for any foreseeable future. They’ve already been losing top candidates in job searches because their teacher pay is so low, and they offer no job security. There isn’t a lot of cost cutting to be done there. Any major donors who sign on will have to be in for a pound, which makes the effort that much harder. They pretty much need a whole raft of unicorns. Maybe it can be done, but if you don’t protect yourself, you’re betting a hell of a lot of money on an absolute long shot. 

After the school closes, its assets will be liquidated creating a pool of money with which to pay off debts. As I understand it, there is a legally specified order in which people will be paid, and once the money runs out, it’s over. With proper advocacy, students might be able to mitigate their financial losses. (Faculty will probably want severance pay that they may or may not be contractually entitled to, so there is every likelihood that the financial interests of faculty and students will conflict.) It is vitally important for you to have an advocate working for you to preserve your rights as soon as possible.

Once the school closes, there will likely be what’s referred to as a “teach out.” Another school or schools will take on OCAC students. You can choose whether or not to attend. The new schools will look at your transcripts and decide which of your completed units fit their program. If you are 30 units from graduation right now, you will probably not remain 30 units from graduation at your new school. At possibly more than $1,500 a unit, this is where your losses will begin adding up. If you decide to move to PNCA, their tuition is $6,000 a year more, so for an OCAC freshman that alone is an $18,000 loss. If your major is wood or ceramics, you might get recommended to a sculpture program that deals more with found objects, and if you decide to leave the area to get a truly comparable education, that’s more money you’ve lost. If your plan was to live with your parents to save money, but you now need to move away to meet your educational goals, your losses just get bigger and bigger. 

The guidelines from the accreditation agency regarding a “teach out” are not especially helpful. For instance, they say that there wont be any charges greater than previously agreed upon…unless you are notified first. The main promise is that students will be treated equitably, but what seems fair to a college administration might not look anything like fairness to you. 

Something that a lawyer probably wont be able to help you with, but which offers a glimmer of financial hope is that the Department of Education will cancel certain types of federal loans if your school closes. But only if your application is approved, and only if you do not transfer your OCAC units elsewhere. For some of you, there is a possibility of a clean slate. If you’ve changed majors or transferred colleges, it’s more complicated. If you have private loans, you might be stuck with them. You likely have several different types of loans, and if you don’t know, you are going to need to investigate that. Right now, you should be trying to strategize what is going to be best for you, both financially and educationally. Below is a link to the DOE, call them as much as you feel you need to. Ask questions. Find out what the process is for loan cancellation, and if that’s the most attractive route find out how to preserve your rights BEFORE you make ANY decisions. (It’s shocking that this information wasn’t provided by OCAC.)

Anybody who tries to make you feel bad about looking out for yourself, and there will be plenty who do, neither understand nor care what an enormous shit storm got dumped on you, and they’ve most certainly never looked at your situation through the lens of student debt. If OCAC can be saved as a degree granting institution, thats great, but as of this moment, it’s closing and anything said to the contrary is just wishful thinking. You need to prepare accordingly. If you don’t look out for yourself you’ll be paying for it, with monthly checks, for decades to come.



About student loan cancellation:

What a teach out means to the accreditation agency:

Carnation Contemporary

carolyn Hopkins  overkill  2018  kiln fused glass.over-dyed rope and silk, sequined fabric, taxidermy form, wood

carolyn Hopkins



kiln fused glass.over-dyed rope and silk, sequined fabric, taxidermy form, wood

Carnation Contemporary is a new members’ collective that opened on September first with an energetic group exhibition, First Date, featuring work from all 14 of its artist-members. On the one hand, it seems that the gallery has big shoes to fill, occupying, in the Disjecta building, the physical space that was formerly home to the esteemed Carl and Sloan Contemporary, which presented 12 consistently well considered shows of primarily abstract work during their short run, introducing audiences to numerous artists from both within and outside the region. As the third members’ space in Portland, Carnation also joins the ranks of Blackfish Gallery and Nine Gallery, spaces whose myopia has rendered them all but forgettable. If Carnation is thinking long-term, then Blackfish and Nine should be the cautionary tales of which they should take heed. There is a very fine line between excitement they feel now and stagnation and irrelevancy within the closed system of the members’ gallery. 

Members’ spaces occupy a difficult position in an arts ecosystem. They are great places for artists to learn how to exhibit their work, safely experiment in an environment outside of market pressure, and get feedback from a chosen peer group. But like any pay for play structure, membership raises its own set of suspicions. What kind of quality control is there on membership or individual shows? How does the gallery resist becoming insular? Are members beholden to anything more than a monthly payment? If you are thinking career wise, members galleries add length to your CV, but not necessarily prestige.

hannah newman  deadfall #6  2018  rock, smartphone, digital prints

hannah newman

deadfall #6


rock, smartphone, digital prints

The talent pool in Portland is so shallow that it’s easy to forget that arts administrators are actually important members of the art world. With an administrator like Brian Ferriso leading the Portland Art Museum, who righted the museum financially only to leave it without a chief curator, there’s little in the way of positive example. The institution is on a better financial footing, but still has no voice. He’s created a singular experience where the museum could use its position to begin engaging earnestly with any number of dialogs, but removed the apparatus to do so effectively. As has previously been an issue with PNCA and OCAC, building expansion is valued more than what happens behind the walls of those new structures. Good arts administrators have a vision as important as any artist. They build spaces that become platforms for a diverse array of artists’ voices. They find audiences that both appreciate and support the artists they exhibit, and most importantly, they find fundraising possibilities that aren’t simply burdens to artists. At their best, administrators make it possible for a large group of artists to continue working. Members’ galleries aren’t necessarily thinking in these terms, and given there is likely a limited administrative structure helmed by artists with day jobs, there might be little time for Carnation to pursue much more than keeping rent paid and staffing open hours. We’ll soon see whether Carnation is merely providing a physical space to exhibit or if there is a more sophisticated look at opening opportunities. 

Through all my misgivings about future and purpose, there were certainly glints of promise in First Date, such as Carolyn Hopkins crafty altar on which a sequined deer, captured in macrame, bleeds ceramic blood drops. Renee Couture stands out, channeling Jim Hodges, in a delicate net of beads for the piece, In 1785 there was a here here, (perhaps referencing the discovery of the Columbia river in 1792?) The brash color and silliness of Jessie Weitzel’s sculpture, Beach Body, a colorful plaster sculpture that does double duty representing a potted plant and bikini clad woman, straddling the strangest line between outrageous bro-ism and righteous feminism.

It’s not inconsequential that Carnation is located in the Disjecta building, as Disjecta built its reputation supporting local artists. Now, however, unless they are fundraising, locals aren’t especially welcome. They are invited into the biennial, which I’ve been told they keep because it is easy to fundraise for. It’s also worth mentioning that some of the previous tenants of Disjecta’s rental spaces have reported harassing behavior from the administration, so no matter how determined the Carnation artists are, Portland yet again presents unreasonable hurdles in the way of what should be a normal artistic life. 

Carnation Contemporary
8371 N Interstate Ave
Portland, OR 97217

Charity Auctions: To Give or Not to Give

This is the time of year when Disjecta comes asking for work to sell in their November auction. This used to be a decent auction. They did a good job of selecting work and were respectful of the artists who submitted. They didn’t check every box on the following list, but they did enough that if you believed in the organization, it was good enough. There was a bit too much work, the collectors weren’t stellar, and introductions were few and far between, but if you had affection for the organization, they did try to minimize the downside. Last year that changed. Artists walked in to find their pieces listed as low as 1/4 of retail, and while the auction had traditionally offered artists the possibility of taking a percentage of the hammer price, that too evaporated. (They then reported record profits.) Disjecta no longer seems to check many, if any, of the boxes that make charity auctions a worthwhile partnership. Here is a list of things you should insist upon before giving your work to any charity auction.

1) It’s curated with an understanding of what the organization’s base will absorb. If a museum curator or gallerist is listed on a call for entries, they will likely be looking at hundreds of submissions in a single afternoon–it’s doubtful they will even remember what they chose, let alone your name. They most certainly don’t know the particulars of the people whose money supports the institution. Before donating, you should ask yourself whether the organization is only taking in work that they are confident about, or is it a scattershot approach? Ask what they like about your work, and see what comes back.

2) There should be a pool of good collectors looking at the work. If you think you are getting exposure from your donation, giving a piece of art is a high price to advertise to people who have no intention of coming back to support you later on. Lots of people will buy a trinket to support a cause, but are they collectors who will return for more?

3) The institution actively makes introductions between artists and collectors. This is vital. If they are not working for you, you should not work for them! When you arrive at the auction, do they introduce you to their board and supporters, or does the auction feel more segregated with artists on one side of the room and collectors on the other? Do they believe in promoting the artists who support them, or do they view artists as potential gaffs?

4) They must have a high rate of sales. Nothing should flounder in the live section, and the silent section should come very close to selling out. And yes, you can ask them what percentage of work sells from their auction. If there is hesitation or pushback, they aren’t thinking of this as a partnership; you’re just a supplier of a no-cost product to sell. There’s nothing worse than seeing your work hanging on the wall after everything around it is being packed up for new homes. It takes a lot of skill but good auctions try to minimize this.

5) They protect the artist’s price. This is a big one. Bidding should start no lower than wholesale, 50% of the retail price. If people see your $1,000 artwork sell for $250, they will come to think that your work is only worth $250. Artists often give to auctions for exposure, but there’s also the very real risk of bad exposure. The auction should ALWAYS allow you to set a minimum price or reserve. 

6) The artist should have the option to claim a percentage of the sale price. This acknowledges that while everybody else wins–the collector gets discounted artwork, the organization gets money to pay its staff–the artist can only write off the cost of materials. Giving the artist a percentage helps cover framing and supplies, and maybe there’s enough left over to help the artist live to create another day. 

7) Do you believe in the organization? Do you really believe? If they asked you to write a check of equal value to your work, would you? Do you think you’ll ever show there? Do you think your friends will ever show there? If you walk up to a board or staff member, do they know your name? Can you walk up to a board or staff member and have your concerns taken seriously? Do you go to all of their openings? Some? Do you only come out when you are giving? Unless it’s an organization you truly believe is amazing, and go to most everything they do, it is probably best to save that work for the people who support you. 

Mullen Out at OCAC

Yesterday, September 10th, OCAC announced that on September 10, Denise Mullen would be leaving her position as college president–for personal reasons. Chew on that one. 

Mullen’s tenure has been marked by growing financial difficulties for the institution. She has inspired seemingly constant complaints among faculty over poor communication and lack of direction for the college while rumor has it that despite her feminist rhetoric, equal pay for equal work has not been her practice. But we will probably never know the exact reason for her departure.

Mullen’s gets credit for “saving” The Art Gym, but in doing so laid off two OCAC employees without warning. One had been with the college for 20 years. 

Her accomplishments listed in the OCAC announcement are thin. Community partnerships–whatever that means, and the expansion of graduate studies–more low ranking MFA programs with flagging enrollment.

But before we rejoice at OCAC’s new beginning, the school’s future is now in the hands of a board who should have intervened years before. As we hold our collective breaths and wait, let’s ruminate on Disjecta’s cautionary tale. During the hiring process to replace Bryan Seureth, despite warnings from at least one member of the hiring committee, Disjecta allegedly passed over a candidate referred to as “overqualified” and landed on Blake Shell who perhaps has an even worse reputation than Mr. Seureth. Go Portland!