Black-led advocacy group lobbies to reclaim Portland’s former Albina Arts Center

Black-led advocacy group Don’t Shoot Portland is working to reclaim the former Albina Arts Center, once a major cultural center for black communities in north and northeast Portland.

Located at 8 NE Killingsworth St., the center offered arts, music and cultural programs to residents of the historically Black Albina neighborhood from the early 1960s.

Don’t Shoot Portland held a press conference on December 20 as part of a campaign to reclaim the former Albina Arts Center, a major cultural hub for black communities in north and northeast Portland.

Mika martinez

This month, Don’t Shoot Portland executives demanded that the building be returned to a nonprofit run by and for the Black Portlanders. The group alleges that the state and the Oregon Community Foundation, which currently oversees the building, missed a process to return the historic site to the community and left the property to decay.

“Without an arts center, we are truly a community that truly has no voice and no pulse,” artist and educator Isaka Shamsud-Din said at a press conference on December 20.

Don’t Shoot Teressa Raiford of Portland said that until recently the group rented two different units in the building. He moved during the pandemic, in part because of poor maintenance, including a chipping ceiling and broken floors.

“There has been a lack of investment in the building,” said Raiford. “Why not allow a community agency like ours, or anyone else interested, to buy the property so that we can put it back into the hands of our community? “

Raiford said she hopes to convert the space into a resource center for the Black Portlanders.

“We basically want to restore it so that we can store archives and community experiences, artwork, photos, information, documents,” she said. “We don’t have a black cultural resource center here in Portland. We need a place that can do that kind of welcome and preservation work.

The building was acquired by the Albina Women’s League Foundation in the late 1960s. In 2015, the Oregon Department of Justice, which is responsible for overseeing state charities, took control of the building after allegations that one of the foundation’s executives embezzled funds.

The Oregon Department of Justice assigned a court-appointed receiver to find a non-profit organization to acquire the building. The receiver selected a group called the Black Investment Consortium for Economic Progress, according to court records. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for more information about the arrangement.

But records show that the Black Investment Consortium for Economic Progress – or BICEP – was not incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit at the time, and the Oregon Community Foundation was therefore chosen to supervise the building. This foundation is a non-profit organization that distributes over $ 100 million per year in grants and scholarships. Its leaders have promised to center racial equity. A 2016 agreement between the court-appointed receiver and the Oregon Community Foundation sent to the OPB states that BICEP would receive ownership of the Albina neighborhood after BICEP is recognized by the IRS as an “organization. qualified charity ”.

But former BICEP members say the consortium has since disbanded. Kristen Chambers, lawyer for Don’t Shoot Portland, said their group still hasn’t had a chance to acquire the building.

“It’s not just that they didn’t meet the building’s criteria,” Chambers said. “The whole process of rehousing this historic and cultural building took place almost behind closed doors. “

Chambers said that in 2019, Don’t Shoot Portland executives approached the Oregon Department of Justice to acquire the building, but their offer was rejected.

“Don’t Shoot has a community orientation. It is already at the service of the community, already at work in the neighborhood. They basically say here, “We’re the charity you’re looking for,” Chambers said.

A spokesperson for the Oregon Community Foundation said it was keeping the building as “temporary administrative capacity” at the request of the Department of Justice. The foundation plans to hand over ownership of the building soon, although it is not clear who will acquire it.

“The collective goal has always been to return this resource to the community,” wrote Maureen Kenney of the Oregon Community Foundation, in response to a request from OPB.

“In early 2022, in consultation with the Department of Justice, the OCF will convene a community advisory committee to review the interest of nonprofits and recommend a grant recipient,” she said.

But Raiford said she believed the promised community process was pointless at a time when no one else was petitioning for the building.

“It’s such a shame when you say to yourself, ‘hey, we have the resources to get it and we have the capacity to provide it to our community,'” she said. “I’m sure if someone in the white community said, ‘I want to buy this building that I’m in because I see there’s a lack of investment, and I think we can do better,’ they won’t be like, “Let’s see what other white people think about property. “

The foundation said it expects this community process to be completed in 2022.

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