In a city known for its DIY sensibilities, many Black creators have struggled to find welcoming and affordable studio space.
Cyrus Coleman and Adewale Agboola are changing that with the opening of a 20,000-square-foot venue they envision as “the creative soul of Old Town.”
“The foundation of community is place.
"So being able to find space in a city like Portland is very hard, and especially spaces that reflect our aspirations and level of excellence that we feel like we all deserve,” Coleman, a designer who serves as an NBA uniform graphic designer for Nike, told The Skanner. “And it just kind of spawned from the question, What are all the things we need to be able to creatively express ourselves to the level that we feel we are? And to be able to have that in a one-stop shop kind of location, to also compound the community aspect of that, to be inspired by others, is how we got to what each floor is going to hold.”
The Horizon Enterprise Building, located at 433 NW 4th Ave., is set to open in June 2023.
“It’s a thing of beauty,” Agboola said. “Really on my mind was finding a place where I actually felt so comfortable being, where I could find people that look like me.
"Because coming to Portland, I couldn’t really find that community – I had to go out and search for it.
"But the idea of this space is, everyone in the community is connected. You can come find everything down here at the Horizon building. This brick-and-mortar means having this space where, if something happens in the community, everyone can gather here and talk about it and actually find resolution, find good music. It’s just a space where we can all see each other, we all can feel comfortable, we all can just gather and just simply be and don’t have to feel uncomfortable or worried about anything.”
The project began with Coleman’s urge to create an art show around the pandemic and the death of George Floyd, and his subsequent frustration at the lack of affordable studio space. With Agboola, he sought advice from a network of BIPOC business owners and Jonathan Cohen and Jesse Burke, founders of the nonprofit Equity Development Lab, which nurtures BIPOC startups.
Burke encouraged them to think bigger and more long-term.
“Jesse kind of just flat-out told us, ‘Would you like to rent or would you like to create generational wealth?’
"And in every Black person’s heart, generational wealth is better than anything,” Agboola said.
They learned about the abundance of unlisted properties, and when they toured the four-story building that had previously housed Children's Cancer Association, Viviano Design and Living Harvest, the space resonated with them. Through Burke’s extended network and their own friends and family, they were able to fundraise the downpayment and maintenance costs. When Horizon Enterprise opens, it will operate on membership and rental fees.
Coleman says they also plan to open investment opportunities for those who want to share in the venue’s success.
“We want people to be part of it and reap some of the rewards,” he said.
Construction is ongoing, but renderings showcase a space that will cater to a range of media and artistic disciplines. The first floor will be gallery space, with a coffee shop and retail space that transitions into a wine bar in the evening.
“There’s a wine aspect for the building where we want to gather Black people to drink more wine, and where they can enjoy the actual story of wine and everything pertaining to it,” Agboola said. “There’s the boutique aspect where whoever created the show on the first floor, they can actually sell their work.”
The second floor houses the Theory Makespace, to be outfitted with sewing equipment, 3D printers, screen printing, large format printing, laser- and vinyl-cutting, space for painting, drawing, and fabric-dyeing, alongside private studio space, a recording studio and lounge area.
The third floor, called the Theory Studio, will be a production space for filming with an infinity wall, green room and equipment rentals available. An apartment unit may be made available for future artists in residence.
It is on the third floor where Coleman and Agboola see the potential for the Horizon Building to create an expanded creative economy in Portland
“For a long time, I’d get flown out to do campaigns for agencies around the world,” Agboola said. “What if we could bring the work from Wieden or Nike or all those people to the third floor of the production studio, what if we could keep that work here in Portland and hire photographers in Portland and create that economy here too? That’s what I really see for the third floor.”
“We see it as an international beacon of BIPOC creativity.
"And we want to be that for Portland and keep all the talent that comes for Nike and Adidas and for Wieden,” Coleman said. “They come here and they get thrown into something they weren’t expecting based off the external view of what the global image is of these brands – Portland is not necessarily an L.A. or a New York where you have a melting pot and you find your feet easily. We’ve got to create these melting pots so that it’s easy to find, so when you touch down and you ask, ‘Where do I go?’ You go to Horizon.”
And then there’s the jazz bar in the basement.
“I believe the basement really does belong to Cyrus’s family, because they have such rich heritage in music,” Agboola said.
He is referring to Coleman’s father Tony, who was blues legend B.B. King’s drummer for many years, and to his late grandfather Carlton “King” Coleman, iconic blues singer, musician and occasional actor.
“The idea of being able to have an authentic Black-owned jazz bar for the community, it doesn’t seem like it’s something that comes along very often,” Coleman said.
Horizon Enterprise will be open to everyone, and tiered memberships will be made available on a monthly basis at $95 to $295, with day passes available for $35. Free membership will be open to students and graduates who finished school within the last two years, dependent on a review of their portfolio and goals.
Agboola emphasized it is important to not only nurture creativity, but to demonstrate to young people that a career in art or photography or music can be viable – and how.
“One of the biggest things for me growing up, I was raised to be something like a pilot or a lawyer or surgeon,” he said. “No one ever really taught me about creativity and how I can actually really make money doing things like this. So I want us to be able to foster young minds, and to tell them you can make it as a photographer, you can make it as a painter, you can make it as a writer. …come in and explore creativity, explore your talent and explore whatever things can help you awaken your senses and your mind.”
He added, “I was realizing if my parents would have taught me so much about creativity and to believe my eyes and keep photographing what I saw, I would’ve been something better, bigger than what I am now. So we want people to be around the building and realize, ‘We can actually do this.’ That’s a very big component for us.”
”I see it ultimately as a place to scratch the itch of that dream in the back of your mind as a creative,” Coleman said. “You don’t really know where to start necessarily. You might have an idea, and you think, man, if I just had this thing I could make this be that. And we’re trying to provide the this for the that, so that you can just come be yourself, and reap the benefits of having the supplies and the support system to kind of foster those dreams floating around in your head.”
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