Oct 28, 2023

Construction begins on a new home for Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre

A rendering of the exterior of Artists Repertory Theatre's new building. The building will serve as ART's new home beginning 2024.

Courtesy LEVER Architecture

Since its founding in 1982, performing arts company Artists Repertory Theatre has played a big part in highlighting theatrical productions by artists from underrepresented communities, such as Larissa FastHorse and her current Broadway hit "The Thanksgiving Play" and Hansol Jung's "Wolf Play."

But over the last few years, due to construction delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, ART hasn't had a home base to showcase the company's work.

That's all about to change.

Officials at ART announced in April that the company moved into the second phase of a $30 million building project that will house all of its future productions.

Through a rigorous funding campaign, ART Executive Director J.S. May said they raised $24.5 million as of April.

Construction crews broke ground for the project in 2019 at 1515 SW Morrison Street, just a few blocks from Providence Park.

As part of the first phase, crews tore down the Alder Street side of the old building to make way for the 21-story Alta ART Tower. They also reinforced the Morrison Street side of the building, stripped the interior and added seismic safety-upgrades.

Phase two currently consists of constructing a new lobby, which will initially serve as the performance space, and two additional theaters including a 178-seat main stage and 99-seat studio theater.

The inside of the lobby area of Artists Repertory Theatre's new building under construction. ART is in the middle of constructing a brand new building to house their future performances.

Courtesy Howard S Wright Construction

Since 1997, ART has operated out of the same building on SW Morrison Street and bought the entire block from 15th to 16th avenues in 2004. But years of wear and tear finally caught up to the building, including leaky roofs and walls that were not up to seismic standards.

In 2018, ART received an anonymous donation of $7.5 million to do what they wished.

ART used the money to pay off the company's debts and started planning for the new building.

ART at the time was real estate rich, but cash poor, May said. So in 2019, they sold the north half of the block to development firm Wood Partners, who built Alta ART Tower.

"And that became the lead investment for redoing our half of the building," May said.

May said he's excited about finally having a building that meets the high standards of the productions ART has been known to have.

"ART has both a local and a national reputation of doing really high quality work that impacts the theater, and our building hasn't supported that kind of process," May said. "So this gives us the opportunity to have a facility that at least aspires to be as good as the work."

Jeanette Harrison joined ART in 2022 as its first Indigenous Artistic Director and echoes May's enthusiasm for a new building.

"I think our artists are just really feeling the hurt of isolation for so long. It's been hard and it's been exhausting and arts leaders are exhausted. Portland is really a first class art city, and this building is going to help us knit our community back together again," she said.

While the new building is being constructed, ART is still putting on productions for the upcoming season.

Harrison said that ART will continue to put on productions through partnerships with other theater companies like Portland Center Stage and the University of Portland.

"One of the great things for Artists Rep from this partnership is not just the intergenerational theatre making, but also the fact that University of Portland is opening up some of their resources to us," she said.

The 2023-24 season opens with the play "Pueblo Revolt" by Indigenous playwright Dillon Chitto. The comedy play follows two Indigenous brothers who live in 1860 New Mexico and plan a revolt against their Spanish colonizers. The play runs from Sept. 18 to Oct. 15.

"It is going to be performed and produced in partnership with the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. So that play will be performing in what used to be the Yale Union Building," Harrison said.

Harrison admits that navigating both the construction of the new building and the new season has been a challenge, but she relishes the opportunity to showcase new productions in interesting ways.

"We’re gonna go out into the community and we’re gonna be producing work all over Portland in the hopes that we’ll be building our audience back, and then we’ll be able to invite people to come back into our building and into our neighborhood when we’re ready," she said.

May hopes the new building will inspire people to come back to ART and enjoy their new offerings of productions that challenge how we view the world.

"Creativity is a fundamental human impulse that helps define who we are," he said. "What we want is for people to come to this building and get insight into what's going on in the planet and how they can personally understand it better."

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Tags: Theater, Arts And Culture