Today happens to mark the opening night of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s ten-day Time-Based Art Festival (T:BA), in Portland, Oregon, and it has been happening for more than ten years now. If you have never attended a single event but always see the annual booklet popping up at your favorite cafe or local library and are intrigued, you may also be overwhelmed. Although the standard model of an arts and music festival has been challenged by T:BA, there is nothing new about a decentralized longer-than-one-weekend affair. Even so, how to tackle such a complicated, cross-disciplinary event can be confusing if not daunting.
Ambit Magazine has two writers in attendance with a goal of reviewing 90% of all performances, visual arts, workshops, and panels within the next ten days and nights. Indeed, Ambit might be providing the most comprehensive coverage ever and you can follow it right here, so bookmark it. We’ll be tweeting and tumbling our way through it, so be sure to follow us on our social media pages.
I want to explain how to attend T:BA so that you are not overwhelmed; so that you can enjoy it next year, if not this time around. First of all, make yourself aware of the many previews available. The Portland Mercury is definitely the most comprehensive weekly magazine to cover it. They have a blog ongoing and you can keep abreast to events that you’re considering there. There is a preview special in this week’s issue called Art Invasion, as well as coverage in their arts bi-monthly magazine, Agenda.
In addition to the fancy book that PICA releases physically, all the information and more is available on their homepage. And if that wasn’t enough, they keep an ongoing blog. There are several other publications stepping in to cover this, but the above is all you need.
Now that you have familiarized yourself with all of that, forget about it. You don’t need it; just attend everything and ask questions later. Don’t decide what to see, see everything. Or just let your gut decide; ask your friends what they’re going to. For God’s sake, don’t spend another night this week slamming Jaegermeister bombs because your friend beat you at Buck Hunter at your local dive. There is another universe out there!
Events are scheduled so that it is possible to see literally every single event. Rarely does something run overtime and prevent you to making the next one. You can hop on your bike or in to a cab and zoom over to the next theater in no time. It is very centralized for something without a central stage. One exception to that rule is the WORKS. All the pass holders including the talent assembles there. Nothing stops you from meeting these people. Make connections.
All of the descriptions in all the previews sound cerebral and convoluted; thats part of the fun of contemporary art, the post-Warhol hype of the description; don’t judge it too much. Performances and visual art at T:BA are not necessarily about “likes” and it is not some cat and baby Facebook post; you can not always predict what you’ll like because it is meant to challenge you.
I have been covering T:BA with a press pass since 2008. The pass I receive is equivalent to their Immersion Pass. It costs one weeks pay for minimum wage workers and one day’s wages for professionals. Moreover, you can become a journalist for community media or simply volunteer for PICA and you will earn your way across the whole festival without money.
The cost of a full pass may seem like too much to you, but if you get down to it, it is an affordable education not to mention actually cheaper than a lot of other festivals. PICA will educate you on contemporary arts and performance for a solid ten days. Go every single day and catch as much as you can. Any time you devote yourself to a single cause or focus for ten straight days, you emerge anew, a different person with an altered worldview. By next year, you can plan it as a stay-cation.
If immersion is not an option for you, consider the flex pass. This gets you in to all the late night WORKS performances as well as several feature performances. Pass holders typically get expedited access to seating and it saves a bundle of dollars compared to buying tickets piecemeal. This may sound like an infomercial, but I promise that I’m speaking from experience and enthusiasm–which all infomercials say.
So you can’t volunteer this year, you have no media connections, and you’re broke. What do you do? There are free events. Tonight’s opening night is free. All the visual exhibitions are free and most of them run for several weeks after the performance schedule has relinquished. So grab that booklet and figure it out. Moreover, the PICA Resource Room is available to the public and you can actually watch archival video and more from all past years. Just go to their offices on SW 10th Ave and dig in.
That only leaves getting around and eating, assuming you’re broke–because if you have money you already know what to do–the entire festival is walkable and close to grocery stores. Regular poor people can use their food card to survive; punks can dumpster food. If you have a bike, you’re in luck, every single event is a five minute bike ride from the other.
I hope that is helpful for you. I hope to see you out there.