APEX: Sharita Towne & A Black Art Ecology of Portland

Jul 31, 2021 - July 2022

A “true grandchild of the Great Migration,” Sharita Towne creates installations that are multi-voiced, poetic, and informative. As a transdisciplinary artist, Towne has built a practice steeped in the work of collaboration, cultural organizing, and arts infrastructure building. Towne’s exhibition for the APEX series is a culmination of this work that takes her to the most recent projects reflected in the city of Portland now. In the course of the year-long exhibition, Towne will change over some of the work to introduce new community projects in the winter of 2022.

The exhibition provides a glimpse into Towne’s burgeoning project “A Black Art Ecology of Portland” (BAEP), an initiative she launched in 2019 to bring together community organizations in support of creating, reclaiming, and redefining spaces for Black art and audiences in Portland. BAEP remaps historical and contemporary Black creative life in Portland and beyond. Activities have included developing co-creative spaces for art, murals, public art activation, video, COVID relief, residencies, DIY publishing, a comedy show, memorials for Black life, and more. Towne’s ongoing research has led the artist into Black geography and assistance in local organizations that center Black life. Towne’s artistic foundation and vision in working with neighborhoods aligns with Project Row Houses in Houston, Art + Practice in Los Angeles, Dorchester Projects in Chicago, and The Black School in Harlem and New Orleans. The work presented here shows projects within affordable housing, city streets, art venues, forged through institutional and community collaborations.

Addressing the transdisciplinary nature of her work, Towne states, “With BAEP I think of the city as form. And Ecology is used to counter the mid-century logic of blight—that Black people are a detriment to an urban ecology. BAEP acknowledges the active, creative vitality of Black communities from the past, present, and into the future of Portland.”

In the APEX exhibition, viewers will see projects that were created with community members including Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), Albina Vision Trust, Soul Business District Association, Self-Enhancement Inc., Imagine Black, Nat Turner Project, and Northwest Black Comedy Festival, among others. Additionally, projects with BAEP @ nůn studios reflect Towne’s lyrical mode of dissemination—through riso prints and zines.

Sharita Towne is a multidisciplinary artist and educator based in Portland. Born and raised on the West Coast of the U.S. along Interstate 5 from Salem, OR, to Tacoma, WA, and down to Sacramento, CA. She is most interested in engaging local and global Black geographies, histories, and possibilities. In her work, a shared art penetrates and binds people–artists, audience, organizers, civic structures, sisters, cousins, and landscape–in collective catharsis, grief, and joy. Towne holds a BA from UC Berkeley and an MFA from Portland State University. Her work has received support from organizations including Creative Capital, the Fulbright Association, Art Matters, The Ford Family Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Humanities, Oregon Arts Commission, The Miller Foundation, the Regional Arts and Culture Council, the MRG Lilla Jewel Award, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Open Signal, SPACES in Cleveland, and the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland. Most recently, Towne was awarded the Fields Artist Fellowship by Oregon Humanities and the Oregon Community Foundation.

The exhibition is supported by The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Endowments for Northwest Art, The Ford Family Foundation, the Oregon Community Foundation, and Exhibition Series Sponsors.

In the News

Learn more about Towne’s work and A Black Ecology of Portland in The New York Times.

The APEX series is supported in part by The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Endowments for Northwest Art. Additional support for this exhibition provided by The Ford Family Foundation.