Fall Arts 2023

An Astrological Guide to Portland’s Film Festival Scene

Let the stars in the sky be your guide to the screen.

Get Thee to a Gallery

Our picks for Converge 45 and other Portland gallery shows you must not miss this fall.

Making Matta Moves

Chef Richard Văn Lê closed his cart, and moved into restaurant collective Lil’ Dame.

Portland’s Coolest New Record Shop Is Also a Cultural Hub

Beacon Sound, Musique Plastique, Super Electric, Lost Avenue, et al—the signage is going to be intense.

What Does Basketball Fashion Have to Do With Basketball?

Not a lot, but in Mitchell S. Jackson’s new book, Fly, it sure is fun to look at.

Birth of a Comedy Corridor

After a blowout summer of Comedy in the Park, Kickstand hopes audiences will join them indoors.

Artists Repertory Theatre Will Keep Building

Four years into its two-year tour, the company faces another setback.

EverOut's Guide to Fall 2023 Arts Events in Portland

Concerts, Exhibits, Performances, and More Events to Put on Your Calendar

Appreciating the Musical Genius of John Williams

We asked associate conductor Deanna Tham to unpack the Oregon Symphony’s take on the greatest modern film composer.

PICA’s New Arts Festival Takes Its Time

Stepping in for the Time-Based Art festival, Time-Released promises chaotic good performance art in bursts.

There Will Be Black Art

Intisar Abioto brings first-of-Its kind exhibit Black Artists of Oregon to the Portland Art Museum.

Works in Progress

Checking in with two of Portland’s most important art projects:  the Doug Fir and Tomorrow Theater.

Why Were So Many Libraries Closed This Summer?

Seven of 19 Multnomah County libraries are currently closed for renovation—here’s why.

The end of 2019 saw Artists Repertory Theatre poised for some huge changes. After a generous gift of $7.1 million from an anonymous donor and the sale of the north half of its Goose Hollow property, the company embarked upon a much-needed remodel—a massive, multi-year project that involved a partial demolition of its building, and stripping and retrofitting the remaining structure with seismic upgrades.

Artists Rep envisioned a season on tour, dubbed ART on Tour, wherein it moved a season of performances through venues around Portland, while the construction left the theater without a home. And then 2020 happened. 

Like the rest of the theater community across the country, the company found itself unable to produce live shows, so Artists Rep experimented with digital content, and when lockdown lifted, it continued to produce works in other venues.

2023 was poised to be a fresh start for the company. Despite booming construction costs, Artists Rep announced in April that it was finally moving into a second phase of the building project, with goals that seemed streamlined to get performances back into the SW Morrison building. The building’s lobby would function as the initial performance space, seating around 150. Mainstage and studio theater additions would be part of “subsequent phases.”

Additionally, after a nation-wide search, the board announced Jeanette Harrison as the new artistic director in late January, and in June, it selected Aiyana Cunningham as the company’s new managing director. A modest plan for a 2023/24 season followed, and pre-production began for the first show, Pueblo Revolt by Dillon Chitto.

And then on August 15, Artists Rep announced it would need to suspend its 2023 season. The reason they gave: Oregon House Bill 2549 didn’t make it out of the House Ways and Means Committee before the state legislature’s last session ended on June 25.

Artists Rep explained that the bill would have appropriated money to the Oregon Business Development Department to distribute to Oregon cultural organizations who had been negatively financially impacted by COVID-19. Half of the proposed $50 million would have gone to the Oregon Arts Commission, which had planned on distributing $250,000 to Artists Rep.

In her previous position as development director at Portland Playhouse, Cunningham had stewarded a one million dollar campaign to secure the purchase of the Playhouse’s space. Now she’s focused on chasing grants and donations to do what she can. 

“Our challenge is being more strategic, because if we’re also raising money for operations and producing plays, we need to be careful about those decisions and making sure that they’re being asked to accomplish our long-term goals too,” Cunningham told the Mercury.

Nonprofits often earmark distinct buckets of funding for specific projects, so while the season is on hold, money earmarked to complete the renovation of the building means that construction can continue. 

Artists Rep received $684,000 through state allocated Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and American Rescue Plan Act combined. Both acts created grants to be distributed through local county coalitions, similar to how HB 2459 would have worked. However, even with government funding, many theaters have shuttered over the last few years across the country, and most that managed to stay open still haven’t recovered to levels of attendance pre-COVID. 

“Theatre is an industry like so many others, I’m sure that we’re looking at many years of recovery,” Cunningham said. “Just because audiences can be vaccinated, and we can be together, does not mean that we are immediately capable of returning to our pre-pandemic levels of community participation.” 

As state and local policy consider the pandemic over, relief money for the arts has slipped as a priority. “Government funding really helped all performing arts organizations make it through COVID and it’s disappointing not to have their continued support,” Cunningham said.

While Artists Rep’s season is paused, Cunningham encourages folks to support other local theaters, saying: “There are huge exciting dockets all over the performing arts world this season. We need people to come out and show up. When I see my friends I tell them, ‘I don’t care where you go, just get out there and support the work that’s happening because theaters are back’.”

For Harrison, the news of the postponed season hit hard. “This was going to be my first season as artistic director and the first season I programmed. So, the shows that we announced are full of my hopes and dreams,” Harrison said. 

Harrison was content as the artistic director of AlterTheater, which she had co-founded down in the San Francisco Bay area, but was intrigued by the job posting. “I had people calling me up saying, ‘have you seen this job? Because you would be a great match’.” However she felt on the fence about the position throughout the interview process, until she finally visited Portland. 

“Every single person that I met was just so wonderful,” Harrison said. “They were people who were inspiring, who were exciting to me, who were kind, who had a lot of care for one another, and there was this incredible connection to community.” 

The season’s first production, Pueblo Revolt, was supposed to be the beginning of a focus on Indigenous theater-makers. The theater’s release described its deep regrets at being forced to postpone a production so in keeping with its mission of producing works by diverse and underrepresented artists.

“We are working very hard to make sure that we can share at least one of these shows with the public this year.” Harrison said. “And our commitment to these artists will continue regardless of whether we’re able to produce shows this season or not. I’ve been humbled by the expressions of support from various members of the Native community here.”

While the future of the 2023 season remains unknown, Harrison tried to find optimism. “I am just grateful to be working with Aiyana right now,” she said. “I am incredibly fortunate and blessed to have a leader with her level of care and commitment and her experience in this community. And I think that the two of us really balanced each other very well. I can’t think of anybody else, I would rather be in the trenches, having horrible days with. And I look forward to when we can begin implementing dreams and fulfilling our commitments and our promises, while holding true to our core values.”

UPDATE 9/8/23: After this piece went to press, Artists Repertory released the news that it had cut staff positions, among them Director of New Works Luan Schooler, Development Manager Meg Schenk, and Data Services Manager Jon Younkin. It also said Capital Campaign Director J.S. May would be operating "at a reduced capacity," as the organization tried to slim operational expenses.