Blackfish Gallery is one of the most enduring and successful cooperative art galleries in the United States. We have been fully owned and operated by working artists since our beginning, and we are among Portland’s pioneer galleries. Our history can be traced to 1978, when Blackfish was born as a concept among a loose affiliation of Portland art professors. These artists were interested in supporting each other professionally and in exhibiting their work without the usual constraints of a commercial art gallery. They rented an empty storefront and, with their own labor and skills, created an art gallery that opened in May 1979.
We celebrated our fortieth anniversary in 2019 and have grown and prospered; the gallery has moved and expanded exhibition space twice during that time. Over 100 prominent Oregon and Washington artists have been represented as members of Blackfish Gallery over the years. Blackfish currently represents 30 artists; three are founding members and have been with the gallery from the beginning.
Our mission has not changed since our early days. We are dedicated to the highest standards of excellence, both in the selection and presentation of works of art. We have a reputation for exhibiting challenging contemporary work by both our own artists and invited guests. In association with exhibitions, we frequently produce educational programs for the benefit of the community. Since its inception, Blackfish has hosted a wide variety of events, including talks by visiting artists, panel discussions, theater productions, site-specific performances and literary readings. We have also frequently presented multimedia collaborative projects, always anchored by a curated art exhibition and often accompanied by related public activities. These projects all have been dedicated toward increasing understanding of visual art and have often demonstrated the value of art as a tool for exploring contemporary issues.
Each Blackfish project is designed to carry out three goals that support our mission. We seek out and present outstanding visual art within the context of thought-provoking ideas. We provide a forum and a venue for artists creating unique work that may exist beyond commercial boundaries. We reach for a broader and more diverse audience by continuing to program exhibitions and events with themes having significance for a wide cross section of our community.
Blackfish Gallery continues to be managed as an artists’ cooperative, but we are organized as a corporation that operates a retail business. In addition to nurturing their individual aesthetic visions and managing their own careers, our artist members are equal partners in the business of running a gallery. The gallery is supported almost entirely through sales of artwork and the contribution of labor, expertise and funds by artist members.