Black-led advocacy group pushes to reclaim Portland’s former Albina Arts Center

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Jan. 2, 2022 2 p.m.

Don’t Shoot Portland is hoping to convert the space into a resource center for Black Portlanders.

Black-led advocacy group Don’t Shoot Portland is making a push to reclaim the former Albina Arts Center, once a significant cultural hub for Black communities in North and Northeast Portland.

Located at 8 N.E. Killingsworth St., the center provided arts, music and cultural programs to the residents of the historically Black Albina neighborhood starting in the early 1960s.

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Don't Shoot Portland held a press conference Dec. 20 as part of a push to reclaim the former Albina Arts Center, a significant cultural hub for Black communities in North and Northeast Portland.

Don't Shoot Portland held a press conference Dec. 20 as part of a push to reclaim the former Albina Arts Center, a significant cultural hub for Black communities in North and Northeast Portland.

Mika Martinez

In December, leaders with Don’t Shoot Portland demanded the building be returned to a nonprofit managed by and for Black Portlanders. The group alleges the state and the Oregon Community Foundation, which currently oversees the building, have bungled a process for returning the historic site to the community, and allowed the property to fall into disrepair.

“Without an arts center, we’re really a community that really doesn’t have a voice and doesn’t have a pulse,” artist and educator Isaka Shamsud-Din said at a Dec. 20 press conference.

Don’t Shoot Portland’s Teressa Raiford said that, until recently, the group rented two different units in the building. It moved out during the pandemic, in part due to poor maintenance, including a peeling ceiling and broken floorboards.

“There’s been a lack of investment in the building,” Raiford said. “Why not allow a community agency like ours, or anyone else that would be interested, to purchase the property so we can get it back into the hands of our community?”

Raiford said she is hoping to convert the space into a resource center for Black Portlanders.

“We want to basically restore it so we can house archives and community experiences, artwork, photos, information, documents,” she said. “We don’t have a Black cultural resource center here in Portland. We need a place that can provide that kind of intake and preservation work.”

The building was acquired by the Albina Women’s League Foundation in the late 1960s. In 2015, the Oregon Department of Justice, which is responsible for overseeing the state’s charities, took control of the building after allegations that one of the foundation’s leaders was misappropriating funds.

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The Oregon Department of Justice tasked a court-appointed receiver with finding a nonprofit to acquire the building. The receiver selected a group called the Black Investment Consortium for Economic Progress, according to court records. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for more information on the arrangement.

But records show the Black Investment Consortium for Economic Progress — or BICEP — was not incorporated as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit at the time, and so the Oregon Community Foundation was picked to oversee the building. That foundation is a nonprofit that distributes more than $100 million annually in grants and scholarships. Its leaders have promised to center racial equity. A 2016 agreement between the court-appointed receiver and the Oregon Community Foundation sent to OPB states that BICEP would receive the Albina neighborhood property after BICEP is recognized by the IRS as a “qualified charitable organization.”

But former members of BICEP say the consortium has since dissolved. Kristen Chambers, an attorney for Don’t Shoot Portland, said their group has still not been given an opportunity to acquire the building.

“It’s not only that they haven’t met the criteria for the building,” Chambers said. “It’s that the whole process for rehoming this historical and culturally significant building was pretty much done behind closed doors.”

Chambers said that, in 2019, leaders with Don’t Shoot Portland approached the Oregon Department of Justice about acquiring the building, but their offer was rebuffed.

“Don’t Shoot has got the community orientation. It’s already serving the community, already working in the neighborhood. They’re basically saying here, ‘We’re the charity that you’re looking for,’” Chambers said.

A spokesperson for the Oregon Community Foundation said it is holding onto the building in a “temporary, administrative capacity” at the request of the Department of Justice. The foundation plans on passing on ownership of the building soon, though it’s not clear who will acquire it.

“The collective objective has always been to return this resource to the community,” Maureen Kenney with the Oregon Community Foundation wrote, in response to an inquiry from OPB.

“In early 2022, in consultation with the DOJ, OCF will convene a community-based advisory committee to review interest from nonprofit organizations and recommend a grant recipient,” she said.

But Raiford said she believes the promised community process is unnecessary at a time when no one else is petitioning for the building.

“That’s really a shame when we’re like, ‘Hey we have the resources to get it and we have the ability to provide it to our community,’” she said. “I’m sure if someone in the white community said, ‘I want to purchase this building I’m occupying because I can see there’s a lack of investment, and I think we can do better,’ they’re not going to be like, ‘Let’s see what the other white people think about the property.’”

The foundation said they expect this community process to be completed in 2022.

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