intersections

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intersections

Regional Arts & Culture Council, Portland OR & Various Artists

racc.org
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Annexation & Assimilation: Exploring the Archives East of 82nd Avenue opening night art exhibit by artist-in-residence, Sabina Haque.
Credit: City of Portland (OR) Archives, 2016

Program

RACC is a local arts agency serving the Portland, OR metro region. It manages the Percent for Art program for the City of Portland and Multnomah County. In 2000, it expanded its Percent for Art program to support M/A partnerships. To this end, it established intersections, a public art residency program that supports artists in all disciplines to explore new working methods and develop socially engaging, interactive art experiences in community settings through partnership with municipal agencies. Participating agencies have included: City of Portland Archives & Records Center, Portland Fire Bureau, the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, and the County Health Department.

Projects

Residencies at Portland Archives & Records Center

When $170,000 in Percent for Art funds (2% of a construction project budget) became available to the Portland City Archives and Records Center (PARC), City Archivist Diana Banning suggested an artist in residence “to open up the archives to people other than the archive’s traditional users, to reach out to the community, and to view the archives through a different lens. …seeing how artists interpret materials will bring a new perspective.” (Kathy Carbone, Archivaria, Spring 2015) Banning also pragmatically saw this approach as a new way to deepen the agency’s relevance to the Portland community.

  • Artist

    Various

  • Liaison

    Kristin Calhoun, Director of Public Art; Peggy Kendellen, Public Art Manager; Regional Arts & Culture Council and various municipal agencies

  • Location

    Portland, OR three-county metro region

  • Start/end dates

    2000-ongoing

Banning and Director of Public Art Kristin Calhoun determined that $50,000 of the funds would fund a public artwork for PARC’s reading room and the balance would support several artist residencies between $10,000 and $20,000. PARC has had three artists-in-residence since 2012, who brought a new dimension to the Archives’ trove of historical records. Artists have creatively addressed the role archives play within society and the implications of gaps in the official record through their community-focused work.

One of PARC’s intersections residencies was with artist Sabina Haque. She created Annexation & Assimilation: Exploring the Archive East of 82 Ave in response to PARC’s interest in excavating the history of exclusion and inclusion in East Portland, an underserved area of the city that was annexed in the 1980s through a tumultuous process. PARC’s historical documentation of this part of the city is limited. Archivists hoped to work with an artist interested in taking on the question: What do you do when a community’s history isn’t well documented? What does it mean for a community to be annexed? Haque’s residency was a way to make this history public.

Haque collaborated with neighborhood residents, recording oral histories about the annexation and how the neighborhood’s identity has evolved over the last 35 years. Using archival sources, contemporary images, and theater workshops, the artist created a first-voice portrait of East Portland communities. At the end of Haque’s residency, she mounted an exhibition in East Portland that featured hand-drawn animations, posters, and videos of residents talking about the neighborhood. The project gave a more multidimensional understanding of the annexation issue and its effects.

Instigator

intersections evolved naturally to focus on public art that embraces social engagement. RACC’s 1998 partnership with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Americans for the Arts created the Youth Arts: Arts Programs for Youth-at-Risk Tool Kit, which deepened its understanding of arts partnering with government agencies. Through Youth Arts Public Art, RACC created a series of five artist residencies. Following the success of the Juvenile Justice residency, Director of Public Art Kristen Calhoun saw that,

“connecting an artist to work within a particular department was going to serve the broader goals of the Percent for Art program and the goals of the department, hence the name intersections.”

Partnership Structure

intersections is a great example of how the Percent for Art model can expand beyond capital projects, to support artists, address the needs of municipal and county agencies, and create positive community impact. RACC, now an independent non-profit, was formerly part of Portland City government so they deeply understand how municipalities work and the challenges agency staff confront. RACC oversees the Percent for Art program, and works as a valued third-party partner on behalf of both artists and municipalities. RACC performs key functions in this relationship, which include:

  • Helping city and county agencies that have Percent for Art funds assess how an intersections artist might support agency goals and interests, creative possibilities; and if they are ready to collaborate. RACC also supports the artist’s creative vision.
  • Working closely with the agency to develop and implement the RFQ.
  • Coordinating and facilitating the artist selection process.
  • Managing the contracting process and budget. As a nonprofit local arts agency, RACC does not have to adhere to municipal fiscal rules and has flexibility in purchasing and contracting.
  • Ensuring regular check-ins between the agency and the artist to work through challenges and stay on schedule and on track. These check-ins help partners navigate the difference between an intersections residency and a typical Percent for Art commission.
  • Providing community education, engagement, and promotion.
Profile Image
Annexation & Assimilation: Exploring the Archives East of 82nd Avenue opening night art exhibit by artist-in-residence, Sabina Haque.
Credit: City of Portland (OR) Archives, 2016

Funding

intersections is funded through Percent for Art allocations which are required to include art in qualifying municipal construction or renovation projects. RACC holds and administers the funding, and negotiates the project budget with each municipal agency. RACC gives the agency the choice of working with an intersections artist in residence, or to work through a conventional commissioning process for artwork. While Percent for Art commissions are tied to a specific building project; the intersections program allows use of funds at a completely different site.

Impact and Outcomes

On Portland Archives and Records Center (PARC) partners

  • The project created a new understanding of the PARC archives’ potential for artistic investigation and community relevance.
  • PARC and RACC were able to connect with new communities through artist’s projects.
  • Artists working with civic partners deepened their socially engaged practice.
  • PARC staff have been motivated and inspired by the opportunity to engage with the artists. Diana Banning writes, “archive users typically come in, research, leave and we don’t know the end result. It’s fulfilling for us to see a full trajectory.”

On community

  • The residency projects got PARC out into the community and introduced broad publics to PARC’s collections and the value of the archive in learning about and promoting local history in relation to present conditions.
“The experiential approach to public art can have a long life in people’s hearts and minds.” Kristin Calhoun, RACC
  • Sabina Haque served as PARC’s ambassador to the East Side communities and established multiple partners with grassroots community organizations and public schools.
  • Projects that engaged community members as creators of their own stories created buy-in and a demand for more such experiences. Local residents gained a sense of responsibility over the future of Portland’s urban development.

On city government

  • intersections projects have helped evolve PARC’s identity with fellow agencies and staff beyond the merely transactional. PARC staff made a point to invite other agency staff to public events.

On the field

  • intersections is recognized in the collections management field for its innovative work. The City of Boise, ID invited two PARC artists in residence and Diana Banning to speak to arts and municipal leaders as they were revisioning their public art program.

Success Factors

  • RACC and partners work to make the strongest possible match of an artist and agency, and they don’t settle for an artist who isn’t the right fit.
  • The municipal agency participates in drafting the RFQ. This helps clarify the agency’s desired outcomes. RACC helps ensure that the RFQ isn’t overly prescribed and leaves room for creative expression. This makes it easier for artists to determine if they’re a good fit. For more on RFQ versus RFPs, see this section.
  • Finalists are selected by a 5-7 person panel, with at least one representative from the partnering agency.
  • Finalists meet with the agency to gain a sense of their compatibility.
  • The contract is written in two stages, development and implementation. This helps both partners ensure that the project is viable and should move forward, and also ensures that the artist gets paid for developmental work.
  • The development stage is 2 months, in which the artist defines the next phase of the project. RACC and partners often find that artists come in with many ideas and a lot of ambition. This finite period for research and exploration allows artists to imagine, test ideas and develop a project concept given the parameters of budget, time, and logistical issues. It also allows the agency to refine its desired outcome for the residents, in conversation with the artist.

Lessons Learned

With each successive artist residency, PARC has learned to be clearer in articulating agency interests related to both community goals and aspects of the archive's collections they wish to focus on. RACC continues to guide PARC away from asserting too much direction to the artist and letting them “do what they’re going to do.”