RACC Blog

Multnomah County Library and Regional Arts & Culture Council announce community artist as part of diverse work at North Portland Library

Sadé DuBoise will focus on community input as part of artwork for library’s new Black Cultural Center

  • Contact: Liz Sauer, Multnomah County Library Capital Building Projects Communications Manager, 971.350.8733, elizabeths@multco.us
  • Contact: Meech Boakye, Communications Lead, Regional Arts & Culture Council, 503.823.5111, mboakye@racc.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – January 22, 2024

PORTLAND, OR. — Multnomah County Library (MCL) and Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) are continuing their efforts to bring community-centered artwork to libraries throughout Multnomah County. This work is part of the voter-approved 2020 Library building bond which will build, rebuild or expand nine library buildings. Smaller upgrades to 11 libraries are also underway as part of the Refresh projects. Since the bond passed, Multnomah County Library has undergone major updates, with North Portland Library as one of the first projects.

North Portland Library will be renovated and expanded, adding 1,500 square feet to make the library 10,200 square feet. The renovated building will highlight the diversity and history of the community. The design by LEVER Architecture preserves the historic Carnegie building on Killingsworth Street while providing greater space for community gatherings in the new Black Cultural Center.

North Portland Library has long been the library home to the Black community in Portland. That’s why insights from the Black community have guided the vision and purpose for the new Black Cultural Center. Exciting updates at North Portland include:

  • A Black Cultural Center for connection and a celebration of Blackness
  • Outdoor space for community members to relax and be together
  • Updated technology and internet
  • Art that represents the neighborhood’s diversity

Public art for the North Portland community

As part of these updates, local artists are creating unique installations that represent the North Portland community’s history, culture and diversity.

“The historic North Portland Library has long been a cornerstone of the community, and specifically the Black community,” said Vailey Oehlke, Director of Libraries. “Through the library’s partnership with the Regional Arts and Culture Council, North Portland can offer vibrant new artwork that represents the community in a beautiful, inspiring space.”

Portrait of Sadé DuBoise. Photography by Olivia Renee (2020)

At North Portland Library, Sadé DuBoise has been selected to create a site-specific, artist-designed glass wall which will create a backdrop for the west side of the new Black Cultural Center. This permanent glass artwork, measuring 12 ft. high and 16 ft. wide, will be based on an original painting DuBoise will create, grounded in her North Portland upbringing and influenced by North Portland Library community engagement events. Her work is currently featured in the Black Artists of Oregon Exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, curated by Intisar Abioto.

In collaboration with Multnomah County Library and RACC, Sadé DuBoise will host two visioning sessions to welcome the community into the process of developing artwork for the Black Cultural Center. More details are below.

This artwork is developed in coordination with the Regional Arts & Culture Council through the Multnomah County Percent for Art Program, allotting two percent of the construction budget for all county-funded improvement projects toward the investment in public art. Artists are awarded projects as part of a robust public process, which includes selection panels led by local residents, business owners, artists, library staff and project partners.

Valarie Pearce, author, educator, and community panelist for the selection committee, celebrated the announcement, saying:

“As an educator, Portland native, and lifetime library evangelist it has been a great pleasure to be a part of the Multnomah County Library, Regional Arts & Culture Council, and community panel for the inaugural glass art and artist selection for North Portland Library’s Black Cultural Center.

“Art is a universal connector and the historical expression by which the Black Portland community has shared its story across time. North Portland Library’s Black Cultural Center is the legacy and enduring story of resilience, community, and beauty.

“I believe as a city it is important for us to invest in our values. With the focus of centering community voice, steering a broad and diverse artistic selection process, and curating community feedback forums, we have done just that. We have demonstrated our values for collaboration, community-centered voice, and the deliberate celebration of Black artistry in library spaces. Bravo!”

Artists and community working in tandem

Community engagement is at the center of the library’s building projects. The selection panel, made up of residents of the neighborhood, artists, architects, and library staff, prioritized artists with demonstrated experiences and connections to the North and Northeast community around North Portland Library. Most artists selected for these projects are seeking to create and host community engagement opportunities as part of their design phase, including the two events Sadé DuBoise will lead.

Design artwork for the Black Cultural Center at North Portland Library

The first event will be a visioning event where community ideas and perspectives will help shape the artwork for the Black Cultural Center. This gathering is a chance for community members to engage in meaningful dialogue and contribute to the selection of Adinkra symbols that will be featured in the upcoming glass wall art project. Adinkra symbols originated in Ghana and represent concepts or aphorisms. This interactive session will be an inspiring blend of cultural exchange, artistic discussion, and community bonding. Presentations will begin at 10:30 am and there will be handouts and opportunities for engagement for anyone who might come after the presentation begins.

  • Date and Location TBA

The second event will be held in celebration of Black History Month where participants will have the opportunity to create their own symbols, drawing inspiration from traditional Adinkra symbols. This hands-on experience is a chance to explore the symbolism of Adinkra while expressing your personal creativity using ink and paper. Additionally, attendees will get an exclusive sneak peek at the latest developments in Sadè DuBoise’s artwork for North Portland Libary’s new Black Cultural Center. All materials will be provided, and no prior art experience is necessary. Refreshments will be served.

Find more information on Multnomah County Library’s website and follow RACC on social media for updates.

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About Multnomah County Library

A treasured community institution since 1864, Multnomah County Library is one of the nation’s busiest public library systems, providing social, educational and cultural programs, resources and services, online and through its 19 public locations. With an eye toward the future of community-centered spaces, the library is working to build, rebuild or expand nine libraries through a voter approved capital bond. In addition to being Oregon’s largest provider of free internet access, the library offers millions of print and digital resources, in multiple languages for people of all ages. From kindergarten readiness to job training, computer-assisted design and 3D printing, the library supports all people in their pursuits to connect, learn and create. Learn more at multcolib.org

About the Regional Arts & Culture Council

The Regional Arts & Culture Council is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides impactful and transformative funding for artists and nonprofit organizations in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties; manages an acclaimed public art program; leads an advocacy and arts education program; and offers a wide range of technical and professional development workshops. RACC advocates for equity, inclusion, and access, working to build a community in which everyone can participate in culture, creativity, and the arts.

 


Thirty-three Artworks Inspired by the People and Places of Portland Selected for Purchase

Mika Martinez, Portland Catrinas, 2023, Photography and graphic design on aluminum, 20 x 40 x 2 inches.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 11, 2024

Portland, Oregon — The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), in partnership with the City of Portland, announces that 33 artworks by 26 artists have been selected for purchase through a competitive application and review process. Celebrating and taking inspiration from the people and places of Portland, the selected pieces include paintings on canvas, photography, works on paper, mixed media, textiles and beadwork.

The selected artists are: Rebecca Boraz, Sarah Bouwsma, Terrance Burton, May Maylisa Cat, Epiphany Couch, Menka Desai, Michael Espinoza, Emily Fitzgerald, Future Prairie, Terrence Gasca, Josh Gates, Elisa Gusdal, Jo Hamilton, Linda Higgins, Anya Keyes, Latoya Lovely, Marne Lucas, Mika Martinez, Christa Nye, Rory ONeal, M Prull, Rebecca Rodela, Hampton Rodriguez, Mona Superhero, Heléna Dupre Thompson, and Aaron Wessling.

Left: Helena Thompson, One Eighty Compulsion 14, 2020, Archival pigment print (photography), 22 x 17 inches. Right: Menka Desai, New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden, 2023, Gouache and embroidery on handmade paper, 5 x 7 inches.

The artworks will enter RACC’s Public Art Collection of portable works, a rotating collection displayed in accessible municipal spaces throughout the City of Portland and Multnomah County. Fifteen of the works will enter the Visual Chronicle of Portland, a collection consisting of more than 400 works on paper that focuses on artists’ views of the city’s social and urban landscapes as they evolve through time.

Art Selection Process

Facilitated by RACC, an independent panel made up of artists, community representatives, and City employees participated in a three-stage review process to select artworks for purchase. RACC received applications from 155 artists, with up to six artworks submitted per person. The panel participated in thoughtful discussion and collective decision-making to determine which pieces to purchase from the many talented artists who submitted work.

Taking Inspiration from Portland’s New City Map

Funded by the City of Portland, the theme of the artwork purchase project was “Taking Inspiration from Portland’s New City Map.” The theme references Portland’s four new geographic districts, which were created by the City of Portland’s Independent District Commission through extensive community input. Submitted artworks could directly or indirectly relate to the theme, by portraying Portland’s neighborhoods or people; making personal, social, historical, political, or natural connections to the City or districts; and/or exploring broader ideas of borders, maps, place, or community.

Quote from Kristin Calhoun, Director of Public Art: “From celebrating community, to honoring the natural spaces within the City, to reflecting on urban changes, these thirty-three artworks present diverse perspectives on what it means to live, work, and play in Portland now. RACC is grateful to all the artists that submitted work for this opportunity, and we continue to be inspired by the unique viewpoints and creativity of the artists in our region.”

To learn more about the two-dimensional artwork purchase project, the selected artists, or to schedule an interview with RACC or the project team, please contact Eleanor Sandys at esandys@racc.org.

Contact Information: 

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About the Regional Arts & Culture Council:

The Regional Arts & Culture Council is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides impactful and transformative funding for artists and nonprofit organizations in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties; manages an acclaimed public art program; leads an advocacy and arts education program; and offers a wide range of technical and professional development workshops. RACC advocates for equity, inclusion, and access, working to build a community in which everyone can participate in culture, creativity, and the arts. We remain steadfast in our mission to enrich every neighborhood we serve.


Request for Qualifications: Albina Library Sculpture Series

Rendering of the art site, exterior southeast view, facing NE Russell Street

Rendering of the art site, exterior southeast view, facing NE Russell Street 

If you would prefer these materials in another language please contact the RACC project team for translation services.

Interpretation services are available, please email info@racc.org.

  • Servicio de interpretación disponible
  • Предоставляются услуги переводчика
  • Có dịch vụ thông
  • 提供口译服务

Important Dates

  • November 20, 2023 – RFQ launch
  • December 4, 2023 at 6:00pm PDT – Zoom Info Session, watch the recording here
  • January 15, 2024 – Applications due Monday, January 15, 2024 at 11:59pm PDT
  • December 2023-February 2024 – Panel review and artist selection including interviews
  • Spring 2024 – Community Engagement and Participatory Design
  • Summer/Fall 2024 – Fabrication
  • Spring 2025 – Artwork complete and installed

In partnership with Multnomah County Library (MCL), the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) invites artists/artist teams living in Oregon and Washington to submit qualifications for a series of site-specific exterior artworks located along the new south side entry path and within the new interior courtyard at the soon-to-be renovated Albina Library. One artist/artist team will be selected to create a sequence of mid-scale 3-dimensional sculptural works which will greet library patrons, staff, and visitors as they approach and enter the new building. As part of the Library Capital Building Projects, MCL is renovating and expanding Albina Library which will include a 30,000 sq.ft. addition to the existing Carnegie structure. New features such as large community and meeting rooms, expanded study areas and a dedicated teen space will fill this highly anticipated community hub. Other upgrades include updated technology and internet as well as a new outdoor courtyard which will allow community members to relax and connect. Albina Library, along with the communities it serves, specifically Portland’s African American, Black and Indigenous communities, has a long history of displacement. Returning the library to its historic location on Knott Street is part of the MCL’s larger effort to provide relevant services to people who are experiencing disenfranchisement. The newly renovated and expanded library is in the Boise-Eliot neighborhood and sits just off of the west side of NE Martin Luther King Boulevard between NE Knott Street and NE Russell Street in inner northeast Portland in Oregon. Nearby are other beloved community landmarks including the Matt Dishman Community Center and Wonder Ballroom. The budget available for the commission comes from Multnomah County’s Percent for Art Program and is $125,000, all inclusive. Submissions are due by Monday, January 15, 2024 at 11:59pm PDT.

Art Opportunity

We are seeking an artist or artist team to create a series of site-specific exterior sculptural artworks for Albina Library. The sequence of mid-size sculptures will lead people along the new south side entry pathway, beginning at the newly developed library parking lot and initially ending at the main library entrance. The sculptures installed along the exterior of the building, of which we anticipate a minimum of three, will be prominently located. Greeting patrons and staff, the artworks will create a sense of arrival well before entering through the building doors. In addition, these sculptural works will be visible to pedestrian traffic along NE Russell Street contributing to the renewed streetscape of this revitalized and beloved community resource.

There is potential for the sculpture series to extend and/or culminate in the building’s newly constructed courtyard, an outdoor community space which is easily accessible from inside the library. We anticipate one additional artwork from the series being installed within the courtyard. Patrons, staff, guests and visitors will meander through the central body of the library to reach the courtyard via the main entrance, located on the south side of the site. The courtyard is positioned on the central east side of the library, acting as a connection point between several publicly accessible amenities. The relationship and creative dialogue between these spaces and the artwork should be considered. It is intended for this intimate outdoor oasis to be a place of calm, reflection and respite for patrons and staff alike.

The series of original sculptural artworks will be integrated with the landscape design of both the entry path and outdoor courtyard, evoking themes of growth, diversity and community. Due to the notable installation sites for the sequence of sculptures, views of the artworks from all angles should be considered. Similarly, pedestrian traffic from the parking lot and along the street will benefit from close interaction with the sculptures located on the exterior and interior of the building. We expect aspects of the exterior artwork to translate to scale so that the sculptures can also be enjoyed from a distance as people travel by car and public transportation along NE Russell Street.

Exact locations for the free-standing artworks are to be determined in conjunction with RACC and the project team depending on the final size, scale and material of the sculptures. In collaboration, the building project/construction team, selected artist(s) and RACC will work to provide foundations and a stub out for power for each sculpture, which can be used for lighting the artworks, if necessary and required. All other materials and construction are the responsibility of the artist with RACC’s support. The artist(s) will be responsible for delivering a series of completed artworks installed on site as a final deliverable. The artist(s) and RACC will coordinate installation with the project team, construction contractor and any third party vendors, where necessary.

The design team has stewarded an extensive series of engagement sessions with the local community over the last year or so and it is expected for the selected artist(s) to build upon that foundation. There is a deep desire for the diverse range of populations whom the library serves to be reflected and represented within the artwork. The sculpture series may represent multiple stories or weave together threads of a single narrative. The intention is to ignite imaginations and encourage contemplation. Both art installation sites include outdoor seating, meaning guests may wish to linger in these spaces. As the exterior sculptures will be the first pieces of public art visible as people arrive at the library, it is vital for these artworks to generate a sense of place, welcome and belonging that the surrounding communities, neighbors, MCL staff and visitors can feel aligned with and proud of.

MCL and RACC believe this project could be a professional development opportunity for an artist or artist team who are eager to expand their portfolio and practice, specifically in terms of fabrication and use/range of mediums, due to the support and technical assistance available from RACC and other project partners. Established artists, artists with experience working in sculpture at smaller scales and/or those who are exploring this medium are encouraged to apply.

Information Session

  • Monday December 4, 2023 at 6.00pm PDT on Zoom with Sophie from RACC joined by members of the Albina Library project team. Watch the recording here

We strongly encourage you to attend the info session, especially if you are a first-time applicant. The project team will share information about this opportunity and outline how to submit application materials. If you have questions about the Zoom
info session or need any accommodations in order to attend, please email project manager, Sophie, at shook@racc.org.

Artwork Goals and Qualities

The goal is for the many works of art at the library to be representative of, and informed by, the myriad of communities that live, work and play in Eliot/Boise, and other surrounding neighborhoods of north and northeast Portland, in particular under-represented and marginalized communities. Communities served by Albina Library should be reflected in the new works of art through innovative and original visioning, artistic expression and creative storytelling. There is a deep desire for the Sculpture Series to instill a sense of place and belonging, creating a warm, inviting and welcoming environment where imagination, interests and engagement can be inspired.

Through conversations during the community engagement process, led by LEVER Architecture and Noll & Tam Architects in collaboration with MCL, one important aspiration that was shared for the artwork at Albina Library was that it have a tangible sense of permanence. Given the history of displacement for Black and Indigenous community members in the neighborhood, and beyond, it was suggested that the selected artist(s) consider, in their creative process, the diverse local histories and experiences of those marginalized communities, acknowledging their richness and multiplicity. The community is desiring spaces which reflect their spirit and stories, where their cultures, values and histories can be expressed and celebrated.

In discussion with the community and MCL team members, we are anticipating artwork that invokes a sense of whimsy, wonder, magic and joy. Artwork that can honor the past while also creating space to explore greater possibilities for the future. It is also important to consider the longevity of the sculptures. How the artwork will evolve over time as the neighborhood shifts, ensuring that the artwork and community grow alongside one another, maintaining a bond, deepening their connection and continuing to be in dialogue together. Further collective visioning, through engagement with the community, will likely inspire even more creative suggestions. The Sculpture Series should take these design directives into consideration, complementing the overall building architecture, exterior and interior design palette and aligning with the overall goals to represent and reflect the local community in the space.

Literal interpretations or representations of these concepts, goals and qualities in the artwork is not expected. These ideas are shared as considerations, not limitations, and to offer context of the community feedback received so far.

Budget

The selected artist/artist team will receive $125,000 for this opportunity to create a series of mid-size, 3-dimensional, site-specific, exterior sculptural artworks. This fee is inclusive of all project expenses including artist fees, design development, materials, fabrication, installation, community engagement and communication/coordination with the design team, construction team and third-party contractors who may help to fabricate and install the artwork.

Community Engagement

Community engagement is a central component within all of the RACC and MCL Library Capital Building Projects, guided by these aligned project principles. As such, we are seeking an artist/artist team who welcomes and reflects the diverse communities that are served by Albina Library within their process and work. Genuine understanding and demonstration of community engagement practices in existing artistic practice, past work and/or other key areas of experience where skillsets may be transferable, such as teaching, mentorship, community organizing, care work and other non-typical/non-traditional examples of embedding community into process and practice, are highly desirable.

The broader community that will be served by the library have been invited to participate in the design process so far by contributing their experiences and ideas through open houses, tabling events, virtual meetings, leave-behind boards, and community conversations. An array of design priorities emerged during these engagements with community members and key stakeholders which should be considered by the artist(s) and more details can be found in the supplemental materials. Beyond that, feedback and other results from the community engagement process so far, including demographics, can be shared with the selected artist/artist team to ensure authentic understanding and representation of the local communities.

While there is no requirement for the artist/artist team to conduct community engagement sessions as part of this commission, if the artist(s) has a current practice around this work and would like to embed that into their process for the project it can be supported and would be encouraged. For example, prior to finalizing a design, the selected artist/artist team could plan and facilitate engagement sessions to meet with community stakeholders to gather further information and insight into the library, community and area. During that time, the artist(s) could welcome and encourage community participation within the design phase, seeking feedback, input and inspiration from key stakeholders to ensure the final artwork meets the intended goals as outlined above, specifically community representation. RACC and the project team is able to work with neighboring community partners to provide venues to host such community engagement events. Interpretation, translation and other access services can be made available, if needed, and coordinated through MCL and/or RACC, if enough time is
given in advance.

The artist(s) should expect that working or in-progress design materials and narratives may be requested for wider community communication updates and will be coordinated in conjunction with the project team.

About the Library Capital Building Project

As part of the Library Capital Building Projects, MCL is expanding Albina Library to provide additional space and an enjoyable experience for all through upgrades to the existing building. Located between NE Rodney Avenue and NE Martin
Luther King Boulevard on NE Knott Street in the Boise-Eliot neighborhood of north/northeast Portland, Oregon, the existing 3,500 square foot historic Carnegie library will be updated and expanded to 30,000 square feet. The revised site will include
an outdoor courtyard and new main entrance, on the south side of the building facing NE Russell Street, which creates the opportunity for a series of site-specific sculptural artworks. Click here to learn more and view the Albina Library fly-through.

The renovation and expansion of Albina Library is part of the first phase of the Library Capital Building Projects and will be one of the first to reopen, currently scheduled for Spring 2025.

Eligibility

This opportunity is open to artists/artist teams based in Oregon and Washington. If applying as a team, at least one member must meet the residence eligibility requirement. Those with significant current or past connections, or those with interest and ability to create meaningful connections, to Albina Library, the Boise-Eliot neighborhood and other surrounding neighborhoods and communities served by the library in north/northeast are preferred. Applicants who have an interest in and/or experience with community engagement processes, including social practice, which inform their approach and art practice are strongly encouraged to apply. Significant consideration will be given to artists who have experience working intergenerationally and with residents from historically marginalized and displaced communities to develop their artwork, in particular Black and Indigenous communities. Artists who have demonstrable lived experience and alignment with communities of color as well as immigrant and refugee communities will be prioritized.

MCL and RACC are committed to reflecting the cultural richness of our city by promoting opportunities for emerging and historically underrepresented artists. Artists/artist teams representing communities of color are strongly encouraged to apply. RACC is committed to engaging new communities of artists and expanding the range of artistic and cultural expression represented in the County’s public art collection.

The selected artist/artist team must be able to create, complete and deliver their artwork by Spring 2025.

Selection Process

At this time, the selection process will be entirely virtual. A selection panel composed of Multnomah County Library representatives, local artists, community members and north/northeast County residents, Library Building Project team members and Albina Library design team members will review artists’ submissions and choose more than one finalist to invite to interview for the commission. Overall, the purpose of the interview is to allow the artist(s) and panel to meet each other and engage in a mutually beneficial and informative conversation. It’s an opportunity for the artist(s) to better understand the context of the project and the intentions the selection panel has for the final art piece. Both parties are given the chance to ask questions and determine best alignment and artist selection for the project. After the interviews are completed, the selection panel will choose a final artist/artist team to award the public art opportunity to. The selected artist(s) will then be issued a Design Phase contract during which they may meet with the community and will create a proposal that includes a design for the Sculpture Series, a budget and a timeline. Following approval of the final design by the artist selection panel, the artist(s) will then enter into a Fabrication Contract with RACC.

Criteria for selecting semifinalists for interviews are (1) quality of past work as demonstrated in submitted images; (2) ability and interest in creating site-specific artwork; (3) how past artwork has fit one or more of the general goals described above, specifically community engagement and designing with stakeholder communities, through demonstrated processes and/or final design; (4) existing, interest in and/or ability to create connections to Albina Library, Boise-Eliot, other surrounding neighborhoods and communities served by the library.

Please note the selection panel reserves the right to select an artist who does not directly apply to this call, if appropriate. Likewise, the panel maintains the option to make no selection from submitted applications and to reopen the selection process or propose other methods of selection if no applicant is accepted.

How to Apply

All application materials must be submitted through the RACC Opportunity Portal, an online application system. Applicants
will need to create an account, or log into their existing account at https://racc.org/apply. If you are applying as a team,
please assign one person to apply and be the point of contact on behalf of the team.
Submissions due Monday, January 15, 2024 at 11.59pm PDT.

Application Materials

  • Artist bio/resume: Upload a PDF, no more than two pages, that outlines your creative activities, artistic accomplishments and experience with community engagement. If applying as a team, submit one PDF that includes a bio/resume for all team members.
  • Statement of interest:Applicants are invited to submit their responses to the prompts below either in a written statement* or in an audio or video statement**. Please outline the following:
    • Your interest in this project
      • Why this project, its focus, and themes are of interest to you
      • Why you would be a good match for the project
      • How do you foresee your work connecting to the mission and values of the project
    • Describe your capacity and/or experience to complete the scope of work
    • Explain why you value community engagement in your artistic process and share past examples of successfully incorporating community visions, values and voices into a project
      • What isyour approach to community engagement
      • How has community engagement impacted your process
      • How has community engagement informed your art-making practice and the end results of your work
    • If you are applying as a team, describe your individual roles on the team and how you anticipate working together
  • Up to 8 past work samples. These work samples are the primary way the quality of your work will be judged. Provide up to two images, no larger than 5MB each, for each work sample. For each image, please provide title, artist name, media, dimensions, year completed, budget and location. Conceptual information is desirable but not required.

*Written statement: 3000 characters or less
**Audio or video statement: Upload an audio/voice or video recording no longer than 2 minutes

Once you have started your application, you can save after each step and sign out. Your application will be saved as a draft that you can continue to work on, as needed. Please note that after you click “Submit,” your application is final and no further edits can be made.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us throughout the process.

Questions

We are here to support and assist you! If you have questions about the overall opportunity or the RACC application portal, would like to set up a time for a phone/video call or have any other needs for assistance please email project manager Sophie at shook@racc.org.

If you would like to be considered for this opportunity and don’t have a computer or online access, please feel free to contact RACC for support. Also, if you prefer these materials in another language you can contact the RACC project team for translation services.

We strongly encourage you to submit your application with enough time for any questions to be answered prior to when submissions are due as enquiries received towards the end of that period may not be responded to. We appreciate your understanding and consideration of our capacity.

Supplemental Materials

Albina Library RFQ Supplemental Materials


Regional Arts & Culture Council and Port of Portland Announce Selection of PDX Phase 1 Terminal Redevelopment Artists

Left: Sanford Biggers, photography by Matthew Morrocco. Right: Yoonhee Choi, photography by Samuel Gehrke.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – November 16, 2023

Portland, OR – The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) in collaboration with the Port of Portland (Port) is pleased to announce the selection of two artists, Yoonhee Choi and Sanford Biggers. Both artists will be creating a unique artwork to be permanently installed in the new main terminal facility at Portland International Airport (PDX). Choi and Biggers’s artworks will both be a part of the first phase of the terminal core (TCORE) redevelopment project for PDX — the keystone project in an overall $2 billion renovation. Choi and Biggers’ projects will be on display with the opening of the new terminal in May 2024. These are the first of many artworks to be commissioned for TCORE.

Yoonhee Choi (Portland, OR) will be composing an artwork design for two glass walls located in the pre-security queuing area for both North and South TSA security checkpoints. Her first commissioned public artwork, Choi’s two 56-foot long, 11-foot high glass walls will be visible from both the concourse connector passageway and from the security queuing area. These large scale works will be  site-specific compositions developed from Choi’s mixed media collages, which are both whimsical and structured in their design. View images of Choi’s work and full artist bio.

Sanford Biggers (NYC, NY) will be creating two large scale, signature artworks that will be suspended from the ceiling in an area between both entries of the concourse connector passageway and situated around the concession’s pavilions. These post-security artworks will greet travelers once they pass through the TSA checkpoints. This work is Biggers’s first commissioned public artwork in the Pacific Northwest and these sculptures will be in dialogue with his quilt-based works which he has engaged with since 2009 titled the Codex series. View images of Biggers’s work and a full artist bio.

“When we opened the request for proposals last year, in partnership with the RACC, our goal was to create opportunities for historically underrepresented artists and to elevate the visibility of unique perspectives at PDX,” said Wendy Given, Port of Portland Art Program Manager. “With the selection of Yoonhee Choi and Sanford Biggers, I believe we’re meeting those goals. They are both world-class artists, and it will be a privilege to have their stellar work integrated into the fabric of PDX for thousands of travelers to experience every day.”

Yoonhee Choi – “As an immigrant and Portland-based artist, I am especially excited to have this opportunity to create such a significant artwork that will help represent our city to the world. A focus of my practice is creating site-specific artwork that responds to its individual situation and surroundings. I am inspired by the soaring and sensitive design of the PDX redevelopment and captivated by how an airport is the portal at the beginning and end of so many meaningful and memorable journeys.”

Sanford Biggers – “I’m thrilled to showcase a large-scale permanent installation as part of the PDX Terminal Redevelopment Project and for the occasion to be in dialogue with the rich artistic heritage in the Northwest. The unique opportunity of this project and the architecture designed by ZGF Architects inspires me to consider how I can create an artwork that responds directly to the context of a space that embodies transition, energy, interaction, movement, and potential.”

“RACC is simply elated with these selections and our opportunity to continue our partnership with the Port of Portland, and the Arts Selection team there,” said Kristin Calhoun Director of Public Art. “The choice of these artists through an art panel managed by RACC is emblematic of the work we strive to do every day. With Yoonhee Choi, it’s working with the amazing artists in our region by assisting them in the process of developing and transitioning their studio art practice into their first public art commission. Working with Sanford Biggers and his team has been a joy and we at RACC are very proud to be a part of bringing his first Pacific Northwest public artwork to the PDX Airport.”

Contact Information

About the Regional Arts & Culture Council

The Regional Arts & Culture Council is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides impactful and transformative funding for artists and nonprofit organizations in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties; manages an acclaimed public art program; leads an advocacy and arts education program; and offers a wide range of technical and professional development workshops. RACC advocates for equity, inclusion, and access, working to build a community in which everyone can participate in culture, creativity, and the arts. We remain steadfast in our mission to enrich every neighborhood we serve. For more information, please visit racc.org.

About Port of Portland

With three airports, four marine terminals, and five business parks, the Port of Portland is an economic engine for transforming the region into a place where everyone is welcome, empowered, and connected to the opportunity to find a good job or grow their business. The Port works to pull down barriers and provide access to people and local businesses who have been left out of the region’s economic growth—including people of color, low-income workers, and people with disabilities. Collectively, the Port leads big projects in the region, including expanding PDX airport and making it more accessible and efficient; transforming a former marine terminal into a site for innovation in the housing construction and mass timber industries; and providing more options for Pacific Northwest businesses to send their products around the world. For more information, visit www.PortofPortland.com


Artists Chosen for Mural Project at Arbor Lodge Shelter Lead with a Community-Centric Approach

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 14, 2023

Meech Boakye, Communications Lead, RACC, mboakye@racc.org

Sophie May Hook, Public Art Project Manager, RACC, shook@racc.org

Portland, OR – The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), in partnership with Multnomah County, the Joint Office of Homeless Services and Do Good Multnomah, proudly announces the selection of artists Lillyanne Pham (LP/she/they) and Paola De La Cruz (she/her) for the creation of a new exterior mural at the Arbor Lodge Shelter, anticipated to be unveiled in the spring of 2024. The mural will be a visual cornerstone of the shelter’s renovation, aimed at providing a range of support and services to North Portland’s houseless community.

Lillyanne Pham, a second-generation Vietnamese artist and cultural organizer, creates through a systemic consciousness framework, focusing on place-based justice and racial equity. LP’s collaborative partner, Paola De La Cruz, of Dominican heritage, weaves digital and analog media into narratives exploring cultural identity and interpersonal growth. Together, they’ve created a collaborative artistic practice, Qué Lo Gì, known for conceiving socially engaged projects that bridge individual stories with communal experiences which resonate with diverse local communities.

Qué Lo Gì, Website, @que_lo_gi

Lillyanne Pham, Website, @lillyannepham

Paola De La Cruz, Website, @happynappystudio

About the Arbor Lodge Shelter Mural Project 

The artwork is developed in coordination with RACC through the Multnomah County Percent for Art Program. The project seeks to add vibrancy to the shelter’s north and west exterior walls, invoking a powerful visual statement at the busy intersection of N Lombard St and N Denver Ave. The artist team of Qué Lo Gì will create an original artwork in collaboration with the local community, instilling a sense of welcome, belonging and joy for the shelter guests and neighborhood alike.

About the Shelter

The Arbor Lodge Shelter, a former pharmacy purchased using federal COVID-19 funding, was first used in February 2021 as a severe weather shelter before going on to serve as a year-round emergency shelter that combined an indoor sleeping space with sleeping pods in its parking lot. Now, as part of an ongoing shelter expansion by the Joint Office of Homeless Services, funded by the Supportive Housing Services Measure, the Arbor Lodge Shelter is being renovated into a long-term, purpose-built 24/7 shelter through reservation/referral only, focused on serving up to 106 people in the community and North PDX area.

The Joint Office of Homeless Services oversees the delivery of services to people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County. The office represents a shared commitment between Multnomah County and the City of Portland to address homelessness by providing housing assistance, shelter, outreach, case management and other services.

Community-Centric Approach

The approach to this project is deeply rooted in community engagement and trauma-informed design. Pham and De La Cruz will work closely with shelter guests, local community members, and other key stakeholders to ensure that the mural is informed by their collective voice and the cultural richness of North Portland.

“RACC is thrilled to steward this project in collaboration with our partners at Multnomah County, the Joint Office of Homeless Services and Do Good Multnomah. We recognize the immense value this facility will add to the North Portland area and understand that having meaningful art experiences at the site is instrumental in healing and supporting people through life’s challenges. In addition to making fabulous artworks for the public realm, Lillyanne and Paola bring a depth and care in their creation process that we are grateful to have as part of this project. We look forward to the mural becoming a joyous and impactful sight for all those in the neighborhood” Salvador Mayoral IV, Senior Public Art Manager of the Regional Arts & Culture Council

To learn more about the Arbor Lodge Shelter mural project, the artists, or to schedule an interview with RACC or the project team, please contact Sophie May Hook at shook@racc.org.

About the Regional Arts & Culture Council

The Regional Arts & Culture Council is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides impactful and transformative funding for artists and nonprofit organizations in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties; manages an acclaimed public art program; leads an advocacy and arts education program; and offers a wide range of technical and professional development workshops. RACC advocates for equity, inclusion, and access, working to build a community in which everyone can participate in culture, creativity, and the arts. We remain steadfast in our mission to enrich every neighborhood we serve.


Krystal Perez’s Vibrant Caribbean Dreams Heat Up NE Portland in Fresh Paint Collaboration

Image Caption: Sueños Tropicales (2023) by Krystal Pérez. Photograph by the artist.

The mural is now on view at Open Signal on NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd as part of Fresh Paint, a partnership with the Regional Arts & Culture Council

PORTLAND, ORE. – October 17, 2023 A new mural by artist Krystal Pérez brings vibrant Caribbean imagery to a busy NE Portland thoroughfare. The mural, titled Sueños Tropicales, is the latest installment of Fresh Paint, an innovative public arts initiative from partners the Regional Arts & Culture Council and Open Signal. The public is invited to view it through April at Open Signal’s wall on NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, between Graham and Knott Streets.

Sueños Tropicales pays tribute to Perez’s ancestors as well as the flora and fauna of Cuba and Miami. The artwork, portrayed in vivid sunset hues, sets a dreamy scene where plants, wildlife, and culturally-significant objects create a connection between the past and the present. It celebrates the uniqueness of the Caribbean experience within Latine culture while inviting the viewer to explore and appreciate their own roots.

Krystal Pérez is a first-generation Cuban-American artist from Miami currently based in Portland. Her work celebrates Cuban heritage by emphasizing everyday experiences — cuisine, family life — as well as her memories of growing up in South Florida. This mural builds on her multimedia experience and unique approaches to color in a new exploration of scale and technique.

Sueños Tropicales is the twelfth installment in the Fresh Paint mural series, following previous works by artists including Rob Lewis, Zeinab Saab, Jose Valentine Ruiz, and others. Since 2017, this collaboration from the Regional Arts & Culture Council and Open Signal has supported emerging artists of color by offering a unique opportunity to showcase their talent in the public realm. Participating artists gain valuable professional experience and develop new skills for their artistic practice, leading to further public commissions.

“Each new Fresh Paint mural shows us that a personal work of art can speak to people across experiences and add to the character and feeling of a neighborhood,” said Daniela Serna, Open Signal’s Communications Manager and Fresh Paint facilitator. “By centering artists and investing in their stories, we hope to nurture a thriving and inclusive future for all Portlanders.”

See more from the artist at quasikrystal.art.

###

Contact

Daniela Serna, Communications Manager
Open Signal
daniela [at] opensignalpdx.org
(503) 288 – 1515 x931

Meech Boakye, Communications Lead
Regional Arts & Culture Council
mboakye [at] racc.org

About Open Signal

Open Signal is an equity-driven media arts center located in Northeast Portland, Oregon. The largest community media space in the Pacific Northwest, we offer production studios and equipment, workshops, artist fellowships, a cable and online broadcast platform, and a professional media production team. We focus on telling stories underrepresented in the mainstream media.

Learn more at opensignalpdx.org.

About the Regional Arts & Culture Council

An independent nonprofit organization, we support greater Portland’s creative economy by providing equitable funding and services to artists and art organizations; managing and growing our diverse, nationally acclaimed public art program; and developing long-lasting public and private partnerships.

For more information visit racc.org.

 


Request for Qualifications – PDX Terminal Redevelopment Public Art Project – International Arrivals

International Arrivals Art Wall

The Regional Arts & Culture Council (“RACC”) and the Port of Portland (“Port”) in Portland, Oregon, are inviting artists to submit their qualifications for the design and installation of a permanent public art display that will be a part of the Portland International Airport’s (PDX) terminal redevelopment project.

The Port of Portland has contracted with the Portland area’s Regional Arts & Culture Council to manage the selection process for this public art opportunity.


Working Project Timeline

  • October 12, 4:00 pm (PST) – Information session on Zoom
  • November 13, 11:59pm (PST) – Application due date (Due Date Extended!) 
  • January 2024 – Artist selection for interview
  • January – February 2024 – Artist(s) site visits, interviews
  • Winter 2024 – Design Development
  • Spring 2024 – Spring 2025 – Fabrication
  • Summer 2025 – Installation Completion

*Dates provided are estimates based upon current knowledge of preliminary project schedules and are only intended to assist artists in determining their own availability to participate. Above dates in no way represent final approved schedules and are subject to change through future iterations of design and construction phases.


Introduction

PDX has been recognized as the best airport in the United States eight times in the last decade. The airport consistently ranks high when it comes to customer service based on its facilities, accessibility, security, and is renowned for its local restaurants, beverages, and retail offerings, as well as short films at no cost, rotating art exhibits, and permanent artworks throughout the airport.

PDX seeks to commission distinctive, site specific, original public artwork for the $2B terminal redevelopment project. This unique artwork location has been identified for this Request for Qualification (RFQ) within the newly designed terminal. All public artwork locations in the new facility are identified on the attached Exhibit A. Separate RFQ documents will be released over the next year for the remaining art installations in the terminal redevelopment project.

A Selection Committee of community representatives, arts and culture professionals, and Port staff has been assembled to recommend artists or artist teams. Each piece of work shall reflect the essence of the region and create a memorable experience that passengers have come to expect from PDX.

This Request for Qualifications (RFQ) will determine artist(s) eligibility to propose artwork for the specific location described in this document.

PDX Airport Overview

PDX serves as the unofficial welcome mat to the Northwest with nearly 20 million travelers a year passing through. Once the TCORE project is complete, in 2025, the facility will be capable of serving 35 million passengers. In addition to passengers, PDX supports a workforce of over 10,000 employees.

PDX served 14,107,240 million travelers during Fiscal Year 2022, which is 29% down from FY19’s passenger count of 19,941,424, due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July 2022, PDX has recovered from the impacts of COVID-19 by 71%, out-performing Port financial analysts’ recovery forecast by 16.4%. Airline staffing shortages are currently suppressing a full recovery, which is expected by early 2024.

PDX operates primarily as an Origination and Destination (O&D) airport. Only 8% of passengers are connecting to other cities. The other 92% of travelers start or end their journey at PDX, and for all those passengers, the airport will be their first or last impression of the region.

With this in mind, the PDX art program seeks to create an environment that embodies the unique character of the Pacific Northwest. PDX is largely a leisure airport, with a smaller percentage of business travelers. This means that most airport users are either nearby residents or are deliberately choosing to visit our region for vacation, so both groups are particularly interested in a localized experience.

Twelve domestic carriers and six international carriers operate at the airport. The airport currently serves 53 domestic markets and, as of November 2022, will offer nonstop flights to 10 international destinations in Japan, Netherlands, Germany, UK, Iceland, Mexico and Canada, some of which are seasonal. Most international flights operate out of Concourse D. Combined, Alaska Air Group (which includes Horizon Air) is the largest passenger carrier at the airport and Southwest, Delta and United are the next three largest, respectively.

PDX currently contains four concourses with 50 gates and ground loading positions. When the terminal redevelopment project is complete, there will be 59 gates and the concourse connector will make its return in 2024, allowing passengers to navigate the entire terminal behind security.

Port of Portland Public Art Program

PDX provides multiple venues for artists and community arts organizations seeking exposure for their works and collections. The program includes permanent art, rotating exhibits, a temporary installation program and a microcinema that showcases short films by Oregon filmmakers. More information on the art program can be found here.

Port of Portland Art Program Goals

Artists should also keep in mind the general goals for the Port of Portland’s entire art program, including that of commissioned permanent artworks

  • Represent artists of diverse races, genders, geographic origins, ethnicities, and ways of being with the purpose of advancing fair and equitable inclusion
  • Incorporate a variety of artistic mediums/materials and aesthetics
  • Reflect the region’s creative and cultural wealth
  • Respond to the airport environment in consideration of designated architectural factors and features supporting the general character of the Port and PDX as described above
  • Made of durable materials and easily maintained

PDX Terminal Redevelopment Program

The redevelopment of the main terminal doubles the footprint of the terminal and invites passengers and employees to celebrate the beauty of the Pacific Northwest with a design evoking a walk in the forest; with vast windows and skylights providing daylight, interior landscaping of living plants, and a monumentally scaled wood roof produced from locally sourced timber.

Overall, the project will grow, modernize, and beautify PDX, preparing it to meet the demands of a new generation of travelers. The upgrades include a 150-footwide building expansion that houses two brand new security checkpoints with increased capacity. The main entrance and ticket lobby will be fully redesigned to replace the 1950’s original, integrating today’s travel technologies. The concourse connector, which lets visitors move between the two sides of the airport without passing through security twice, will return. We’re also adding two new airline lounges, along with stunning artwork, lush greenery, and an impressive wood lattice roof.

The ticket lobby will be a bright and airy space with ample space for passengers to check in at their ticket counters while admiring the new pieces of artwork.
The pre-security concessions will surround a large community gathering space with stadium-style seating, which all departing travelers will pass through. The gathering space will regularly host special events, celebrations, and entertainment.
Not to be outdone, the grand halls immediately after each security checkpoint will be reconstructed with 30-foot ceilings, expansive window views, tons of natural light, greenery at every eye-level, and a lineup of concessions designed to look like a city streetscape, complete with pergola-style canopies and sidewalk seating.
To get a more concrete idea of what the new main terminal will look like, visit pdxnext.com, where you’ll see renderings and construction photos.

Social Equity Policy

The Port of Portland’s Social Equity Policy promotes social equity, using a racial equity focus, with the purpose of advancing fair and equitable inclusion and creating the conditions in which all people can participate, prosper, and achieve equitable outcomes with respect to the Port’s employment, business, and services.

Cultural and racial equity will be considered throughout the process of selecting artists or artist teams, in terms of the demographics of the artists selected, the cultural communities served, and the diverse perspectives represented through the artwork. The Port encourages partnerships among artist/artist teams that reflect our region’s cultural heterogeneity.

Art Sites

The terminal redevelopment project is comprised of 9 separate opportunities for artwork, each with different budgets dependent on the project’s size, location and anticipated material and fabrication needs. Additional locations are listed in Exhibit B. The Selection Committee intends on selecting a different artist or artist team for each RFQ.

One 2D Artwork | International Arrivals

Budget: Not to Exceed $300,000

This is an opportunity for an artist or artist team to create a large scale, signature artwork that will be located on the deplaning level at the North end of baggage claim. This artwork will greet International arrival passengers as they enter the pre-security Terminal area. The wall will also be visibly prominent from the waiting lounge in this area.

This artwork will welcome passengers to Portland and be their first impression of PDX Airport and the City of Portland. This transition space will be a key gathering point for international passengers to meet family, friends, and colleagues. The wall for the artwork is 42 feet long and 8 feet tall. The artwork will be situated at the exit of an 18 foot wide corridor.

The primary goals of this opportunity are for the art to:

  • To be made of very durable materials work with an impactful international focus.
  • Build a connection between PDX airport and the World
  • Be impactful, iconic and provide wayfinding cues for travelers

The commission will be awarded to one artists or artist team, with a budget not to exceed $300,000, inclusive of all artist design fees and associated travel costs, insurance, fabrication, transportation and installations of artwork on site. Eligibility: Open to artists living in the United States and internationally. RACC staff, Artist Selection Panelists, and Port of Portland employees or their immediate families are not eligible to apply.


Applying for This Opportunity

In response to the RFQ, applicants will be asked to submit the following items through RACC Opportunity Portal. Incomplete applications cannot be considered. It is the responsibility of the applicant to complete and submit materials by the application due date: 11:59pm (PST), November 13 (Due Date Extended!) 

Applications must include the following:

  • Statement of interest: In 2000 or less characters and spaces, explain why this project is of interest to you.
    • Describe how your previous work addressed site and similar goals stated for this project.
    • Address how your experiences, artistic practice, or values connect to or align with the Port’s Social Equity Policy detailed above.
    • Include descriptions of how you worked with design and construction teams, and other comments that might help to differentiate you as a candidate for this project.
    • Do not submit a proposal for the commission at this time.
  • Two-page résumé uploaded as a PDF that outlines professional accomplishment and includes two professional references (name, affiliated organization, email address and phone number) for both individual applicants and teams (2 per team).
    • For team applications, include a 2-page résumé for each team member that are combined into one PDF.
  • Up to 10 images of past work including details: These images are the primary way the quality of your work is judged. Provide the following information for each visual: title, year produced, dimensions, budget, medium, and a brief description. Do not embed label information into the jpeg image. Up to 2 videos may be included.

Evaluation Criteria

Selection Phase

During this phase, qualified applicants will be ranked by the Selection Committee on a 100-point system based on the following points distribution:

  • Artistic vibrancy of submitted past work 30 points
  • Statement of interest to include:
    • Artist’s interest in project 10 points
    • Connection/Alignment to Port’s Social Equity Policy 10 points
  • Ability to create impactful artwork for PDX Airport 20 points
  • Potential to work successfully as part of design and construction teams 10 points
  • Meets the goals of Port of Portland’s art program 20 points

Proposal/Interview Phase

During this phase, applicants will be ranked by the Selection Committee on a 100-point system based on the following points distribution:

  • Demonstrated artistic vibrancy and feasibility of the proposed concept 40 points
  • Mastery of materials and fabrication through own skills or subcontracted fabricators 20 points
  • Potential to collaborate successfully with the project design and construction teams 20 points
  • Ease of maintenance, durability, and sustainability of materials 20 points

Artistic vibrancy is defined as an artistic practice that:

  • Demonstrates integrity of process
  • Embodies excellence of craft and skills
  • Demonstrates imagination, distinctiveness, and originality
  • Contributes to artistic practice
  • Engages with the diversity and complexity of contemporary life
  • Is relevant in a local, national and global context

Selection Committee/Process

Members of the Art Committee include artists, arts professionals, the project architect, a Port Commissioner, Port staff and community members. Non-voting advisors to the panel include additional Port staff.

Evaluation of the applicants will be in accordance with the Evaluation Criteria listed above. The issuance of this RFQ, and the receipt of applicants does not obligate that Port to award a contract. The Port may cancel this RFQ or reject any or all proposals in accordance with ORS 279B.100.

All questions relating to this RFQ must be posed through RACC’s online portal. Questions received fewer than five (5) business days prior to the deadline for receipt of submissions may not be considered.
The RACC and the Port reserve the right to make changes to the RFQ. Changes will be made by written addendum which will be issued to all prospective Providers on the RACC’s list of RFQ holders. A Provider may amend or withdraw its proposal any time prior to the time and date established for proposal submission. Refer to Exhibit C for specific disclosures and protest rules associated with this RFQ.

Selection Phase

Prior to the selection phase, a subcommittee comprised of Selection Committee members will review all applicants and narrow the initial pool of RFQ applicants to no more than 50 artists/artist teams per site.

Proposal/Interview Phase

From these applicants, selected by the subcommittee, the Selection Committee will choose up to 4 finalists to prepare a more in-depth art proposal. Finalists will receive more site-specific information and supplemental documents to aid in the proposal process at that point.
During the selection phase, no more than 4 finalists will be selected for the interview phase. Finalists are expected to attend a site visit and orientation session with ZGF and the Port of Portland. Each finalist/team will be paid a $5,000 honorarium to develop a proposal and will be reimbursed for travel expenses. Finalists will present their proposals in an interview format six to eight weeks from the site visit with the entire Art Committee. The proposal shall include: art concept, description of materials, manner of execution/installation, and proposed budget and timeline. At the interview visual representation of proposal and material samples should be provided.

Following the presentations/interviews, the Art Committee will select a single artist/team who will enter into a Design Phase Contract with the Regional Arts & Culture Council and begin collaborating as needed with the design team of ZGF and the Port of Portland. Following approval of the final design by the Art Committee, the artist/team will then enter into a Fabrication Contract with the Port of Portland, a sample contract is attached as Exhibit D.

All questions relating to this RFQ must be posed through RACC’s online portal. Questions received fewer than five (5) business days prior to the deadline for receipt of submissions may not be considered.


RACC Grantee Heléna Dupre Thompson’s “Unintentional Spectacles”

Laura Vincent Design & Gallery is a space in downtown Portland known since 2018 for its careful selection of contemporary artists. We visited to interview artist Heléna Dupre Thompson and view her exhibition Unintentional Spectacles, funded in part by a Make|Learn|Build grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC). 

Thompson was raised in the industrial city of Providence, Rhode Island, and worked as a firefighter. This exhibition served as a testament to her background. Thompson extracts stories from what many overlook: utility poles covered in posters, skate parks, and the undersides of skateboards, transforming close-up images into abstract worlds. 

On view alongside Unintentional Spectacles was James Florschutz’s exhibition, Assembled Fragments. Constructed out of found materials, these objects carried their own histories, challenging our views on urban sprawl and consumerism. Together, these two artists’ were in conversation, their works resonating with each other, weaving narratives of urban life and transformation from the seemingly mundane.

The phrase “industrial beauty” seems like an oxymoron, but in Thompson’s hands, it becomes an exploration of the aesthetic potential hidden in the mundane. “I’ve always been drawn to abstraction,” she says. Providence is a city with an industrial history like her current home, Portland. Despite the geographical distance and the years away, she found unexpected similarities between the two cities. “Providence is kind of like a really small version of Portland,” she notes, describing the shared landscapes, content, and political undercurrents, though also acknowledging a few east-west coast differences.

Her work, characterized by magnifying her lens deep into her subjects, is layered with history, the passage of time, and the gentle or not-so-gentle interventions by humans and nature alike. Focusing on the elements that resonate most with her, Thompson encapsulates vast landscapes within tiny surface areas. “Most of my [photographs]…are about a one to two-inch surface area,” she shares; yet these miniature compositions hint at large geological formations. 

Thompson challenges the notion that her work is a form of documentation. While she captures the tangible realities of her subjects, she intends to remove them from their context and allow them to stand separate. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition of preservation and abstraction that pulls viewers into an almost ethereal space, urging them to question and rethink what they’re perceiving. “I do this…for the viewer to see it however they want to see it,” she explained. The result is an abstraction so detailed, it becomes a world unto itself.

Thompson embraces spontaneity in her creative process, and her work emerges from the unexpected, while staying grounded in the physical world. “Most of my work happens on-site,” Thompson reveals. But there is an element of serendipity at play. She explains, “Sometimes I’ll be riding my bike and I’ll find chunks of metal or glass [on the roadside]. I’ll [then] take them back to my studio and compose them there.”

“Being in that environment, hearing the sounds, seeing the people, meeting the people, smelling the smells… It makes me more connected to the city and the people.”

Her experimentation is not confined to stationary objects; she draws inspiration even from the fleeting, like skateboarders gliding by at the park. “I’m interested in the surfaces that the skaters skate on, but also what the undersides of their boards look like,” she says, unveiling an exciting recent find, recycled skateboard decks. “This is the thing that scraped the wall that I was photographing and now…already…this is a piece,” she marvels, cradling the board. “I love [this] kind of layering…First of all, there’s a graphic on it, right? And then somebody bought it and put these stickers on it. And then who knows where this board has been? Now, through the actions of the skater, it becomes a mashing and regeneration of the original colors, lines and textures,” she contemplates, her words subtly drawing parallels between her work and life itself – a multitude of intricate, layered experiences.

Thompson sees the relationship with these environments and communities as a two-way street — she was observing them, and they were inadvertently shaping her. 

“Being in that environment, hearing the sounds, seeing the people, meeting the people, smelling the smells… It makes me more connected to the city and the people. Even if I see them once, there’s a bond that I feel more connected to,” she confessed. “Being amongst artists and communities, I’ve gotten so much out of that and learned so much from it.” These interactions fostered a sense of shared understanding, a silent bond that she found incredibly nurturing. “I feel like it makes me a more present person, more caring. As artists, we have this connection that a lot of people don’t have. It’s made me feel more whole in a lot of ways, more connected to my environment and myself.”

Thompson also noted the crucial role of funding bodies like RACC, acknowledging how its support had impacted her journey as an artist. She concluded, “[This grant] allowed me to take a few leaps forward, to prioritize my craft, to grow, and to learn. I truly believe I wouldn’t have been in this gallery now if it weren’t for the timing of that grant.” 

As we wrapped up, I was given the exciting news that Thompson had been asked to be represented by Laura Vincent Gallery as the show concluded, confirming the steady evolution of her artistic trajectory. Laura Vincent Gallery’s invitation emphasizes Thompson’s unique visual language and the raw intimacy she brings to her work. With her journey marked by a non-traditional, self-guided education, Thompson’s story reflects the potential for diverse routes into the art world, celebrating creativity that thrives outside established norms. 

All images by Heléna Dupre Thompson, from Unintentional Spectacles.”