Late last week, rumors started swirling around the city's art scene that, if true, could have spelled doom for artists and producers who rely on warehouses and other non-traditional venues for events. The bad news? The Portland Fire Department (PFD) was no longer going to issue temporary fire permits to "non-assembly" buildings—meaning any building that isn't approved for events on a continuing basis.
Such a shift in policy would have made things very difficult for organizations like Disjecta, PICA (especially their multi-venue Time-Based Art Festival), and the new AudioCinema space, not to mention producers of smaller events.
"It would homogenize the entire city," says AudioCinema's Adam Mackintosh, explaining what would happen if shows could only occur at sanctioned venues, like clubs or auditoriums, where there would be competition with professional promoters. "Financially, you can't compete with someone like Thrasher [Presents]. It just doesn't make sense."
Fortunately for the arts scene, the rumors were a little premature. After word began spreading, PFD heads quickly planned a meeting for Tuesday, February 7, to iron out a new policy, and then invited Mackintosh, Disjecta's Bryan Suereth, and PICA's Victoria Frey. Even more fortunate for the artists, the fire department appeared eager to find a way to accommodate non-traditional events.
The afternoon meeting didn't culminate in a standardized policy, but attendees said it started a dialogue between both sides of the issue. For now, Fire Marshal John Klum stressed, event producers need to "coordinate upfront with the fire department"—beginning the permit process at the early stages of planning.
"The last thing I want to do is negatively impact small businesses," Klum said. He later added, "If we say no to all non-assembly permits, they're either going to do them anyway and not tell us, or it's going to kill that part of the arts community—and no one wants that."
Klum said the department will draw up a list of concerns by the end of the month. In the meantime, local artists can rest easy—for the time being, the permit process will remain unchanged.