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Arts campus rises from creative thinking

PNCA redefining higher education on North Park Blocks


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Pacific Northwest College of Art President Tom Manley stands outside the new ArtHouse student residence hall on the North Park Blocks.A few years ago, the Pacific Northwest College of Art was the largest school of its kind in the country that didn’t own a single building.

Today, PNCA is on the verge of establishing a campus in the North Park Blocks that includes an art and design school, a museum and student housing. The projects are fulfilling a vision for the school that was adopted several years ago under the guidance of PNCA President Tom Manley.

“It’s not only very exciting for us to have our own urban campus, but we believe it will activate the North Park Blocks in a way that has never happened before and change the city,” Manley says.

The most recent building to open is the ArtHouse, the school’s first residence for its students. The modernistic, six-story building is at 33 N.W. Park Ave. It includes 50 apartments and ground-floor retail spaces, including a cafe. The apartments are a mix of studios and one- and two-bedroom units. The first of 130 students to live there began moving in this week.

Before that, in 2009, the college partnered with the Museum of Contemporary Craft at the remodeled DeSoto Arts Building, which occupies the half-block along Northwest Davis Street from Broadway to Eighth Avenue. It also houses some of the city’s premier art spaces, including Blue Sky Gallery, Charles Hartman Fine Art, Augen Gallery, and Froelick Gallery.

Next up will be the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art and Design, to be in the historic former U.S. Post Office building at 511 N.W. Broadway. The building was acquired from the federal government in 2008 and will undergo an extensive $32 million renovation. Just under half — $15 million — will be financed through a capital campaign, which was started with a $5 million gift from the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer CARE Foundation. Work is expected to begin in coming months, with the opening set for 2015.

Manley credits the school’s board of governors for pursuing the projects through the depths of the Great Recession. He also said that good luck played a role in the progress, especially the unexpected opportunity to partner with the craft museum. The board is expected to formally bring the museum into the school in coming months.

Establishing the campus will significantly raise PCNA’s visibility and influence. But Manley says the board already has agreed to take on a greater challenge — redefining the concept of higher education.

“Higher education has to change. It has to become more affordable and more meaningful though a student’s entire life. Everyone knows that, and we’re committed to figuring out how to make it happen for our students, their families, and the school’s faculty and staff,” Manley says.

New life for park blocks

The North Park Blocks have long suffered by comparison to the South Park Blocks, which run from vibrant Portland State University past such prominent institutions as the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon Historical Society and the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. In contrast, the buildings along the North Park Blocks have historically included warehouses and business supply companies. They stop at the parking lot behind the once-prominent 511 Building, which also has lost its luster after years of minimal maintenance.

New exhibition and performance spaces in the renovated 511 Buildings also will draw crowds into the evenings. The school already draws more than 15,000 people a year to around 60 events staged at its headquarters in the Pearl District. Those numbers are expected to increase significantly when the new spaces open.

Manley predicts the changes will be transformative, spurring new development and revitalizing the area as a center of art and creativity.

“It will be a mix of institutions and businesses that will bring this part of town back to life,” Manley says.

When the renovated 511 Building opens, the school will move out of its main quarters at 1241 N.W. Johnson St. The building already has been sold to a Seattle real estate firm. The school may keep up to 30,000 square feet of leased space in the Pearl District, but Manley says it also is looking for facilities closer to the North Park Blocks to serve as additional classroom space.

Funds, fate buoy school

Although the school has been in Portland for nearly a century, it had never been considered one of the city’s top-tier arts organizations until recently. For most of its life, it was known as the Museum Art School, and it occupied several floors of offices and studios on the north side of the original Portland Art Museum building, overlooking what is now the outdoor sculpture court.

The school changed its name to the Pacific Northwest College of Art in 1981, was legally incorporated as a separate entity in 1994, and struck out on its own in 1998. It moved into leased space on the western edge of the first phase of the Pearl District’s residential projects.

Shortly after being hired as president in 2004, Manley met with the school’s board at a retreat and laid out an ambitious plan for its future. It called for acquiring more permanent buildings and expanding toward the North Park Blocks.

The board approved the vision, but then fate intervened to make it even more ambitious. In 2007, Hallie Ford, a lifelong supporter of arts in Oregon and co-founder of the Ford Family Foundation, gave the school $15 million — the largest gift to any arts organization in Oregon history.

The gift was intended to fund the creation of a new master of fine arts program at the school, based on a world-class artist-in-residence program called the Ford Institute for Visual Education, or FIVE.

Plans come to fruition

The school turned to the 511 Building to house the program. The federal government declared it surplus in 2001. Under federal law, such buildings can be donated to qualified nonprofit organizations. Manley toured the 130,000-square-foot building in 2008 and thought it would work, even though it was about a dozen blocks from the existing main building. The U.S. General Services Administration agreed to the transfer later that year.

But then fate intervened again. The Museum of Contemporary Craft moved from its small offices and exhibit space on Southwest Corbett Avenue to the DeSoto Building in 2009. The move exhausted the financial resources of the small museum and the recession hampered its ability to raise more money. Seeing on opportunity to increase its presence on the North Park Blocks, the school’s board authorized a loan and partnership that stabilized the museum as a joint enterprise. The two parties are negotiating a merger as the loan comes due.

The two moves put the school’s focus squarely on the North Park Blocks.

For ArtHouse, the school retained a project team that included some of the same people behind the Union Way retail corridor that just opened in the 1100 block of West Burnside Street. It included project partners Tom Cody and Anyeley Hallova, and architect Thomas Robinson.

The new building was built in just about 10 months. During an opening news conference on Aug. 26, Manley marveled at how quickly it had come together. The $7.3 million project targets LEED Silver certification. Toward that end, it is located near transit, includes 106 bike parking spaces, has a rooftop rain garden that filters runoff, and has high-efficiency plumbing fixtures that help reduce water use by about 50 percent.

Work is scheduled to begin on the 511 Building later this year. The current tenants are scheduled to move by the end of this month, clearing the way for the extensive renovation project. Manley says the school already has raised more than $11 million of its $15 million capital campaign goal.

The school has retained architect Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture to transform the building into a teaching center for experimental, leading-edge art, craft and design. The project will preserve key historical features in the building, including numerous skylights, expansive windows, and lofty ceilings. It will add new spaces for art exhibitions, lectures and events, in addition to classrooms, production facilities and a library.