Temporary public porch pops up at PSU to support black arts and culture
Author: PSU School of Architecture
Posted: November 3, 2016

Modeled after a neighborhood front porch, a temporary public venue designed and built by Portland State University faculty and students with community participation is shining a light on the work of Portland’s black artists and thought leaders, with the intention to spark a larger conversation about the need for a permanent center for black arts and culture in the city.

During October and early November, the Pop-Up Porch is occupying a space at PSU on the corner of SW 12th Avenue and Market Street, providing a public place for creative works in progress: music, storytelling, readings, dance, film, discussions, and all forms of creative expression celebrating and originating in Portland’s black and African American.

The porch project began when Renee Mitchell and Laura Lo Forti from Vanport Mosaic invited PSU architecture faculty B.D. Wortham-Galvin to join a conversation at The Skanner about establishing a permanent black arts and culture center in Portland. At that meeting, the team dreamt up the porch as a demonstration project to catalyze the larger mission, helping community leaders advocate for a permanent black cultural center in Portland. Jo Ann Hardesty, the president of Portland’s NAACP branch, has also been supportive of both the larger mission and the design process of the porch.

“We’re trying to make black art and culture more visible in Portland,” said B.D. Wortham-Galvin, assistant professor of architecture and fellow of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at PSU. “There is so much important work being created in the community. The Pop-Up Porch is a place to bring it out into the open where we can highlight and celebrate the powerful contributions of black artists and leaders in our city.”

“The porch has played an integral role in African American communities for centuries,” said Jax McFarland, a graduate student in the School of Architecture who has taken on a leadership role in the research, design, and construction of the porch. “It has been a safe place where families would wait for word of new baby being born, where grandparents would share ancestral stories with their younger generations, where neighbors would gather to prepare food and talk together when the kitchen got too hot or too crowded, where important conversations would take place. Through this act of tactical urbanism, we aim to demonstrate the power of the porch in making a public space for arts in the African American community,” said McFarland.

Architecture students in Wortham-Galvin’s classes conducted extensive research and created the design of the porch last spring. Volunteers installed the porch on its temporary home during the last week in September.
Design elements of the Pop-Up Porch include:

  • Approximately 20x30’ with built-in bench seating areas.
  • Radiating tree-like canopy structures.
  • Quotes from famous black and African American leaders and artists etched and routed into the wood.
  • Low VOC and culturally relevant haint blue paint on the porch ceiling. Haint blue originates from African culture and for centuries has been a common color for porch ceilings in the American South—said to protect the house and its occupants from evil spirits.
  • Most of the wood is reclaimed from an architectural pavilion built by students in the School of Architecture as part of PSU’s 2015 Portland State of Mind Festival.

The Pop-Up Porch is just one part of the A Place to Be project. Another major component is the significant research done by PSU architecture students, in consultation with a variety of black community organizations and leaders, into the varied historic and contemporary black cultural experiences, arts production, and impacts on the city of Portland. Led by Wortham-Galvin, this research provides examples of the important role of black arts and culture in the city in the form of films, drawings, and multimedia collages, as well as documentation of potential sites, programs, and visions for a permanent center, in order to provide a basis for discussions in the community of the future of such an arts and culture center.

This project was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which was supported by the City of Portland’s Office of Equity and Human Rights. The project was also made possible with support from PSU’s Black Studies, School of Architecture, the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, and the Center for Public Interest Design.