Former executive director Sandra Percival (from left), and co-founders Curtis Knapp and Aaron Flint Jamison in the inspiring surrounds of Yale Union during its opening in 2010.

Yale Union announced today that it was given ownership of its historically registered Yale Union Laundry Building at SE 10th Avenue and Morrison Street on October 21. It is the biggest gift to a contemporary art center in Portlands history, according to the press release.

“Our community is fortunate to have this treasure in its arts portfolio. I look forward to Yale Union’s role in the continued revitalization of Portland’s inner eastside,” says Congressman Earl Blumenauer, one of several local arts leaders and politicians, from City Commissioner Nick Fish to Chair of the Oregon Cultural Trust Bob Speltz, touting the gift's boon for the local arts community.

The gift is a further (and not unpredicted) step in the nonprofit's somewhat undercover affair with its building.

The Yale Union Laundry Building was bought in 2008 for $3.5 million by an anonymous donor, who rented it for $1 a year to the then-named YU Center for Contemporary Arts and provided several hundred thousand in capital to get it started. At the opening party in 2010, the floors could have been mopped for the drool over the beauty of the 1908 building. It’s vast second floor with 10-foot arched windows and perpetual sunlight was a dream for any artist to fill. And the founders, Curtis Knapp and Aaron Flint Jamison, had big dreams, too: a “$7.2 million historical renovation with galleries, a bookstore/café, and a 100-seat flex space, all of it aiming for a LEED Platinum designation” (read our original feature about the founders and their plans). Afterward, they planned to buy the building.

But the donor's anonymity didn’t last. I was told during a tour in 2010 that it was Knapp’s ex-wife, Laurel Knapp, the granddaughter of a beef baron in Colorado. The Oregonian first reported her identity in a 2011 article alleging secrecy and suspicions surrounding YU. “Laurel Knapp bought it in 2008 for $3.5 million through a company called Alter LLC, then resold it to herself under her maiden name, Walsh, the same day for $2 million," the paper said. "Reasons are unclear.”

The press release states that the building was transferred by: “A donor, who has requested to remain anonymous, [who] purchased the building in 2008 for $3,500,000 with the intention of creating a lasting contemporary art center for Portland.” That means, presumably, Laurel Knapp/Walsh has given the building to the nonprofit, providing it with the kind of gift that the strong majority of smaller arts organizations only dream of.

Yale Union’s current show, the first solo exhibition by poet Susan Howe, runs through December 1.

The gift wraps up a good year for the arts center, which began with the announcement of three major awards in January worth $91,000, including a $60,000 programming grant from the Warhol Foundation, and went on to include the institution's most ambitious exhibition yet, the impossibly titled solo show by Lucy Skaer (read our review).

I look forward to seeing what Yale Union does with its pearl of a gift. Merry Christmas, YU.


Here is the full press release: 

Yale Union announces the gift of the Yale Union Laundry Building at 800 SE 10th to the nonprofit, Yale Union. A donor, who has requested to remain anonymous, purchased the building in 2008 for $3,500,000 with the intention of creating a lasting contemporary art center for Portland. The gift of the building was transferred to Yale Union, the nonprofit, on October 21, 2013. The gift includes the entirety of the nationally registered historic Yale Union Laundry Building, which is one-half of a city block, and includes two stories and a basement.

Yale Union is a contemporary art center in Inner Southeast Portland that creates art exhibitions, performances, film screenings, publications, and educational programs for the public. “This gift is significant for Portland. Portlanders benefit from thought-provoking and challenging art programs at YU, and those programs became more sustainable thanks to this gift,” said City Commissioner Nick Fish.

There has not been a contemporary art center in Portland’s history that has been the recipient of a gift of this magnitude. A comparable donation was the gift, given by the Corbett family in 1905 to house the Portland Art Museum in its first building. That gift was of a 7,000 square foot schoolhouse.

The gift of Yale Union’s building will provide a permanent home for artistic culture in our community. Bob Speltz, chair of the Oregon Cultural Trust said, “This extraordinary gift will ensure that Yale Union can continue to build our vibrant arts and culture community.”

Arts organizations are notoriously itinerant and impermanent. Portland has seen several in the recent past arrive with promise only to fade within a matter of a few years. The gift of the building to Yale Union provides Yale Union with financial stability. Jules Bailey, who represents the district in the Oregon State House, said, “Yale Union has a solid track record of providing access to high-quality artistic programming to the community. This news is music to my ears because it supports our community's access to arts and culture for years to come.”

Contemporary art centers have been appreciated for their role in neighborhood revitalization throughout the country. This gift may also represent continued development and growth for Portland’s Central Industrial Eastside. “Our community is fortunate to have this treasure in its arts portfolio. I look forward to Yale Union’s role in the continued revitalization of Portland’s inner eastside,” said, Earl Blumenauer, who represents Oregon’s third district in the US House of Representatives.

The gift is also significant because it is a flagship for new donors to enter Portland’s art philanthropy community. Julie Vigeland, a longtime commissioner of the Oregon Arts Commission, said, “This generous gift to Yale Union is a shining example of how a new generation of arts philanthropists can and will be shaping our city. I applaud the donor and see the gift as being representative of a bright future for Portland's arts ecology.”
 

For more on Portland arts and culture, sign up for our weekly On The Town newsletter, subscribe to our RSS feed, and follow us on Twitter @aarondavidscott. Visit our Arts & Entertainment Calendar  for our editors’ event picks.