Portland-based contemporary arts center Yale Union is transferring ownership of its land and building to the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, in recognition of the building being upon Native land.

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The historic Yale Union building in Southeast Portland has hosted arts events and exhibitions for the last decade. Now, the space will be used as the home of Indigenous art and exhibits, and will promote conversations for social change at the newly-dubbed Center for Native Arts and Cultures.

Lulani Arquette is the president and CEO of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. She told OPB’s “Think Out Loud®” that the transfer will further NACF’s mission of mobilizing Native artists and culture bearers.

“We’re looking at this as a really thriving, gathering place — a place that the community feels that they’re a part of,” Arquette said. “It will allow us to really feature, produce and present the work of Native artists, cultural leaders, and the community in a multidisciplinary way.”

Exhibitions include studio and maker spaces, performing arts and artwork through a Native lens, along with workshops that deal with anti-racism and environmental justice.

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Arquette said conversations with the late Yoko Ott, the previous executive director of Yale Union, and Yale Union Board President Flint Jamison fueled the next steps toward systemic change.

“I see it as a very courageous, intentional and generous move on behalf of Yale Union. In a sense it’s symbolic to me of repatriation of property and assets to a Native entity in the arts and culture field,” Arquette said.

“You’re not repatriating to a tribe necessarily, but it’s repatriating to a Native-owned, Native-led organization in the arts field whose work is very much about raising up, and making more visible the First Peoples of this country.”

Jamison said that as part of an artistic organization, over time Yale Union felt implicated in the gentrification they were seeing in Portland.

“If you look at gentrification in general, art organizations are somehow part of that. As we noticed our neighborhood continue to change, and people and industry continue to be displaced by that gentrification, honestly, I started to feel complicit in that,” Jamison said.

“As a settler colonial myself, we are on stolen land. I think what’s interesting about this is our building is based in an urban setting, and to center Indigenous voices and the production of Indigenous culture in the heart of Portland is powerful.”

Yale Union will collaborate with NACF to co-present artistic programming in 2021, and dissolve later that year.

Hear the full conversation by clicking play on the audio player at the top of this story.

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