Finding the practice

How the fringes of Portland arts are fighting for survival
By NICK SCHROEDER  |  June 11, 2014

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Justin Curtsinger outside Grime Studios. Photo by Mike Hadley.

As recently as last week, Justin Curtsinger was getting ready to announce the official re-location of Grime Studios. He had found a convenient location, earned the support and counsel of some of the most influential figures in Portland’s creative economy, and had an architect-drafted blueprint that would expand on the music rehearsal complex he’d resurrected and maintained the last two years. The tortured studio building in Thompson’s Point, slated for demolition at the end of this summer, would finally have a new home.

But last Wednesday evening, Curtsinger received a call. The building he had signed for had been leased to another interested party. Though it had languished vacant for over two years, the real estate company found a more traditional tenant to lease the building for office space. The search for the next Grime Studios location would continue.

Curtsinger had in hand a signed letter of intent from the commercial real estate brokers for the new space, a 6,500 sq. foot building “a stone’s throw from 295,” which had been dormant for more than two years since last functioning as a theater performance venue.

“It had more square footage, more rooms to cram in. It would have accommodated everyone here and expanded on it,” Curtsinger says. “The monthly rate would have been consistent to Grime, and there would have been more potential for mixed use.” Plus, the building already had a public assembly permit, meaning Curtsinger would have been allowed to hold shows, a prospect increasingly urgent given the recent demise or restructuring of lower-capacity rooms like the Big Easy, Slainte, Empire, and others.

The Grime Studio building, of course, is scheduled to be demolished at the end of the summer as the city prepares for the $105 million-dollar development known as the Forefront at Thompson’s Point, a project headed by the Lewiston-based Parallax Properties first unveiled in April 2011 that will include an indoor arena, an amphitheater, a clown school, and office space among several restaurants and bars.

While some have expressed criticism of that proposal, often in regard to the $32 million in tax breaks the city council voted to award the developers in 2011, Curtsinger isn’t necessarily anti-development, and doesn’t see enthusiasm for the Forefront proposal as mutually exclusive from the desire to see Grime Studios continue.

“Chris Thompson, the developer, has been extremely supportive of us,” he says, expressing a note of wistful disappointment that his rehearsal complex won’t ever be neighbors with the forthcoming Circus Conservatory of America. “I really like what he’s planning to do here, I just don’t want it to mean the end of Grime.”

While expanding Grime into mixed-use studios which accommodate visual artists is one of his goals going forward, Curtsinger stresses that his top priority is serving bands, noting that space for visual and dramatic artists, who don’t face obstacles of noise and electricity, is far less difficult to obtain.

Thompson, a former a MECA professor (and past contributor to the Phoenix), believes that while the creative operations at Grime Studios are valuable, the building itself isn’t worth preserving. He says the precise location will be the future site of an office structure and restaurant at the Forefront, but has been instrumental in helping Curtsinger construct avenues to continue the project, at one point initiating discussions to move Grime to another building in the complex, a consideration which fell through in part because the spot wasn’t accommodating enough.

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