Photo: Ian Poellet, via Wikimedia Commons
Yale Union, a centre for contemporary arts located in Portland, Oregon, announced in July that it plans to transfer the ownership of its historic building. The beneficiary of this move – which includes the land on which the building sits in the city – will be the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF). Lulani Arquette, the president and CEO of NACF said that the building transferral would ‘set an example’ for wider recognition of the value of ownership of property by Native American groups. Arquette, who runs the non-profit Native American-led organisation said that this example of an ownership transfer would not just be in the state of Oregon but, “in urban areas across the nation.”
Founded in 2008, NACF works with indigenous artists throughout the United States to promote Native American culture. It runs a mentorship programme among its artists that include the likes of Kathleen Carlo Kendall, Dyani White Hawk and Preston Singletary who are known for their work in carving, painting and glasswork respectively. For its part, Yale Union has been running on an artist-led basis since 2008 although it first opened its doors in its former commercial laundry site in 2011. When it began, Yale Union’s mission was based on a desire to support up and coming artists, to promote new modes of production as well as asking new questions about the ongoing public discussion about contemporary art.
As such, the work of the art centre and NACF was seen by the management team at Yale Union as something that coalesced. The idea that the building might be given away was initially proposed under the executive directorship of the Yale Union’s former leader, Yoko Ott. The current board president, Flint Jamison, continued to talk to NACF’s leadership about how the institution could play a part in what the group called ‘restorative social change’. Following discussions by the two groups, it was agreed that the gallery building, which was originally built in 1909, would be given freely to the Native American group. In fact, the brick-built structure has been added to the National Register of Historic Places over a decade ago which placed certain legal restrictions on the ways by which it might be redeveloped.
Over the years, Yale Union has hosted numerous community events and staged many exhibitions. In addition to operating as an art centre for visual artists, the building – which takes up approximately 9,400 square feet – has studio areas and a community gathering place. The centre has been used to publish books in the past, as well. Much of the way the building is run is expected to be similar following the final legal transfer of it to NACF, however.
That said, under its new ownership, the building will no longer be known as Yale Union. Once it becomes NACF’s national headquarters, it will be referred to as the Center for Native Arts and Cultures. The types of exhibitions the art centre will put on are likely to change somewhat. Mostly, this will come down to the hosting of shows by indigenous American artists, a group that has historically found it tougher than most to see their work exhibited in public. In addition, the move will lead to some of the building being turned over to provide spaces where cultural and artistic practices can be carried out. For example, it is expected that an area devoted to cultural ceremony and celebration will be created.
NACF said that the land transferral initiative in Portland began being discussed back in 2018 so it has had time to come up with plans for its new building. Among some of the most recent ideas are using it to run workshops and seminars that will address issues facing the wider community, such as anti-racism activism, the decolonisation of parts of the United States and environmental justice. Yale Union’s board will continue to co-manage the centre with NACF until next year when it will cease to have any direct involvement.