By Vanessa Anthony
Adrienne Flagg had no idea when she stepped through the doors of North Portland’s Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (IFCC) at the age of 14 that it would be here that she’d find her life’s calling.
The IFCC was born in 1982. It was the brainchild of then City Commissioner Charles Jordan, who was inspired by a firehouse-turned-neighborhood-cultural-center he toured while in San Francisco. As a partnership with Portland’s Parks and Recreation (PP& R), who owns the building, the 15 member Board of Directors and then IFCC Executive Director, Sue Busby, guided its reconstruction from the old defunct 1910 Victorian firehouse to the theater and gallery you see today on North Interstate.
The first arts facility in the U.S. ever to be funded by the federal government’s Urban Parks and Recreation (UPAR) grant funds, the firehouse was envisioned to serve as a community-based facility housing the IFCC’s 100-seat theatre, dressing rooms, art gallery, dance studio and offices.
When Flagg arrived as a young teen, the IFCC was one of the few places that work by minority and disabled artists could be shown and supported. “It was important to me as a young person who knew that I wasn’t going to be in Portland forever…to have that kind of diversity in my life…they treated me with professional respect and had the highest expectations for me,” Flagg remembers.
In 2005, with the IFCC unable to keep the facility booked, PP&R looked into shutting down the firehouse due to concerns about its viability. “Mayor-elect Sam Adams [then a City Commissioner who lived in the neighborhood and had participated in events at the IFCC] understood its value and made a plea for one last ditch effort to keep it open,” says Flagg.
Adams formed an interim board to assess the IFCC’s viability and a plan for action. His office contacted Flagg (who was producing and running the Portland Theater Brigade at the time) for her input and ideas. “Once I heard [the IFCC] was closing I started writing letters about the importance and value of the IFCC. As a theater producer in town, I understood the value of having a venue that was affordable, accessible and well-equipped,” she explains.
Flagg’s love for the theater was born at the IFCC. She went on to train in New York at the New Actors Workshop and to win a Drammy for her work in The Waiting Room, but she returned to the roots of her youth when the IFCC’s programs became endangered.
“The cultural value of the IFCC was important. I knew what it meant to grow up here. When I came here as a kid I came from the west side to be here, and that was true for the IFCC – not only did it serve the neighborhood but it was a beacon to people all over Portland who wanted authentic, diverse art,” Flagg says.
After serving as an interim director for two consecutive three month terms, Flagg experienced a sort of homecoming as she was selected to be the IFCC’s Creative Director.
On October 25, the IFCC will be celebrating their 25th anniversary. Vibrant again, the IFCC’s theater and gallery are booked due in no small part to Flagg’s passion for the program. Now Flagg and her partners at the IFCC have planned a homecoming of sorts for the community – a Homecoming Dance, that is, ‘80s style (Saturday, Oct 15 at 6:00pm. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door).
It’s called “Delirious,” and in addition to playing that and other ‘80s Prince tunes, they will also feature live music, international cuisine, drinks and other shenanigans like a Homecoming Court, Back to the Future Photo Booth, ‘80s costume prizes, and a drawing for a signed basketball by Portland TrailBlazer Greg Oden. Hosted by Mayor-Elect Sam Adams, Commissioner Charles Jordan, Michelle Harper and Susan Fartheree-Goodson, (formerly Sue Busby), expect performances by artist/comedienne Jennifer Lanier as “Bruce the Drag King” (her take on Bruce Springsteen), Sneakin’ Out, Melao De Cuba and dancers from Hurricane Tumbao, as well as a reunion for Portland’s beloved Crazy 8’s.
The IFCC is also showcasing a free historical timeline exhibit told through the voices of those whose lives it has touched over the years, and you can contribute, too. Just visit the exhibit now through October 25 and fill out the “Share Your Story” card or go online to share your story with them via email.