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Community-led vision for Portland Parks & Recreation’s Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (IFCC) moves forward

News Article
Artists selected for inaugural Grant and Residency program at IFCC, proposed to be a center for Black arts and culture; feasibility study planned
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Updated

(Portland, OR) –

Portland Commissioner Carmen Rubio, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R), and the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (IFCC) Community Advisory Committee are pleased to announce the IFCC will be reactivated over the next two and a half years with artist residencies and public programs. This interim programming supports the larger vision of the IFCC as a site where the history of Portland's Black community—and its rich arts and culture contributions—can be presented, displayed, discussed, and honored. At the time of this announcement (2022), Commissioner Rubio oversaw Portland Parks & Recreation, which Commissioner Dan Ryan has since taken over.

IFCC Community Advisory Committee members pose with  Stephan Herrera of Commissioner Rubio's office, PP&R Arts & Culture Manager Soo Pak, and selected artists. The nearly 20 group members are indoors, smiling, with most standing and some kneeling.
IFCC Community Advisory Committee members pose with Stephan Herrera of Commissioner Rubio's office, PP&R Arts & Culture Manager Soo Pak, and selected artists.

The Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center is a historic community arts center located at 5340 N. Interstate Avenue, in North Portland’s Overlook neighborhood. It has a 99-seat black box theater, a rehearsal studio, and art gallery. The IFCC Community Advisory Committee, formed in 2018, has proposed the development of a programmatically and financially sustainable framework for the site that will honor its history and roots in the Black community. With that in mind, the committee proposed the existing site be redeveloped as a Center for Black arts and culture to showcase the historical and cultural contributions of Portland’s Black community.

“The Community Advisory Committee’s vision for IFCC reflects the vision of a more inclusive parks and recreation system,” said Parks Commissioner Carmen Rubio. “I am thrilled to see IFCC come alive with working artists this fall, and I am grateful to my fellow Commissioners for prioritizing this investment.”

IFCC Grant Recipients and Resident Artists Announced

In July 2021, Portland City Council approved $500,000 of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds for a grant and residency program at IFCC to support relief and recovery for artists who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding is a portion of the $2 million Portland City Council approved for Relief and Recovery for Artists of Color, managed by the City Arts Program.

The Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center lit up majestically at night, with fall leaves in the foreground and a water tower in the background.
The Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center lit up majestically at night.

Residencies at IFCC will provide artists with dedicated time and free space for self-paced and self-directed creative practice. Collaboration and partnership among fellow residents are encouraged. During the residency, grant recipients will activate IFCC with at least one event such as a performance, exhibit, or artist talk. The first group of artists will work in a series of 9-week cycles from October 2022 to September 2023. There will be two more application cycles in July 2023 and July 2024.

The following artists have been selected for the first year of grants and residencies:

Selection of the Feasibility Study Team

Concordia LLC was recently selected in a competitive process by PP&R and the IFCC Community Advisory Committee to lead the feasibility study for the vision of expanding IFCC into a Center for Black Arts and Culture. Concordia LLC is a firm specializing in architecture, planning, and community engagement to create places and spaces that can help communities become more equitable, resilient, prosperous, and connected. Examples of Concordia LLC’s work includes convening and facilitating an interdisciplinary team of urban planners, architects, and community organizers to develop the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) following Hurricane Katrina, and designing the renovation of the Ashé Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans, LA.

The feasibility study for IFCC will research and produce market, financial, and operational analyses to determine a sustainable operating plan for IFCC that is in alignment with the Committee’s vision. This effort is funded, in part, by the 2020 Parks Local Option Levy (Parks Levy). There will be opportunities for the community to engage with this work in early 2023.

“I proudly support this community-led partnership that will reinvigorate and enhance the original vision of IFCC,” said PP&R Director Adena Long. “That vision was the inspiration of the late former City Commissioner and PP&R Director Charles Jordan. I am grateful to Portland voters for supporting the 2020 Parks Levy. The Parks Levy is helping fund the IFCC feasibility study and many other initiatives to center communities of color in Portland’s parks and recreation system.”

Public/Private Partnership

In July 2020, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Director Long stated their support of the Committee’s vision and the formation of a partner nonprofit organization. The Community Advisory Committee plans to transition to a nonprofit that will partner and share decision making with PP&R and the City to continue to advance the vision for a Center for Black Arts and Culture.

Project Background

Originally constructed in 1910, the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center was used as a fire station until 1959. Portland's first Black City Commissioner and PP&R Director, Charles Jordan, established IFCC as a North Portland community space and a focus point for Black culture in 1982.

IFCC was managed by the nonprofit organization IFCC, Inc. until 2010, when that nonprofit concluded its operations. Management authority was given to Ethos, Inc., which returned responsibilities to the City of Portland in 2014. Since 2018, the building has been utilized for short-term, multi-week leasing by arts organizations which align with the IFCC’s current project goals.

In 2018, PP&R was charged with developing a community-driven plan to reopen IFCC as a center for arts & culture with the following goals:

  • Respect and honor IFCC’s history and roots in the Black community
  • Uphold IFCC’s original mission to explore, preserve and celebrate Portland’s diversity
  • Advance the City of Portland’s commitment to racial equity

In July 2018, former Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz appointed a Community Advisory Committee to develop a vision and recommend a sustainable operating model for IFCC. In April 2019, the IFCC CAC submitted a report to Director Long and the late former Parks Commissioner Nick Fish. To realize this vision, the CAC recommended that the center operate under a nonprofit organization managing the site in partnership with the City of Portland. The report also demonstrated through financial analysis that program operations are unsustainable in the current facility due to its size, space constraints, and unreinforced masonry (URM) status.

Community Advisory Committee members:

  • Antoinette Edwards (Office of Youth Violence Prevention, retired)
  • Cynthia Sulaski (Overlook Neighborhood Association)
  • Donovan Scribes (Gentrification is WEIRD! artist, writer, speaker, producer)
  • Dr. S. Renee Mitchell (I Am M.O.R.E., artist, writer)
  • Helen Daltoso (Regional Arts & Culture Council)
  • Jeana Woolley (JM Woolley & Associates, community developer)
  • Patricia Welch (North Portland Library, retired)
  • Prentice Onayemi (Grains of Salt, artist)
  • Subashini Ganesan-Forbes (Former Creative Laureate of Portland, New Expressive Works)

More information about the IFCC Grant and Residency Program can be found at portland.gov/parks/ifcc-grant.

Feasibility Study updates can be found at portland.gov/parks/construction/interstate-firehouse-cultural-center-feasibility-study.

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