Artists’ Collective dedicated in East Portland

Who says we don’t have culture in outer East Portland? See how the “Milepost 5” is establishing a ‘community environment that fosters artistic and creative pursuits’ – and is now a new arts/entertainment destination as well …

At their grand opening in Milepost 5, Kathryn Bourn visits with Amy Vance, proprietor of “Just The good Stuff” where she sells her family-made organic soy candles, soy products and handmade chocolates and caramel corn, and up-cycled yard art.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As industrial areas in the greater Portland area are redeveloped, the availability of affordable spaces for artists to live and work continues to shrink.

When the Montavilla Neighborhood’s Baptist Manor Nursing Home shut down several years ago, its vacated campus sparked the thinking of then newly-minted Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams, developer Ted K. Gilbert, and Beam Development’s Brad Malsin.

Although years in the making, the block-long property, now known as “Milepost 5” – with its two buildings, The Lofts and The Studios – has become a place designed for Portland’s creative community to live and/or work “in a community environment that fosters artistic and creative pursuits”, they say.

This building, once the Baptist Manor nursing home, is now The Studios at Milepost 5, providing rental work and retail spaces, galleries, restaurant, and performing space.

At the grand opening celebration of “The Studios” part of the project, on April 8 and 9, government dignitaries and art community supporters came 900 NE 81st Avenue, across the street from Montavilla Park, to celebrate.

After taking a tour of the buildings, Portland Mayor Sam Adams came to the “Eat. Art. Theater.” Space – the facility’s former chapel – packed with project supporters who came to watch the official ribbon cutting dedication.

Beam Development’s Brad Malsin, Portland Mayor Sam Adams, and the Creative Director of Milepost 5, Gavin Shettler, stop for a photo before the opening ceremonies begin.

“Just after I unexpectedly won a seat on the Portland City Council, I was driving down 82nd Avenue, and I saw that the retirement home had closed,” Adams began.

“I had campaigned with a lot of interaction with the arts and culture community,” Adams continued. “What I heard they needed affordable space for art – spaces to own or rent. I ‘connected the dots’, on the drive down my avenue, that this campus might be that space.”

The theater in The Studios is “standing room only” for the opening ceremonies of Milepost 5.

As City Commissioner, Adams pitched the idea to many developers, saying, “The City has no money for it; but I have a lot of passion for the project.”

In the face of continued rejection, Adams told how the idea stayed with him. “Finally, two people took a look at this idea when everyone else said no. Those people, Ted Gilbert and Brad Malsin, said ‘Yes’.”

Portland Mayor Sam Adams tells how he envisioned that the abandoned nursing home on NE 82nd Avenue of Roses might some day become a vibrant art community.

Partnership formed to take on project

Thus ArtPlace Development, an equal partnership between Beam Development, represented by Brad Malsin, and the non-profit Portland Affordable Housing Preservation Trust, chaired by Ted Gilbert, was created.

The Lofts provide an affordable live/work space for artists to purchase,” Gilbert told us. “And the opening the second phase, The Studios, is wonderful. It was fully rented before it was finished; there’s a waiting list. The restaurant and performance space provide additional reasons for people to visit Milepost 5.”

Gilbert, a current Spirit of Portland award winner (CLICK HERE to see that article), added that the compound will also feature a second community garden.

“Portland so values creative people that we are going to do what we can to create housing and work spaces that are, and stay, affordable,” Gilbert noted.

Milepost 5 co-developer, Brad Malsin, says they faced many challenges as they turned an 80-year-old nursing home into a home for artists.

Done for love of arts, not money
“Milepost 5 is the vision of Portland’s fantastic creative community that had been unfulfilled for so long, and those who made it happen,” Adams said as he concluded his remarks. “I was there for cheerleading, and for as much or moral support as possible. The project was done on a shoestring. This has been a labor of love for everyone involved.”

Brad Malsin thanked Mayor Adams for his support and responded, “This has been one of the most rewarding, and one of the most challenging, projects that I have done in my career. I want to recognize that the people have been part of this who have been so patient; this project has taken a lot of twists and turns, to make this happen.”

About the complexity of the project, Malsin quipped, “When [the Mayor] said that he had a retirement home that we wanted to have turned in to a creative community, I did not realize it might end up as my retirement home!  I think I’ll be retiring here!”

Visitors admire works in one of two permanent art galleries at Milepost 5.

Manuela Kalestiantz, Melinda Fellini and Robyn Andersen enjoy some hospitality at “E.A.T.”, a restaurant in The Studios building.

Dedicated to creating an ‘art community’
“The purpose of milepost five is to create, not only affordable housing for artists, but also be able to create a community; that’s where my job comes in,” Gavin Shettler, Creative Director of Milepost 5 told East Portland News at the event.

“I am here to be able to help develop and facilitate the community, including developing arts programming, gallery shows and working with our artist-in-residents.  We have two galleries; the Denizen Gallery, specifically for the residents here – and the Gallery 5, a space or we can bring artists from outside the community to exhibit.”

Caroline Patrick BorNei, the “feng shui master” at Milepost 5, conducts a ceremony as part of the grand opening festivities.

Mayor Adams snips a ribbon, signifying that Portland’s first dedicated art outpost is now officially open – and the celebration continues into the night and the next day.

To learn more about Milepost 5, see their website: CLICK HERE to bring up their homepage.

On the front page: Josephine Mbugua of The Stone Muse celebrates her shop’s grand opening in The Studios with Marlene Avelino of FieldWork, who is also located in the building.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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