is a contemporary art center in Portland, Oregon. YU will bring the most challenging national and international contemporary art to Portland and engage artists in experimental modalities that raise questions and catalyze new dialogue. YU’s vision is to produce and present the most thought-provoking contemporary work, to form a community of ideas relevant to Portland, and to empower the artistic imagination and cultural life of the Northwest.

YU is located in the Yale Union Laundry Building—a landmark on the National Registry of Historic Places. YU’s reactivation of the Yale Union Laundry Building will strengthen this excellent neighborhood, dramatically expand the arts landscape in Portland, and engage contemporary artists around the globe.

YU was founded by artists in September 2009. In May 2010, YU hired a director. YU is building its organizational structure by drawing on visionary thinking of local, national and international artists, arts leaders, and professionals.

YU looks to be an entrepreneurial and enterprising 501c/3, recognizing the call for new models of nonprofit governance.

Substantial funds are now required to raise the working capital to secure YU’s programming and operational budget and to continue renovations of the building and site.

YU promises to be vibrant with a contemporary art and audience energy underrepresented in this city. As a participatory institution focused on building relationships and fostering dynamic art experiences, YU will changes the paradigm by which cities define their arts institutions.YU will be a significant cultural and artistic institution in the Pacific Northwest, as well as mark the city's place on the national and international arts landscape. Please become a part of accomplishing this goal. JOIN.


Built in 1908, the Yale Union Laundry Building is a two-story masonry structure with cast sandstone decoration executed in Italian Renaissance style and a 1929 addition in Egyptian Revival style. Unfortunately, no information on the architect has been found to date. The western rectangular portion of the structure has a half-story steel frame light monitor running the length of the building, allowing light to flood the upper floor. The water tower pedestal is a signature feature of the building, around which the 1927 addition wraps to the east and south, forming the building’s L-shaped footprint.

In 1916, an article in Portland’s Evening Telegram reported that Yale Laundry had 125 employees. The majority of the workers employed in the laundry business were women. They often worked long hours under harsh conditions. By 1919, the plight of the laundry worker had become symbolic of the need to enforce state labor laws; and that year the laundry workers themselves out on strike.

In 1920, several power laundries were consolidate into the Home Service Company in order to share resources and meet the new regulations forming around hours and wages. This consolidation was successful and the laundry business once again began to boom. In 1927, owner Charles Brown sold his remaining interest in Yale Laundry to the Home Service Company; soon after it merged with Union Laundry. Delivery drivers from the Home Service Company would pick up laundry at clients’ homes and return clothes washed, dried, starched and pressed. The laundry operated until the mid-1950s, when personal washing machines became affordable for middle-class families. In 1959, an automotive textile fabricator, Perfect Fit Manufacturing, began operating in the building and did so until 2006. In the same year, a historic preservation consultant undertook the research necessary to submit the Yale Union Laundry Building to the US Department of the Interior National Park Service as a historic landmark.


The ability of the Yale Union Laundry Building to convey information about American industrialization and the industrial laundry business of early 20th century America; the women’s labor movement; and the rise of the middle class are the reasons the building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in Portland.

In 2008, the Yale Union Laundry Building was purchased for the creation of YU. The building itself is a great asset of the project. With thoughtful design, artistic vision, curatorial excellence and widespread support, YU will be the much needed contemporary art space Portlanders have been anticipating for decades.


YU is artist-driven and will engage artists in experimental modalities that challenge institutional conventions. Some of the most prestigious contemporary museums around the world, from Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art to the New Museum in New York, began by artist initiative and continue to this day to be responsive to artists and contemporary life.

YU is not a museum and will not house a permanent collection. Drawing on Portland’s history, YU fills the need to revive and reimagine the legacy left by the Portland Center for Visual Arts. PCVA, cited as one of the most seminal contemporary arts spaces in the United States, produced and presented installations and performances from 1972 to 1987.

Akin to European kunsthalles such as those in Berlin and Munich, Zurich Migros Museum and Palais de Tokyo in Paris, YU’s industrial building and context bring to mind Dia:Beacon in upstate New York and MASS MOCA in North Adams, MA.

The Contemporary Art Center Cincinnati, Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston and the Blanton Museum in Austin demonstrate that cities of comparable size can support contemporary art institutions like YU.

YU is now entering the planning phase of its artistic program and the exploratory phase of determining the feasibility, scope, timing and funding for undertaking its capital program. Artists, curators, philosophers and writers will be invited to YU to tour the building and participate in shaping the vision and ideas of YU’s program.


  • Multiple-gallery exhibitions of contemporary art
  • Performance, screenings, music, lectures and conversation
  • Artist residency program
  • Publishing
  • Community engagement


  • Two galleries dedicated to the exhibition of contemporary art
  • Virtual wing dedicated to the exhibition of new media, hosted in the safe
  • 100 seat flex-space for lectures, performing arts, screenings, readings and more
  • Four resident spaces for guest artists
  • Café, bookstore and adjacent open-air courtyard
  • Offices, work and meeting spaces, and storage rooms
  • Audio recording studio
  • Letterpress and small offset printmaking studio
  • Wood and metal production shop
  • Library reading room
  • Large kitchen
  • Speakeasy
  • Sauna, steam room and laundry facilities
  • Large freight and ADA accesible elevator

YU will produce and present contemporary art exhibitions, performances, public programs and events by regional, national and international artists. YU’s artist residency program will host guest and visiting artists and YU will engage the community in arts and educational activities. Each artist at YU will contribute to the program and impact the cultural, academic and artistic life of Portland and beyond.


YU’s two primary exhibition spaces—one on the main floor and another, a city block-long space on the upper level, provide over 14,000 square feet for exhibitions, installations, multi-media productions and more. A virtual space for the display of online content will be conterminous with the two galleries and the flex-space will serve IRL. Contemporary artists across generations and disciplines will produce new work for YU’s exhibitions, explore exhibition-making, and, in some instances, create works that evolve over time at YU.


YU’s 100 seat flex-space will be adaptable for performances, lectures, readings, music, multi-media presentations and education activities. YU’s public programs aim to explore the most challenging issues in contemporary art and culture today; be spontaneous and changing; and be multivalent in engaging diverse audiences.

Artist Residency Program

YU houses a guest artist residency program with four studios. To develop this model, YU researched international residency programs. Crucial ingredients in the programs to which YU aspires are the provocation of continual dialogue among artists, a library of artist's publications, production and wellness facilities, and funding for developing projects.

YU’s artist residency program will have no strictures on specific output and production, though it is anticipated that the artists’ research, ideas and activities will extend into YU’s exhibitions, performances, public programs and publications. YU is building networks and affiliations with local arts organizations, art schools and universities, and cultural and community organizations. These relationships can provide a public interface through talks or studio visits with YU visiting and guest artists.


Publishing in print and online is an extension of, and integral to, YU’s artistic programming. Publications will include catalogs, essays, audio and video recordings, editions and other compilations. These publications will complement the active energy of the space by providing scholarly feedback and an expanded context of critical dialog to YU’s exhibitions, events and residencies. At YU, there will be a library–reading room and a public bookstore. As books are produced and printed at YU, they will also be studied and sold.


YU’s community engagement and educational arts programming will be connected to its exhibitions, performances, film and online programming. Buckman Elementary, an arts magnet school, is within walking distance of YU: special initiatives will be developed to bring contemporary practices to these students and their families. Consistent with YU’s experimental approach, activities for younger audiences, teens and families will be radical, performative, interactive and extend beyond YU’s artistic programs into the city and civic life.

City officials, the press, arts patrons and the community at large often cite a gap in Portland’s cultural landscape. D. K. Row, art writer for the Oregonian says: “The one crucial planet missing from Portland’s expanding art universe: A nonprofit contemporary art center…that immerses the public and the local art world in the most challenging national and international art currents...and offer(s) the public razor-sharp devotion to the most cutting-edge contemporary art.” (The Oregonian, August 31, 2008).


We enter from the north on SE Morrison Street between SE 10th and 11th Avenues, where through a two-story glass façade—we see the open-air courtyard punctuated by the water tower pedestal. South through the courtyard, flanked by catwalks, is located the main entrance to YU. To the left of the entry, a café operates, serving through the window to the courtyard and to the lobby inside. Adjacent to the café is the YU bookshop, an outlet for YU multiples, editions and other publications. Westward, across the lobby and receptionist area, is the knuckle, providing access to the flex-space, main floor gallery and architectural stairway rising through the light well to the upper floor. Walking up the stair, we see amber light flooding through the aperture and into the grand gallery. This gallery is the full length of a city block and has too many windows.

On the upper floor of the east wing are located two of the four studios to be occupied by artists in the residency program. A library and reading room are adjacent to these spaces. A surprising kitchen with an enormous table is also found here. This room is the heart of YU.

On the intersecting mezzanine—through an indiscrete entrance from the libraryçare two more resident studios with low ceilings and large windows.

The tension between public and private spaces energizes visitors, staff and residents alike. Looking up through the glass ceiling in the print shop, we will see visitors walking in the main floor gallery. In the basement with the print shop are the production facilities and sauna. Finally, on weekends, we convene in the speakeasy—the building’s old boiler room—and drink.


Having occupied the emptied halls of the Yale Union Laundry Building for the last three years, the founders of YU are intimately familiar with the existing architecture. During these years designing of the space has co-evolved alongside the mission of the center in a natural way not possible under the typical constraints of many architectural projects. In 08-09 a lead gift enabled YU to initiate and complete a feasibility study with Boora Architects on infrastructure upgrades and the repurposing of the historic building. Inspired by this process, and despite formal education in the field, the founders chose to enter the phases of design that followed independently. Accelerated Development, a young firm that marries a materials studio to a development and construction process, signed on to collaborate with YU on this effort. Exiting the study phase, the process of finalizing design toward permit ready documents had begun.

Throughout 2010, the Accelerated Development team worked alongside the YU founders and director to parse regulations and propose innovative solutions. The majority of the work in this phase was not accomplished by architects, but rather by artists, engineers, craftsmen, designers, administrators, LEED consultants and draftsmen. This phase is now nearing completion; the design development, engineering and contract documents as well as applications to the National Parks Service for approval of design concepts to the historic property are swiftly moving forward. YU will adapt, use and conserve this signature example of Portland architecture.

The repurposing of the Yale Union Laundry Building by YU has five major principles which serve to guide design decisions. These are: historic preservation, design and equipping of spaces for contemporary art, public access and flow of visitors, green and sustainable energy systems, and the potential for new sources of revenue for economic viability.

While the building could easily be utilized in its raw state for exhibitions and events, the capital program plans for infrastructure upgrades and repurposing for contemporary art will achieve:

  • with minimal intervention, spaces for the spectrum of contemporary art programming and visitors’ services will be created and equipped, along with four artist residences and amenities
  • a new café, bookshop and open-air courtyard will become social spaces, enhance visitor experience and generate earned income
  • public assembly of over 1,000 people in the upper gallery—potentially the largest, uninterrupted event space in Portland—will result from seismic, ADA and fire and life safety upgrades
  • up to 30% return on capital investments through historic, new market and energy tax credit incentive programs at the Federal, State and City levels
  • energy efficient systems that are sound long term investments with the potential for generating new revenue streams
  • a range of facilities and spaces that can be made available to other organizations and be available for rent for private events

The existing characteristics of the Yale Union Laundry Building are aesthetically striking and we will preserve them. A commitment has been made to design within the historic architecture, taking advantage of all pre-existing elements while planning for the building’s new life. An original egress and window will be restored on the western façade and all brickwork and parapets will be brought back to their original beauty.

A solution to preserve and restore the original wood floors during the seismic upgrade has been found—and the seismic upgrade will ensure longevity of the building. A light well in the center of the property will be reopened and other significant features—the water tower pedestal, the coal furnace relic, the sandstone reliefs and the original wavy glass of the windows will be preserved, exactly as they are. The restoration and adaptive reuse of this structure will reinforce the unique identity of the Central Eastside Historic District.

It is an ethical priority and an economic necessity to approach the repurposing with the strongest commitment to green systems and sustainability. The project is designed to a Platinum level of LEED certification, according to the US Green Building Council. In some instances, YU will go beyond these standards as a way of advancing Portland’s national leadership in the field. Simple design, reclamation of building materials, new materials sourced from local, ecologically responsible producers, and green energy systems will accomplish this goal.

A well-appointed kitchen and bathroom have already been completed in anticipation of use by resident artists and staff, as well as catering for events. Three production facilities—the print shop, the recording studio and the wood shop—are completed, equipped and in full operation for the production of publications, editions and multiples. Every consideration has been made to create and repurpose spaces that function as smartly as they look. Areas and spaces in the building can be programmed and operated independent of the others, or in total concert.

Moreover, through preservation, reuse and new efficiency systems, YU will invest in operational and ecological sustainability. The proposed geothermal system extracts thermal energy from groundwater which has a stable year round temperature, making it far more efficient than conventional systems. In tandem with this system, a solar panel array, efficient light harvesting and conservation through LED lighting and window shades will bring operating costs close to zero. Securing water rights to the aquifer located 150 feet below the site will enable YU to supply its own water, as well as explore opportunities to generate revenue from surplus water through bottling and distribution to neighbors.


800 SE 10TH AVE

P: (503) 236-7996
F: (503) 235-3664

Twelve blocks from Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), YU is easily accessed by foot, bike, bus or car. The extension of the streetcar across the Broadway Bridge and south to OMSI along SE 3rd Avenue, and its proximity to I-5 and Highway 84, make YU an easy first destination for out-of-town visitors arriving by car or from Portland International Airport.

YU occupies half a city block in Portland’s Buckman neighborhood. Perched on the tree line between the residential and industrial districts of the Central Eastside, YU is 10 blocks from the Willamette River and conveniently close to downtown. On the edge of the Historic District of southeast Portland, YU is a touchstone of the Mayor’s arts and culture policy “to create a more vibrant creative culture that is inclusive and engaged with the varied needs of diverse communities.” YU sits in the Portland Development Commission’s area for sustaining “legacy and community businesses and job creation.” In addition to being a major new cultural center, YU will create new jobs and provide an economic benefit to local businesses.