True North Studios Closes

Kaiden Builds opened True North Studios just off NE Glisan Street in September 2019, offering a creative workspace to the community. The pandemic delayed early growth for the membership-based artistic hub at 455 NE 71st Avenue, and reliable funding never materialized. Consequentially, the space shut down permanently on April 30th. A fundraising campaign is underway to help cover the costs of terminating contracts and other debts.

Builds made the difficult decision to cease operations last month, giving members time to move out of the space. However, many artists have few options for a creative workspace. “Most of my members didn’t go to another community space. They went to their homes or another private space. A lot of people actually ended up leaving their craft for a moment or putting it on pause because all of their equipment ended up in storage,” explained Builds. “There’s nowhere that they can find space affordably to keep it operable. So all they can do is put it on pause, store it until they can find somewhere else.”

Builds spent the last 30 days donating or selling company-owned supplies and equipment. “A bunch of the lockers and cubbies went to Lewis and Clark College,” remarked Builds, explaining how they have tried to keep as many items in the community as possible. The experience has been challenging, leaving the True North Studios community questioning Portland’s reputation for supporting the arts. Kaiden Builds has yet to rule out attempting this type of creative-collaborative space again. However, they do not think it could exist in Portland, and it would require having a rent-free building to work from. The community workspace model is popular but not financially strong in the current market.

For Kaiden Builds, securing reliable funding is the most challenging aspect of running a creative space. The hard costs are constant, and membership fees alone do not cover the monthly obligations. “The rent is about $5,500 a month, and that’s $150.00 a day. I can’t get general operating expense help through any program that’s available right now,” said Builds. Although many grants favor nonprofits, Builds founded True North Studios as a for-profit company. However, they feel that was not the cause of the funding challenges. “I honestly don’t know if being a nonprofit would have helped me because my main hurdle is general operating expenses. A lot of the grants aren’t targeted for that,” explained Builds. “And we’ve had some people come back on our Instagram and say, ‘well, you just have to do kids programming,’ but if I put on kids programming, all that money has to go towards that program. So none of it can go to keeping the door open.”

Portland offers some support for small businesses. However, Builds says those programs did not apply to True North Studios. “The stuff that’s available through Prosper Portland and Venture Portland are all through [Tax Increment Finance] TIF districts, and we happen to be just outside of them.” True North Studios took out a $50,000 Small Business Administration (SBA) loan to keep the company running over the years. That outstanding debt and other termination costs are looming over the company as they close down the space. The fundraising campaign is an effort to offset those costs as much as possible.

Kaiden Builds is disappointed in how the city and regional government supports arts. However, they have not given up on True North Studios’ concept. It will take time to regroup from this setback and even longer to figure out where this idea can take root. “I would love to give back to the community again, but at this point, I’ve been running so dry and so thin that I have nothing left to give, and I have to spend some time recovering,” said Builds.

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