Pink is the new black

“I love pink,” said Art4Life Director Sandra Santoro, as she sat in a small kitchen off Splendorporium’s main gallery space.

“I love pink,” said Art4Life Director Sandra Santoro, as she sat in a small kitchen off Splendorporium’s main gallery space. Appropriately, she has furnished the kitchen with pale pink vintage appliances, but Santoro is also referring to the Splendorporium’s annual February Pink Show, a celebration of Valentine’s Day.

Splendorporium is an eclectic and surprising space developed initially around Art4Life, a nonprofit organization designed to educate students on diversity within the arts, other cultures and the city. The organization began on a note of frustration. At the time, Santoro was teaching college and often found herself fed up with her students’ close-mindedness.

“I had students who were afraid to go downtown in their own city,” Santoro said.

She grew up in New York and was appalled at her students’ sheltered attitudes. She decided to take matters into her own hands and form a creative program that would help to edify kids about culture and the arts from a younger and more impressionable age.

And so Art4Life was conceived. The program essentially takes the place of daycare, providing an after-school curriculum of arts and culture for students in pre-K through fifth grade. Six public schools in Portland currently participate in the program, yielding over 300 students. The organization employs 32 part-time artists as teachers, and is funded entirely on parent tuition.

Each month, the program focuses on a different country, exploring cultural aspects such as visual arts, theatre, music, literature, dance and food. In addition, the kids take regular field trips into the city, exploring how that country’s culture meets Portland’s own. These trips familiarize students with the rich cultural milieu right on their doorsteps. These experiences also provide an opportunity for interaction. For example, when students visit the symphony, they don’t just sit in the audience—they go backstage and witness the inner workings of that world.

“This encourages kids to think big. We want them to believe that anything is absolutely possible.”

Six years into the venture, Santoro decided they needed a space, and so came Splendorporium, the first children’s gallery of its kind and simultaneous community space for local artists. The gallery is located within the nondescript folds of industrial southeast, just south of Powell and 21st in the Brooklyn neighborhood. From the outside it looks like a hole-in-the-wall, but it opens up to a huge lofty space that houses both the community and Art4Life galleries, as well as a separate studio space for an annually sponsored artist-in-residence program. While this is the permanent home for Art4Life, the space is also donated for like-minded community events, such as art shows through Portland’s DART schools.

Splendorporium hosts monthly themed shows, and the magnitude of the space allows for huge and eventful First Friday openings like the one inaugurating The Pink Show on Feb. 4.

“We get at least 200 people, but usually closer to 500, at these openings,” Santoro comments.

This turnout is not a surprise. Along with the local artists’ and children’s artwork, The Pink Show’s opening will also host a variety of community participants like the Voodoo Doughnut Van, which, through Urban Opportunities, employs homeless and at-risk youth. The event will also feature Wanderlust, the mobile vintage retail shop and Rojo the Therapy Llama, an active community participant in animal-assisted therapy, who will be dressed for the occasion.

“He usually wears a pink feather boa,” Santoro said.

There will be themed snacks and Valentine-making stations and, of course, a diverse selection of pink-themed art. Splendorporium’s share of the gallery sales goes directly back into the Art4Life pool.

The opening promises plenty of people championing their Valentine’s Day holiday spirits. If you plan to attend, be prepared to wear pink and check your rancor at the door.

“This is a place to be silly—for kids and adults.” ?