Exit interview with PICA’s Executive Director Victoria Frey

PICA outgoing Executive Director Victoria Frey

We talked to the Portland-based trailblazing director about her time at PICA and what the institute is looking for in it’s next Executive Director. The priority deadline to apply for the position is December 9.

UwU & Friends, UwU Collective, TBA:22 | Photo: Tojo Andrianarivo

Q: What is the most surprising thing that has changed at PICA over your 20 year tenure? 

A: I am rarely surprised by change because adaptation, evolution, and change are part of our DNA as a contemporary art organization. We have shifted programming and leadership models several times in our almost 28 year history. What changes is the socio political and financial landscape, the needs of artists and place: Portland. PICA adapts and leads change always.

Q: What has stayed the same?

A: Although the ways that we serve our mission have changed, PICA has always stayed true to the core values and commitment to artists, participation in the development of new work through commissioning, residencies and direct support, long-term engagement, and strong curatorial programs.

Adrianne Truscott, THIS, Sept. 10, 2022

Q: Why do you think a collaborative Artistic Director model is important?

A: I am not sure that asking how it is important is the right approach. Perhaps: Why this model? Why now? More institutions are looking at shared leadership models. PICA is one of them. What artists and communities need from institutions continues to evolve. We have been talking for decades about how the forms are conflating. That artists do not all identify as a “visual” or a “performing” artist and that context building and public programs are valued and important.

We have three very talented artistic curators working with artists in unique ways to realize their work and working in the larger art community nationally and regionally. Erin, Kristan and Roya, and PICA have always cross programmed and worked collaboratively. This is a recognition of that. It honors and values the professional artistic leadership, their commitment to artists and to PICA. Precariousness in balance, tensions pulling at something in an unexpected direction, defying gravity and denying any stability or foundation are a start. Also weightlessness and implied movement. If it makes me hold my breath while constructing it, I feel vulnerable with the objects. I am often “under the gun” because the foundations are about to fall yet I continue to pile things up. I feel the tension of being quite clumsy and going through failures to get there.

Q: What part of PICA are you most proud of?

A: This is a tough question because I do not think there is any one thing that I feel most proud of. I take pride in the fact that PICA has made such an impact on the field regionally, nationally, and internationally. That we continue to find new ways to serve the ever-evolving needs of artists through commissioning, development of new work, residencies, and direct grant support. That we have committed to being messy and experimenting while offering a safe place to imagine. I am proud of our commitment to supporting the larger community through mutual aid and partnership with our community…..and so much more.

Q: How have the changes to Portland in the last 20 years affected the art community here?

A: This city has seen significant growth. There are new organizations and art spaces creating a more vibrant cultural scene here.  But there are also issues of affordability and displacement affecting the needs of artists and our community. The loss of critical venues and institutions like the Marylhurst Art Gym, OCAC, Yale Union, and Contemporary Craft have left significant voids. The lack of affordable studio, rehearsal, and presenting venues continues to make it difficult for artists to thrive.

Although I take pride in how PICA has committed to supporting artists and our larger community through space and direct support and steps in where possible to fill this need, it is not enough. So, while we celebrate the artists run spaces and resourcefulness and creativity of our community, we need to address the real issues threatening the vibrancy of the art community here. 

ASUNA, 100 Keyboards, Co-Organized with Aki Onda, April 22–23, 2022.

Q: What are you excited about for PICA’s future?

A: I am proud of the work that the staff and board have been doing this past two and a half years looking at what we value most, what artists need from PICA, addressing the systemic inequities and asking ourselves the hard questions of how we contribute to these inequities. I trust the future will remain focused on finding new ways of serving the current needs of artists and our community. 

Q: What is the one quality you think the next ED needs to have?

A: I think anyone coming into the role should be a good thought partner and collaborator. They should have a commitment not only to PICA and the mission, but to Portland.

PICA is looking for a curious, ambitious, and confident Executive Director to lead, develop, and execute a holistic strategy that provides a platform for artists to explore the current moment, engage with peers around the world, challenge convention, and tear down walls while building new connections. 

Left to right: Victoria Frey, Kristan Kennedy, Erin Boberg Doughton, Roya Amirsoleymani

Under Vic’s leadership, PICA has presented thousands of artists from around the world; established a home and community hub at our flagship building in Northeast Portland; and developed deep and ongoing relationships with artists, audiences, foundations, partners, and neighbors. As Executive Director, Vic championed the current collaborative Artistic Director model for PICA’s Curators (Roya Amirsoleymani, Erin Boberg Doughton, and Kristan Kennedy) and has worked closely with this team to envision a future-forward ethos for the organization. Vic’s generosity of spirit and time is evident in all that she does, from engaging in meaningful civic advocacy to serving hotdogs at the TBA Festival. 

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