At a time when arts groups across the country are reducing programming and cutting costs, Space Gallery is in a growth mode.

The alternative arts space in downtown Portland has doubled its budget in five years to $500,000. Last year, it presented more than 220 events and expanded its footprint by busting through next door to create more room for exhibitions.

And earlier this month, the combination art gallery/performing arts venue at 538 Congress St. received the news it has been waiting to hear for six years: It received a three-year, $150,000 grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

“It’s a lot of dollars, and it’s been a long road to get here,” said Nat May, Space’s executive director. “We’ve been courting this grant for about six years. I think they figured we weren’t quite ready when we first asked them.”

The Warhol Foundation helped Space get ready.

Since its initial contact with Space, Warhol has given the arts venue as much as $100,000 in capacity-building money. Space used that money to upgrade its computers and website, create a cash reserve and make physical changes to the gallery, including the expansion of the Annex next door.


It also enabled May and others at Space to attend national meetings of alternative-arts organizations, where they met their peers and got a measure of their own success and ideas for the future.

The Warhol Foundation was instrumental in making Space a better non-profit, but it didn’t change the gallery’s programming. This grant directly addresses programming, May said.

Some of the money will pay rent and utilities in the Annex, but most will go directly toward artists and the creative process. Space will invite artists to stay longer and do more. There will be more money for materials and for time, and more time for building relationships between artists and the community.

A good example of that extended interaction will come this summer with printmaker Amze Emmons. He is an artist, illustrator and curator from Philadelphia. He teaches art at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, and will be in Portland for a month beginning mid-July.

“Having this extra money helps us invite him to stay longer and pay him for his time and invest in materials for the show and proper shipping,” May said. “We are not going to lose our DIY-aesthetic. I probably will still be driving work back and forth to New York, and people will still be staying at my house.

“We won’t be taking every visiting artist to (the restaurant) Fore Street. But this is going to change the way we value people. We are not asking them to come as a favor.”


It allows Space to become more professional while recognizing that the work of the artist is the core of the gallery’s existence. Its hallmark characteristic lies in its ability to change and adapt. It was founded in 2002 as a non-profit alternative arts venue, and has evolved into an arts incubator.

“Our job is to be completely responsive to the ever-changing arts landscape,” said Jessica Tomlinson, Space’s board president. “We will constantly grow and change and look for opportunity.” 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes




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