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Faythe Levine

Early this morning, Portland art center Yale Union announced the passing of its executive director Yoko Ott. The news is sudden and unexpected, taking everyone I've spoken to by surprise. President of the board and co-founder Aaron Flint Jamison expressed how much Yale Union believed in Ott's vision. "We were just 100% behind her," he said. "She was really personally connected with the people here, as well as professionally."

Here is the release:

The Board of Directors of Yale Union is heartbroken to report that Executive Director Yoko Ott passed away on Friday, October 19. She was an uncompromising advocate for artists and their work, and made transformative contributions to many institutions including One Reel, Frye Art Museum, Seattle University, Open Satellite, The New Foundation Seattle, Honolulu Biennial Foundation, Ho’oulu Āina Project, and Yale Union, where she served as Board Member, Deputy Director, and most recently as Executive Director. She devoted her career to elevating all forms of art, working tirelessly to support the individuals and places that shared her vision. We are deeply thankful to Yoko for her dedication, compassion, and strength. We honor her legacy by remaining steadfast in our mission to support artists in the production and presentation of their work. She will be profoundly missed by all at Yale Union.

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The Mercury profiled Ott this past Spring when she was appointed as Yale Union's director. Writer Robert Ham noted that Ott spent "much of her career championing Northwest artists and institutions, and attempting to use her many platforms to widen the view of donors and gallery visitors." Speaking on the evolution of her arts career Ott said:

“I started to focus on arts workers and creating conditions in the workplace that make arts workers thrive. Oftentimes they are invisible. You hear lots of talk of patrons and lots of talk about artists, but you don’t actually hear a lot of talk about all the people that are doing the work to support cultural production.”

This is a tremendous blow for Yale Union who have a history of bringing experimental, challenging installations to Portland. Their next installation, a series of film projections by McIntyre Parker, is set to open on Sat Nov 3, and thus far the YU team appears to be keeping that schedule. Yale Union told ArtNews they have no plans to fill her appointment, as of yet.