After we broke the news last night that local all-age institution the Artistery is closing its doors for good—leaving Portland with one less age-friendly option for concerts—we decided to reach out to longtime booker Aaron Shepherd about how this decision came to be, the difficulties of running an all-age space, and why the venue will not be seeking a new location. Shepherd's responses are excellent and definitely worth reading.
When did you first hear that the Artistery house is being sold to developers? Did you get a chance to appeal, or make an offer to buy the space?
We were fortunate enough to have a landlord who seemed to keep us in the loop. I'm sure there were plenty of things he didn't tell us, but we did know that losing the building after our first year on Division was a real possibility. Investors have been looking at the place for the past 5 years. I was never interested in buying the Division space. I wont pretend to know anything about real estate, but as far as I could see, the land was the only valuable part since the building is a complete nightmare. Buying the properties, demolishing the buildings and then building something new on top just isn't a project any of us were interested in or able to do.
We heard a rumor that the developers were from out of town (Seattle is what we heard), any truth to that? Do you know what the future development will be? Condos?
The company is called D.R. Horton. Evidently they're "America's #1 homebuilder". I really don't know what they want to build.
Was there a temptation to find a new space for the Artistery?
For sure. There are a lot of reasons to continue this type of a project. I will not continue The Artistery though. I think it's time for something new to happen. I just started my record store ( The Biz ) last July and have had tons of fun. I would like to have it be a part of something with similar ideals to The Artistery, but I have no idea what that space will look like.
Considering that shows are booked awhile in advance, did you have to cancel any upcoming dates?
Yeah, there were a few. It was tough since canceling shows is not something I take lightly, but people were very understanding and supportive.
Running an all-age showspace is a thankless task, one that this city seems to take for granted. What do you think Portland needs to do to establish long-running all-age spaces that are safe from developers and closure?
This brings up a lot of issues that end up being the start to a conversation more than an answer. First of all, I don't believe that anything on this earth can be forever. I've had to remember to take nothing for granted. The only spans of time that I felt that The Artistery was horribly impotent were when I tried to set up a system to let it run on autopilot. I ended up caring less. Man, so boring! We've had our share of really dark times, but the fact that we were willing to deal with difficult situations together made our lives and this place much better. I don't know for sure, but I imagine that's what it's like to be married. The honeymoon was over long ago, but we loved this place. We need to be interested in growth and be willing to change. It's been exciting to be involved with a space that constantly had to change to support what was happening around it.
I think there could be ways for the City of Portland to be involved with ensuring a long running and relevant all ages venue/cultural center. I don't know a whole lot about how The Vera Project in Seattle is run, but they could be one example. Relevant curation and venue atmosphere are obviously important, but tricky. A relevant venue many times needs people with different gifts and opinions who are willing to work toward a common goal. We have to be challenged! I'm sure this will look different in every situation.
While there are so many people doing similar projects, the Artistery model was different than most and so it would be difficult to duplicate. The reason The Artistery lasted so long without paying anyone much more than a free studio space, is that we thought the trade off was worth it. I don't think anyone can do anything well for very long if they don't care about their job. We were fortunate enough to have a really low rent on the space and so we didn't have to make money with the door or alcohol. We were able to pay bands and put some door money toward utilities. Every now and again we'd take $20 and go out for a drink afterward, but for the most part our cut went back into the space. I believe a major part of a healthy creative community is making sure Artists and Curators get paid for their work because it's usually important work. This is where being fairly organized can be important as this payment structure will always look different. I don't know if we should really set up a minimum wage or anything, but each creative organization should take this issue of value very seriously. Obviously, if people feel valued, they do better work most of the time.
Looking back at your time at Artistery do any particular shows stand out as particularly memorable to you?
There was something special about every show. Some sort of invisible vibe that's hard to put a finger on. People seemed to pay attention and treat this place differently than most venues. We had the best audiences. There was very minimal graffiti and I can only think of 1 theft. If you came to a show and you're reading this, thanks!