Disjecta: bigger, better, bolder

    The art organization known as Disjecta has been part of the Portland scene since 2000. Originally residing on North Russell Street, the grassroots space became known for showing some of the most cutting-edge art that came to Portland. The "Modern Zoo" show of 2003 became a touchstone for artists in Northwest Portland, and many people were shocked when Disjecta had to close its doors in 2004. Since then, under Director Bryan Suereth, Disjecta has regrouped, rethought and been reborn in the Templeton Building on the east end of the Burnside Bridge. I sat down with Bryan Monday morning under a very imposing poster reading "Disjecta Business Plan" to ask how things are looking.


Could you tell us a little about why Disjecta moved from North Portland? What happened?

    Well, after four years on Russell Street we lost our lease. And so we had been brewing an idea for sort of expanding what Disjecta was able to provide to the community, and when we lost the lease, that put the process into a little bit more of a rapid motion. So we found this building, and it offered all of the things and more that we have ever dreamed of, and so we started to put together a business model, how we could make it work financially, and make it a stable, long-term asset to the community. In June of 2005 we had our first event and at this point we’re now into a semi-permanent lease situation, but we need to continue to prove our worth and be able to pay the bills and the rent on the building.


This sounds like a change in mission from your space on Russell Street, a movement away from a grassroots space. I don’t envision a business plan plastered on the wall of Russell Street.

    No, that’s true, and ultimately if you don’t have a business plan, then you don’t have a space. The spirit is the same as it was, and in fact, it’s enhanced here. It’s a grander scale, it’s a bigger scale, but we also felt that right now in Portland it’s an appropriate time to look at a larger, wide-open, risk taking venue that does not currently exist in Portland. There is no 365 day-a-year location that tackles contemporary performing and visual arts. To have this type of interdisciplinary art center is important to this city now as a burgeoning art city. Without that elemental structure, the large-scale space where these things can happen year round, then it’s a struggle to keep that momentum.


At one time PICA (who closed their permanent gallery space in 2003) was the only centrally located contemporary art institution…

    And they really still are, they’re just a 10-day institution, which is unfortunate. But they have a lot of power behind what they do. And this goes back to something that I thought about quite a bit, which is this over-festivalization of Portland. Everything has become a festival, and it takes an immense amount of resources to put these festivals together, and in 10 days, if you blink you miss it. And that doesn’t really sustain the level of creativity that is trying to assert itself in the city. You won’t find any other arts city lacking the type of infrastructure that Portland does. Most other cities have at least two museums – we have one. And if you look around, most other cities really understand the necessity of emerging artists, the ultra-contemporary-what’s-happening-now type of space.


You’re built on a model that incorporates the public, the patrons and the artists into one space. So you’re seeking something that brings all sides together?

    We have to. Any good ecosystem requires all those components to be here. The predators and the prey, so to speak, and then all of the other flora and fauna in between. So essentially what this is, is a compact model of the creative community. Artists exhibit and show here, there are performances here, patrons hopefully come and buy work here, there will be artists’ studios here. And on top of that we would like to have a few creative businesses here – a silkscreen studio, a photo studio, things that really enhance the creative resources of the community.


And that fits in with your goal of Disjecta seeking to be ultimately self-sufficient?

    What we’ve seen historically in Portland, all the organizations that were here (PCBA, PICA, Northwest Artists Workshop) ended up without funding, they’re either gone or lost part of their programming. So that really indicated a need to us to base our model on a revenue source like the leased studios. We do feel that being mostly self-sufficient, paying our own rent, paying our operating costs, is going to be very important to donors and foundations when that time comes. So they know that they’re funding primarily programming, which is exciting. That’s what people want to fund.


So where are you currently in pursuit of your funding goal?

    We’re over 80 percent, we’re at 82 percent towards our goal. But it’s that last 18 percent that is the most difficult. But we have some other plans of action, should we need to unveil them.


Let’s talk about the art that you hope to host here. Right now Disjecta has been hosting a lot of music performances and time-based art. In the ultimate vision is there space for both visual and performance art?

    Yes. Presenting contemporary visual art is very important, because that is what is really lacking in Portland. There are performing arts venues in town. None of them that really focus on the type of emerging work, the challenging conceptual work that Disjecta does. But the visual arts have a real lack of programming space that’s accessible year round. One of our goals is to have large-scale exhibition space, perhaps two or three exhibition spaces in the building when it’s all said and done. And those spaces will accommodate a pretty diverse range of artists at all times. The Haunted exhibition, which is opening Saturday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m., is an indicator of what we truly would like to do with the visual arts program. We brought in some young curators with great connections who are bringing 22 artists from all over the world to exhibit here. Some of the artists are from Portland, some are from Prague, Sweden, Cuba, San Francisco, New York.


And this is also coordinating with The Affair at the Jupiter Hotel?

    We’re not coordinating with them, we’re just opening while they’re in town because we feel that it’s a great platform to showcase what Disjecta is all about – to curators and collectors who are coming in from out of town. The Affair is a totally commercial endeavor though, which is really outside the focus of what we do – it’s a big party, and what better way to participate in that party than to actually throw what would be the complete counter-view of what The Affair is, which is a small compact commercial environment. Here we have a wide-open, large-scale, non-commercial show. And so we think that those two things will work really well together.


I know that you’re very interested in involving all of Portland in Disjecta. Do you have any plans about how to involve PSU students?

    We have been fortunate enough to have some interns coming out of PSU. We’re also establishing The State of the Art exhibition, which is a juried thesis show, and includes all of the schools in the state of Oregon. From the professorship to the student body, keeping PSU in the fold hasn’t been that difficult. It’s a great natural connection.


I also saw that in October, you are also hosting a number of musical events promoted by Blackbird, The Joggers, Islands and Xiu Xiu to name a few?

    There’s the visual arts and the performing arts element. These really cultural music activities and performing arts are available to the student body. We want the student body to participate in this environment. You can go see The Joggers play at a rock club; it’s just different to see them here. And what we try to do with the music element is not just have rock shows here, but bring some of the more interesting arts-focused shows.


"Haunted" opens this Saturday at 7p.m. for free. Check out the Disjecta website (www.disjecta.org) for the lengthy list of artists. Suereth also mentioned that Disjecta shows have been known to spark many a romantic flame, so make a date to check out an art/rock show in October!