"This is where Dirty Projectors recorded Bitte Orca," explains Curtis Knapp of the smallest room I've seen during my tour of the Yale Union Laundry Building—a nook on the second floor that's temporarily housing a library. Knapp is most widely known as co-founder and owner of Marriage Records, but today he's acting as a different kind of co-founder—that of YU Contemporary, a not-yet-complete contemporary arts center at SE 10th and Belmont that aims to combine 14,000 square feet of exhibition space with venues for performance, dance, lecture, film, and live music—all to be filled with the world's most challenging and exciting living artists.
We amble through one labyrinthine, industrial room after another—facilities for a residency program (kitchen, living quarters, etc.), print shop, and recording studio—until we enter the main exhibition space: Exposed rafters, roughly 25 feet overhead, are met by seemingly endless windows and the corroborant sunlight. As I gawk at the unusual physical power of the light-filled space, an array of walkie-talkies sound off, "Quiet on the set. Action!"
Today, YU is being rented out as a location for a Hollywood production called Gone. While this detail might sound insignificant, it begins to answer one of the most-asked questions surrounding the shrouded arts center: How will the space be funded? An initial anonymous donor laid the groundwork for YU's finances, handing over an undisclosed sum that allowed Knapp and co-founder Aaron Flint Jamison (previously of Anacortes' the Department of Safety) to secure the building and hire a small staff.
Sandra Percival, YU's executive director, says film shoots are one source of funding actively being explored—alongside donations and an ongoing membership drive. In the future, grants and potential sources for earned income (a coffee shop was cited as such an option) will be established. Percival withheld exact numbers as to how much money needs to be raised to finish building renovations and see YU into launch position. And other pressing questions remain: Once revenue streams are in place, what artists will be brought in, and who will be making curatorial decisions? And when can we expect the first exhibit? Again, information is either nonexistent or guarded.
The clearest indicator we have as to what YU will look like in coming years is an upcoming preview exhibit, Selections from the PCVA Archive—exploring the seminal Portland Center for the Visual Arts' 16-year legacy (1971-1987) as a model to which YU aspires. Opening Friday, May 6, Selections is a history in artifacts, featuring recordings of performances by artists like John Cage, Philip Glass, and Laurie Anderson as well as physical ephemera, such as a Carl Andre sculpture, PCVA handbills and advertisements, and Willamette Week reviews. While Selections recalls PCVA's programming, it also tells of how that programming came about, including written correspondence between PCVA organizers and artists, instructions for a Sol LeWitt drawing, plans for a Bruce Nauman installation, and other archival materials; indicating the work YU faces in meeting their ambitious goals.
While it is helpful to have a distinct history through which to see YU's future, any specifics as to potential exhibitors and curatorial entities are still in high demand. That said, I find reassurance in the three years that Knapp and his colleagues have spent silently utilizing and developing the space—recording Dirty Projectors, Bradford Cox (Atlas Sound, Deerhunter), Explode into Colors—and the strength of those projects begs for faith and support in whatever else is quietly planned behind closed doors. Still, those doors can't open soon enough.