Portland Institute for Contemporary Art acknowledges and advances new developments in contemporary art while fostering the creative explorations of artists and audiences.
PICA’s programming supports the experiments of the most vital and provocative artists of our time. Our vision is international, intergenerational, interdisciplinary, and decidedly forward thinking (even when those explorations look back in history). PICA is unique among institutions for working right alongside artists at the increasingly blurry boundaries between forms and at the edge of new ideas. Throughout the year, audiences have myriad opportunities to interact with artists, curators, critics, and cultural visionaries in a direct, in-depth way. From performances to exhibitions to lectures to the annual Time-Based Art Festival, our programs catalyze conversations about contemporary culture.
Kristy Edmunds, a respected young artist and curator, founded PICA in 1995 in response to a widening gap in Portland between the established traditional institutions and emerging alternative spaces. She saw a need for contemporary art programs that would cross disciplines and engage a national group of artists with the existing local artistic dialogue. Without a dedicated exhibition or performance facility, Edmunds began an itinerant program in vacant warehouses and makeshift venues throughout the city. These early years established the adaptable and artist-centric DNA that continues to inform PICA’s practice to this day.
Looking for new ways to connect artists and audiences, PICA launched the Time-Based Art (TBA) Festival in 2003, inspired in-part by various civic-embedded festivals in Europe and Australia. In the Festival, PICA built a new forum for global artistic practice, while forging new paths for audiences to engage with contemporary forms work, from workshops to galleries to performance to panels to informal, late-night beer garden conversations. The beauty of TBA stems from the unexpected juxtapositions that emerge from placing so many diverse disciplines and projects in such close proximity. Over the years of the Festival, audiences have increased from 7,500 in 2003 to over 26,000 today.
In 2006, Edmunds departed Portland for the Melbourne International Arts Festival, and PICA began inviting renowned curators from across the country to program the TBA Festival for three-year appointments. From 2006–2008, Mark Russell—Artistic Director of the Under the Radar Festival and formerly of PS122 in New York—oversaw direction of the Festival, and from 2009–2011, TBA was curated by Cathy Edwards—Director of Programming for the Festival of Art and Ideas in New Haven, Connecticut, and previously the Artistic Director at Dance Theater Workshop, New York.
After many years concentrating our attention on TBA, PICA embarked on a strategic plan in 2011, launching a search for on-the-ground artistic leadership and a year-round space. Through this process, we hired Angela Mattox, from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, as PICA’s resident Artistic Director. Concurrently, we constructed a new downtown home for our offices and Resource Room library, flexible enough to host performances, dinners, exhibitions, workshops, and a breadth of other activity throughout the year.
In 2017, PICA underwent a significant organizational transition with regard to its operating space and artistic leadership. After 22 years as an itinerant organization, mounting performances, exhibitions, and public programs in traditional venues and underutilized properties throughout the city, PICA is entering an exciting new era, with a 20-year, no-rent lease on a 18,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Portland’s NE Eliot neighborhood.
Our artistic leadership structure now has shifted from a single Artistic Director model to collaborative approach that is led by three Artistic Directors: Curator of Visual Art, Kristan Kennedy, Curator of Performance, Erin Boberg Doughton, and Curator of Public Engagement, Roya Amirsoleymani.
PICA doesn’t view these recent milestones as the apex of our history, but rather as the latest phase of our continual evolution. As we look ahead at our trajectory, we will follow the future-forecasting of the artists, responding to their ideas and inviting audiences along in our explorations. PICA is a work-in-progress.
For information about PICA’s past programs, please explore our event calendar.
Cover image courtesy Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.