At the start of 2021, Yale Union, a nonprofit arts organization in southeast Portland, Oregon, will take part in an unprecedented venture: transferring ownership of its building, and the land it’s situated on, to an Indigenous-led nonprofit arts organization. The Native Arts and Culture Foundation (NACF) will use the $5-million, 112-year-old historic landmark building to program exhibitions, host cultural events, conduct residency programs, and house educational resources centered on Indigenous life. After the transfer is complete, Yale Union will effectively cease to exist.
The process began in 2018, when Yale Union’s late executive director, Yoko Ott, initiated a conversation with the NACF’s CEO and president, Lulani Arquette, in the hopes of exploring models of restorative social change. According to Flint Jamison, Yale Union’s current president, the impetus for this conversation was rooted in the increasing gentrification of the surrounding neighborhood.
“It was around 2015, 2016, when we started noticing all the cranes going up, and gentrification really started to accelerate,” Jamison said. “By 2018, it started to feel like all the decisions about the neighborhood were being made by people who didn’t live or work there. There’s a well-articulated history of arts organizations acting as the bleeding edge of gentrification. Looking around, seeing people being displaced, we felt complicit.”