ericamerylthomas [at] gmail [dot] com

What is this Place? is a publication created through a series of interviews, conversations and experiences around the Emerson Street House–a community arts organization in inner NE Portland, founded in 2016 by Diane Freaney. Diane asked me to help her with public outreach, design and storytelling about the organization, and I approached the project as I would any other artwork, by asking questions and listening openly to those who know most about it. The images are from the publication release event during Design Week Portland 2017, which included a collaborative element designed with artist Julie Keefe, curated by Donovan Smith. 

I first noticed Diane as a fellow outlier during a presentation I was giving at the 2016 Alliance of Artist Communities conference. I was on a panel among five other women who had all developed "self-declared artist residencies." Diane came, as she often does, to listen. At the end of the session, I vaguely remember her raising her hand and saying, "I’m not an artist, I’m a finance person. I want to know how I can support these kinds of projects." At the time, I was quite nervous to talk about this self-legitimized component of my work, in which I declare development of relationships to be part of my art practice. I came to understand later that this presentation has had an ongoing impact on her. Once we met, it became clear that we had a shared understanding of many things, and that we had some work to do together. So we began to meet and have conversations about her project at the House, which planted the seeds for this publication. Many people have asked us, What is Emerson Street House? Rather than tell you what the place is about, we thought it would be best to turn the question outward, to those who are doing the work, and listen to the response.

Full text and printed copies of the publication available by request.