For 23 years it served as a primary performing and visual arts center for North Portland and black, Latino, Asian, American Indian and disabled artists. And its programs were affordable -- even for low-income residents.[i] But the city wanted to stop funding it, and in 2005, the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (IFCC), housed in a remodeled 1910 brick firehouse on North Interstate Avenue, was about to close its doors in 2005.
The center had been funded by the city and grants from several foundations. Former park Commissioner Charles Jordan was its primary advocate until he retired as parks director in 2003. Former city Commissioner Jim Francesconi had supported the center with an annual allocation from the Parks Bureau budget. But 2005 brought a new City Council, the parks budget IFCC line item is on the chopping block.[ii]
Community arts advocates noted that City Hall, over the years, generously poured millions of dollars into its well-established downtown arts outlets, such as Portland Center Stage, Portland Opera or the Portland Art Museum. Newly elected Adams tried to keep the center open but Adams struggled to get the votes to give IFCC one-time $100,000 funding.
Adams made keeping IFCC a stated priority as a city council candidate.[iii] "Unless you look hard, you're going to drive by and miss it," says Adams, an IFCC member. "But it is one of the most important, non-white, non-central city arts and cultural organizations."
After much negotiation, Adams was able to get City Council to provide IFCC a two-year matching grant of $80,000 and Parks also agreed to continue paying maintenance of about $20,000 per year.[iv] Adams and his staff recruited a new board of directors. Also, a new Executive Director, Adrienne Flagg, who as a child, she had spent many days at the theater.
Adams continued to find city funding each year, and staff and board raise their own funds to keep IFCC open until 2011[v], when it the nonprofit arts organization Ethos took over the center, a long-term rescue of the beleaguered artists and theater center. Charles Lewis, executive director of Ethos said, "we are solid financially, but we don't have any space]," he said. "They've got a great space and need financial and programming help."[vi]
[i] Mitchell, Renee (January 17, 2005). “Theater needs all of us to act on its behalf.” The Oregonian, Page B1. [ii] Beaven, Stephen and Nkrumah, Wade (January 25, 2005). “Loss of city dollars looms over Portland cultural hub.” The Oregonian. Page C2. [iii] Row, D.K. (July 22, 2004). “Candidates in harmony on worth of arts.” The Oregonian. Page C2 [iv] Fitzgibbons, Joe (June 28, 2006). “Firehouse center's second act: timely rescue.” The Oregonian. Page D2. [v] Brettman, Allan (April 3, 2011). “Final crisis, final curtain.” The Oregonian. [vi] Nkrumah, Wade (February 17, 2005). “Cultural center talks merger.” The Oregonian. Page D3.