Owners: Kelley Roy & Eric Black
Visit ADX online
On the horizon: The future of Portland art and design
Portland, OR — While the stagnating economy continues to hand Portland metaphorical lemons, some enterprising locals are dusting off a familiar aphorism and making metaphorical lemonade.
Two such entrepreneurs, Eric Black and Kelley Roy, are creating a business that they believe will help to stimulate and support Portland’s already vibrant but often diffuse and under-funded art and design community. The pair is remodeling a 12,000 square foot warehouse in inner southeast Portland that will become Art Design Portland – or as their baggage claim-check look-alike business cards abbreviate it in airline jargon, ADX.
Black and Roy believe ADX will address the challenging reality of being a craftsperson, fine artist, or industrial designer in contemporary Portland, with a concept inspired in part by far-off cities of the distant past. ADX follows most closely the lineage of 3rd Ward, a successful membership-based creative workspace located in Brooklyn, New York. But it also draws inspiration from such historical institutions as Vienna’s early 20th century Werkstatte and the German Bauhaus School of the 1930’s.
Like each of its distinct predecessors, ADX seeks to help advance the local production of works of both beauty and practicality by providing a large warehouse space with individualized workstations where artists and designers can affordably access costly production equipment – drill presses, CNC routers, band saws, lathes, metal working tools, laser cutters and more.
While the pair’s concept had been percolating for a few years, the current recession made both the demand and supply side of their business equation much more attainable.
While Portland’s creative community continues to grow, the local economic slump has meant that many craftspeople and designers have had to move out of independent studio spaces, sell their equipment, or have had difficulty financing the purchase of expensive machinery needed to produce their work.
At the same time, with many manufacturing companies closing or moving elsewhere, there is a glut of vacant warehouses around Portland. For example, the building in which ADX is now blooming recently housed a parts manufacturing business that found much-needed additional square footage in the suburbs.
With building owners anxious to rent these properties, spaces that once commanded deep-pocket prices are now available at attractive rents, a fact Black and Roy happily discovered.
Given these economic and demographic changes, Roy and Black figured that ADX could multiply two negatives and make a positive; for themselves, the local economy, and Portland’s design community. They reasoned that many people – whether artists, craftspeople, designers, or hobbyists – would prefer to rent otherwise prohibitively expensive equipment at modest prices. The pair also felt that Portland’s creative community would see the benefit of a space that provided both individual work spaces and a collaborative environment, as well as the opportunity to use only the equipment they needed, when they needed it.
From the beginning, the two entrepreneurs wanted to emphasize the value of collaboration. They envision members sharing concepts and resources, networking, and bringing their ideas to fruition. Black and Roy see ADX as a place where anyone’s basic ideas can be taken from initial concept, to the design phase, through production, and – if desired – to market, with the input and assistance of ADX professional staff and members.
Financing, the essential starter fluid for ADX, came from Albina Opportunities Corporation (AOC). AOC is a Portland nonprofit lender that specializes in making loans to women and minority business owners with solid track records. With funding secured from AOC, the two entrepreneurs signed a lease and moved into their new space in January. Their venture was ready to begin ripening.
By February, the building on SE 11th Avenue began taking on a new personality — or personalities, given that local design hotshots The Official Manufacturing Company are moving into the ADX facility and reconfiguring an office space annex as their own design headquarters.
Black and Roy are currently modifying other former office spaces into a large, open workspace. This area within ADX will house a group of freelance design professionals who will work with existing clients, collaborate with each other, and assist members with their projects. Other sections of the warehouse will harbor a metal shop, a wood shop, artist studios, production space, a digital media workstation, secure storage, a gallery, and several other functions.
Many of the tools at ADX are very specialized equipment used for working with wood or metal, and suitable for cutting, shaping, welding, grinding, or other arcane treatments. The monarch of machines is a huge CNC router. The CNC stands for “Computer Numerically Controlled,” meaning that with the punch of a code, the machine will make horizontal and vertical cuts automatically with unerring precision.
Black showed off a sleek coffee table he designed by hand and then produced using this router. The basic concept of ADX centers on memberships that give artisans discount rates on shop facilities. Wood and metal crafters can shape a plan to suit their personal needs, ranging from a monthly $25 basic membership that offers free entrance to all ADX events and discounted rates on workspace, shop access and classes, to a $500 per month “everything” package that gives members full access to all of ADX’s amenities, including a permanent workspace.
ADX will also offer plans for those needing equipment for just a few hours, or to larger commercial ventures wanting to rent by the month. Most importantly, the plan covers more than renting tools and space. Roy and Black wish to create an alliance between a diverse group of people involved in disparate forms of art and design.
Roy recently conceived of opening an “artisan trailer park.” She envisioned it as an interactive community in which people could exchange creative concepts as well as down-and-dirty labor. She even purchased several vintage travel trailers, before deciding instead to integrate the trailer park idea into ADX’s more comprehensive and expansive workspace.
Now the vintage trailers are housed in ADX’s warehouse and will be used as private work areas — or places for artists to enjoy a cup of coffee or a power nap. Roy plans to cover the concrete floor with artificial grass and paint a bucolic mural on a nearby wall as a fun way to heighten the “trailer park” effect.
ADX’s building will also house other artistic endeavors on occasion. In late January, ADX hosted several performances as part of the Fertile Ground Festival, including a staged reading of a new play and a performance by dancers from the Oregon Ballet Theatre, which attracted an audience of 150 dance and theater lovers each night.
Future programs will be somewhat more inward-focused. Roy and Black plan to bring in various experts to teach classes and workshops in the facility. “We will be inviting artisans from around the world to conduct seminars for local designers,” Roy explains.
And there will be a breadth of “how-to” workshops. For instance, in more prosperous times, people bought new furniture or metal works without a second thought. Now, by featuring educational seminars, Roy envisions ADX as “a place where people can learn to do these things themselves.”
Referring to the future gallery that will be housed in a section of the building that was once a loading dock, she adds, “We’ll also host exhibits featuring what our members have created. And for designers of more utilitarian things, ADX can help with marketing and financing so that members can take their products to market.”
Sweetening the lemonade:
When Roy and Black decided to launch their project, they remembered meeting AOC Executive Director Terry Brandt as he was working out details for a loan to Mississippi Marketplace in North Portland.
They contacted Brandt and worked out a financial plan that has helped to make their business a reality.