Oregon College of Art and Craft, a school with a 112-year history, will end its degree programs in May.
The school is described by some as an engine in Portland’s creative economy.
A fixture in the Pacific Northwest’s vibrant craft movement, the college’s parent institution was founded by Julia Hoffman, a painter, sculptor, metalworker and weaver who believed that beautiful things are something every Oregonian should be able to access. The Arts and Craft Society she founded gave rise to a school, which became OCAC in 1996.
Over the years, thousands of artists studied there, going on to populate the region’s creative businesses, from apparel giants to the contemporary art world to Etsy shops and every professional level in between. Comic book artists, metalworkers, photographers and fine artists alike found training and inspiration in the college’s wide-ranging, omnivorous approach to arts education.
Professor emeritus Thomas Orr, co-founder of the ceramics space Ash Street Project, said the educational approach was singularly focused on artists’ inner voices.
“I don’t look to see whether they turn the world around,” Orr said. “I looked to see if they turned themselves around. To me that’s much more valuable.”
Of the college’s closure, Orr told OPB, “I think it will be a loss. I think that there will be an empty hole. Los Angeles County Museum of Art has gotten a lot of students from OCAC, [as has] Nike. I think it’s shameful. That’s what I think.”
The college was also a home for more casual students of all ages, and housed a summertime Art Adventures camp that thousands of Portland metro-area kids attended over the years.
The college has suffered from low enrollment and administrative turnover in recent years. As a steady drumbeat of closures at the Art Institute of Portland and Marylhurst University demonstrated, small arts and liberal arts schools with enrollment of less than 1,000 students have had difficulty weathering the economic issues that drive likely students away from academia and into full-time work. Several rounds of talks with Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland State University and other entities over the past year proved unable to create a safety net for the college.
In a statement, the OCAC board called the decision “heartbreaking,” but added the closure was “the only responsible option.”
A statement on the college website says students who have not completed degrees by the end of the spring term will be referred to a “partner institution,” but no names have yet been suggested as possible havens. More than 135 people are currently enrolled.
The campus, a lush, forested enclave in Portland’s West Hills, was a substantial part of the college’s appeal. Artist Horatio Law, who first came to Portland as a resident artist at OCAC in 1994, said, “so much of the identity is that beautiful campus.”
“The setting and the way people start to think differently when they feel themselves a little bit removed from the world,” Law said.
The campus will be sold to finance the last few months of operations.