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!