BodyVox jumps for joy about its new home

While we’re all worrying about arts organizations going bust (let’s just hope there’s life and vitality in the Portland Jazz Festival yet) and arguing about whether the city needs a covered plaza as a gateway to the downtown arts district, let’s take time out for a spot of good news.

BodyVox has a new home.

OK, right now it’s a big old mostly empty warehouse with 1890s brick walls reminiscent of a 1970s restaurant rehab (Art Scatter happens to be fond of old brick walls and brawny posts and beams, if not necessarily hanging ferns). But Jamey Hampton, who runs the popular dance and movement troupe with his wife and fellow performer/choreographer Ashley Roland, says the space will be ready for the company’s spring show, and adds that the troupe’s architects, Portland’s BOORA, are estimating a complete makeover by next June. Well, maybe some of the office spaces won’t be quite done by then, Hampton says: Depends on the money.

Portland is a talk-big, think-small town, and that’s both bad and good. The bad part is that it supports its large organizations poorly and doesn’t really think, despite its sometimes fawning press notices, that it can play in the big leagues. The good part is that modest-sized organizations such as BodyVox have learned how to get the most bang for their buck and have an impact far beyond the size of their budgets. It’s a corrolary to our economic self-image: We define ourselves as a small-business-friendly city because we don’t have much in the way of big businesses, and then turn that into an advantage.

BodyVox’s new building, which it rolled out in a convivial tour/party late Monday afternoon, is at Northwest Northrup Street and 17th Avenue, a nice, relatively quiet urban stretch that’s tucked neatly between the Pearl District and the city’s more traditional Northwest neighborhoods. Easy to get to, relatively easy to find a parking space, and a mortgage, not a lease. Nice work if you can get it, and BodyVox did.

The building, which began life as Portland’s Wells Fargo building (the main space was for carriage storage, and there were also stables and a dormitory for the drivers) and more recently was the printing and publishing space for Corberry Press, came to BodyVox through Henry Hillman, the arts supporter, photographer, glass artist and owner of several properties. As Roland tells the story, Hillman had been advising BodyVox in its hunt for a new, bigger space, and kept pointing out the shortcomings of several possibilities: too small, not at street level, too hard to rehab. Finally, Hampton said, “Well, what about your building?” And Hillman said, “Hmmm.” Hillman keeps his glass studio next door, and as a bonus has a decent parking lot that BodyVox can use in the evenings.

The space that BodyVox unveiled Monday (it was a white wine and cheese sort of affair, although Art Scatter eschewed, having just downed a black coffee and molasses cookie at a quaint little neighborhood coffee shop called Starbucks) will nicely hold a small lobby with box office and refreshment stand; a rehearsal hall/meeting space; room for costume and set storage and fabrication; desk space for staffers; and the most important thing — a big, airy performance space with room for a couple of hundred viewers in a sharply raked audience area. BodyVox’s Una Loughran points out that the audience rake will allow good sightlines from all the seats, a huge bonus in a town where contemporary dance views are often blocked unless you’ve nabbed a spot in the front row. Once everything’s done most of the staff desks will be on the main floor near the performance space, an idea Hampton picked up after visiting Mark Morris‘s dance center in Brooklyn: It gives dancers and staff alike a physical sense that they’re all part of the same thing.

The unveiling was a pleasant sort of wandering, like a backyard barbecue for old friends, except there was no back yard and no barbecue. Among the many people Art Scatter chatted with were Cynthia Fuhrman and Tim DuRoche from Portland Center Stage, Cynthia Kirk from the Oregon Cultural Trust, Ross McKeen from Oregon Children’s Theatre, dance writer Martha Ullman West, Michael Griggs from Portland Taiko, Walter Jaffe and Paul King from the White Bird dance series, choreographer Agnieska Laska, and Scatter pal D.K. Row, art critic and reporter for The Oregonian, who coincidentally filed another piece of good arts news in this morning’s paper, on a big fund-raising boost for the Oregon College of Art & Craft. We could go on, but won’t, for fear of sounding like the society page.

Except to note that we happened to run into a couple of our blogging compatriots from Culture Shock, and we are abashed to confess that CC’s Mighty Toy Cannon beat us to the punch in posting about BodyVox’s soiree. MTC also posted some surreptitious footage from the event, and we heartily suggest that if you want to know what life is really like in the Mighty Halls of Blogospheric Power, you should check it out. Let’s just say there are sharks in the water.