In January 2018, Portland city Commissioners Nick Fish and Chloe Eudaly published a 24-point plan for preserving and expanding affordable creative spaces in Portland. On Feb. 28, they will present the full report at a City Council meeting, where the commissioners’ recommendations will undergo further debate.
Eudaly and Fish both have strong ties to the arts. Eudaly was owner of independent bookstore Reading Frenzy for 20 years, while Fish has been the council’s liaison for arts and culture issues and a longtime arts advocate.
Q&A with Portland City Commissioners Nick Fish and Chloe Eudaly
April Baer: Why is it important that Portland get serious about preserving creative space?
Nick Fish: We have a lot to lose. The housing price is affecting everybody. We’re pricing artists out of our city and we’re making it more difficult for art nonprofits to function here. If we’re not careful, we’re going to lose something that makes Portland very special.
Baer: [Chloe], why is it that you and Commissioner Fish decided to focus on an approach like this — 24 recommendations, largely internal to the city — instead of going head on for something like more venues, more arts funding streams?
Chloe Eudaly: Considering that we’re in a budget cut cycle, we knew there weren’t going to be many dollars to put towards increasing funding for the arts. So the focus was really on: How were we discouraging or maybe interfering with possibilities for development, for instance, that would just require some code tweaks?
Baer: Help us envision what you have in mind that a fully integrated system might look like. Let’s say council is able to agree on maybe half of the proposals. Do you have any favorites?
Fish: I’m a big believer in setting our sights on something we can get done soon. The question is in the first phase: What can we get done? Commissioner Eudaly, who’s in charge of the Bureau of Development Services, has said she will hire an arts concierge. That’s a significant win.
I happen to think that we should move on loosening the restrictions on where we put art funded for the Two Percent for the Arts program. The truth is that a lot of the city’s investments happen within walking distance of City Hall. One recommendation is to use that revenue stream to invest in places that don’t have well-established public art collections.
A third is cultural mapping. RACC has already been working on this. You first need a robust database of all the at-risk buildings and then we need a strategy for how to save them.
And finally, something dear to my heart is: How do we capitalize on all the commercial space that we’re building into affordable housing? It has historically been some of the hardest space to lease. So we’ve asked Prosper Portland to think of ways of creating public benefit off of all that commercial space.
Eudaly: The concierge is certainly a favorite because it’s within my power to make it happen. We hope to have that person within the next several weeks.
I’m excited about inventory and map of creative spaces. We may see interesting opportunities for development in different districts.
I’m particularly interested in how we can create opportunities for artists to own their own spaces. Ultimately, I think that’s what needs to happen.
Baer: Would the city be willing to go so far as to require cultural space in a building that displaces existing cultural space — a creative zoning designation?
Fish: I think it’s worth looking at. I’d want to know where it’s been successful and the legality of such a requirement.
Baer: So how many recommendations do you think you’ll be able to get agreement on from your colleagues?
Eudaly: I think we’re going to pick a top five to move forward on. No. 1 is the Arts Concierge, and that’s already in process. So four or five more items from this list.
Baer: What does it look like when a city moves with intention on the arts?
Eudaly: We really can’t separate general affordability from affordability for the arts. We can create all the temporary spaces and lift codes and handhold till the cows come home. If artists can’t afford to live here, none of it really matters. So there would be a focus on mitigating displacement brought on by rapid gentrification.
Something I’ve been saying for years is — and some may argue with me — we’ve been doing an adequate job supporting our larger arts organizations. We haven’t done much for small arts organizations and certainly not for the kind of creative, visionary, on-a-shoestring business owners that Portland seems to breed. I would love to see the city doing more to support small organizations and creative entrepreneurs.
Fish: A lot of these recommendations don’t require a lot of public subsidy. What they do, though, is require public will. And we are saying, collectively, that we’re going to lean in on these.