willamette week

On the forced closing of Place Gallery

Or: How can you be in two places at once when you're nowhere at all?

Four years ago, Pioneer Place Mall did a very groovy “Portland” thing by beginning to provide and subsidize some of the empty spaces on the third floor of its Atrium Building to people and organizations wishing to open art galleries. Last month, the owners of the mall, General Growth Properties (GGP) rescinded that agreement with, Place, the first gallery that took them up on their offer way back when. Seems there was bad blood.

Oregon ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson wrote about the closing shortly after Place Director, Gabe Flores, made it public on the gallery’s website. Since then, other arts writers have weighed in on this abrupt end to the gallery’s lease agreement, including Alison Hallett for The Mercury, Richard Speer for Willamette Week, and Jeff Jahn on his site, portlandart.net. There was also a short segment on the local FOX affiliate, KPTV.

An appropriate sentiment/Gabe Flores

An appropriate sentiment/Gabe Flores

I won’t go into all of the details of the dispute between the building’s management and Flores (that’s what the links are for) ), but it seems to stem from the content of the art from the final show in the White Gallery portion of Place’s two spaces, and then Flores’ response to the objections by the powers-that-be. It’s worth a read. (link) Flores adds that the reason given for his eviction was that GPP had found a tenant to pay full rent for the space (Place was only responsible for paying utilities), yet he remains convinced that this was nothing less than a bum’s rush. The only response from GPP that I know of (GPP evidently did not respond to requests for a statement for any of the above listed articles) is a rather cursory and noncommittal written statement given to KPTV: “We do not publicly discuss tenant lease agreements, but please know Pioneer Place is very much a fan and in support of the arts,” GGP General Manager Bob Buchanan’s statement read. “Our goal is to create a unique and enjoyable shopping experience for all our customers.”

Before I get too deep into this opinion piece, I should disclose that I had an exhibit of my own work at Place last year. I have also written about the gallery on a couple of occasions, for both Portlandart.net and Oregon ArtsWatch. (One review was less than glowing.) I have had many conversations with Flores over the years and have grown to admire his fertile mind and enthusiasm for the local art community, even though sometimes both can get the better of him. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with his torrent of ideas, and his desire for inclusiveness has resulted in more than a few half-baked exhibitions (more often than not due to the presenting artist). The first couple of years of programming did not give me much hope for his ambitious little start-up, yet Flores and the gallery persevered, and the programming gradually improved.


Before and after: Casey Jarman (seen this year and at the outset of his tenure as Willamette Week music editor) prays for deliverance from arts journalism.

This week’s announcement by Willamette Week Music editor Casey Jarman that he’ll be leaving the paper at month’s end signals an almost total turnover in the Portland alternative weekly newspaper’s art staff. WW Performance editor Ben Waterhouse, Screen editor Aaron Mesh, and Arts editor Kelly Clarke have all left their posts over the past year.

“The Music Editor gig at Willamette Week had been my dream job since high school,” Jarman wrote in an e-mail. “I got to live that dream for four years, and spent almost six years full-time at the paper. It has been amazing. I cannot imagine a better cast of peers and coworkers or a better community of musicians to be involved with. Leaving is very bittersweet. At the same time, I am looking forward to making music writing a hobby instead of a career for the foreseeable future. I’m looking forward to doing something completely different for awhile. One can burn out on anything, it turns out, from eating ice cream to listening to records all day (I’ve been paid to do both!). I hope I provided something of value to WW’s readers and to the Portland music community. It’s definitely time for me to step aside and leave my seat to someone who has the endless enthusiasm (and iron stomach) that I did for the vast majority of my time here. Godspeed to her or him.”

One of the longest-serving music editors in the paper’s history, Jarman brought a vast range of knowledge of Portland music, from hip hop to jazz to indie pop, and plays in his own band, The Morals. He conscientiously boosted the paper’s coverage of the city’s burgeoning music scene, wrote a number of fine features, and helped develop a solid corps of freelance contributors.

I can’t be objective about Jarman’s work, as he’s been my editor in my occasional contributions to the paper’s non-classical music coverage. (I’m also WW’s classical music editor.) He’s also one of my former students from the University of Oregon journalism school. Nor can I provide unbiased coverage of WW’s other staff changes, as those involved are my colleagues, so if there’s a vast purge going on down on Quimby street, I’m unaware of it, and would in any case be constrained by WW Omertà. Each departing editor had compelling reasons to move on. Clarke had a baby. (Her successor, Martin Cizmar, recently garnered national headlines for returning his Eagle Scout badge in protest of the Boy Scouts’ stance on homosexuality. (That linked story, in the interest of full disclosure, was written by another UO graduate and friend of mine, John Higgins.) Waterhouse scored an attractive gig with a fine organization, Oregon Humanities, and as he told the Portland Mercury upon his departure, “six years of going to the theater three times a week was enough.” Mesh returned to the news side of the paper, which is what he was doing before he took over the movie beat; he still contributes occasional film reviews. Jarman is joining an internet startup. Assistant music editor Michael Mannheimer left for  New York last summer and hasn’t been replaced. Most of the rest of WW’s editorial staff has turned over in the past year.

Such turnover is actually pretty common at small newspapers and especially in the alt weekly business, which is characterized by high deadline pressure, demanding workloads and relatively low pay for the amount of work required. Nevertheless, in my highly biased opinion, the above WW staffers contributed valuable coverage to Portland’s arts scene, despite tight resources in a rapidly changing profession, and I hope their expertise will return to the continuing conversation about the ever-expanding world of Oregon arts.

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