Home:bass Art Gallery
A RESPONSE TO GESTAPO TACTICS
by Jonny Boys
I recently had the chance to meet with Johnathan Hall, owner of Home:bass, a unique record store that sells toys, zines, t-shirts and local art. The interview took place at their old store. While the new location was a great move for them and a testament to their ability to survive, it is also the story of local government abusing its “authority” by dictating what is art.
For some time now Hall has been an advocate of the street art culture that has been maturing in Portland. On September 28, 2012, Hall and Portland street artist, The Lost Cause, joined forces to raise money for a mural on the side of Home:bass's exterior. The Kickstarter.com campaign caught the eyes of the Portland Graffiti Abatement unit, as it was featured for three days on the home page of Kickstarter.com, and the project was fully funded.
So Hall and his partner went out at the behest of his landlord to talk to other businesses in the neighborhood that have murals to find out if their was a permit process. “There's like a bunch of murals even on this strip...from the people we talked to they said they tried to go through the permit process but basically they were told that if their art work is under a certain size and it's not like, deliberately pushing a big business or whatever...basically the permit's not required so much. And we talked to another place down the street and they were like the same way.”
After they got their funding from Kickstarter they laid down tarps and put a base coast of green on the brick wall. The next day the Portland Police Department called the building owner and notified him that there would be a substantial fine if the mural went up. The Lost Cause had already sprayed outlines on the building when Hall got the call from his landlord. “So we covered it up and we decided to look into the permit process if the authorities were going to jump on us on that.” The building owner had previously notified Hall that he was going to put the building up for sale in the next few months. But he had given Hall the all clear to put a mural on the building later recanting after the PPD pressured him and he told Hall since the building was going on the market it would be best to leave the exterior alone.
“It looks like the mural is going up behind Music Millennium down the street so that will be good for them. But at that point we were hella bummed. One of the other things we were kinda thinking too was with some of the other businesses...like Bishops [Barbershop], they had their own thing going on, so when their murals popped up they probably didn't get that much attention. It seemed like the day before the Sticker Treat show two officers came in and they gave me a warning to tell people not to go sticking around town, that they would have a zero tolerance on it, and that um, they have been watching the Visual Assault crew for a while now and they were naming off some shows that they've had that have caused some...you know, stickering and shit around like that time frame. So basically I think at that time we were in the eyes of the authorities on that. So they were probably doing some research, because we hadn't even done anything on the side of the wall yet, so they kind of like preemptively stopped us...they knew what was going on.”
I asked him whether he felt like it was a “fuck you” from the city. Hall said, “No they were actually pretty nice when they showed up and gave us a warning, instead of showing up the night of and being dicks. So that part was nice and definitely appreciated.” The police officers told Hall they liked what was going on in the store, but that once it went outside of the store it was another issue. Hall told them, “I'm definitely not very much in support of people who...like [do] damage, vandalism, where they key up business windows or like [stuff] that's really not artistic, it's just causing damage. We're not really supporting that, we are trying to legitimize these guys...more or less just keeping them busy creating products and shit. But even with that they were like 'stickers are a big pain in the butt to get down and all that', and I was like what are, you, talking about?”, he laughed. “To them it's just as much damage as someone keying up a window, which is stupid...I don't know if it was those two guys that called the landlord or not, but when I was telling the landlord that I spoke with the authorities and just kinda like looking to get the proper permit, you know the proper process...He was saying that whoever called him was just being a complete dick and was just very aggressive towards him, so I think I definitely had a different experience than my landlord did. I think that's what scared him away from continuing with the mural on the building.”
I told Hall that I've heard stories of other Police departments in Oregon forcing businesses out that support graffiti and street artists. He responded, “They even kind of told me that too in a nicer way, that basically if businesses are seen as a housing of deviant behavior, they would contact the building owner and really hit us up on their deviant list...that's basically what happened to The Office [skate shop] which used to be downtown, I remember they were getting a lot of attention, a lot of heat. DirtyClean did a show with a bunch of graffiti guys that came through town and they did an article in the paper about it, I guess they got jumped on pretty hard. They had a mural on the side of their building and I guess they were forced to close down, so we got pretty light handed on it. But at the same time we promote graffiti culture but we obviously are trying to do other outlets as well so it's not just about that...I was telling those guys basically we are just trying to keep them busy making shirts and sending sticker packs off to other cities. They were looking around and they were like 'Oh what's your biggest seller right now?', at that time we were doing really well on the sticker packs and I didn't want to say that at all, so I was just like 'you know surprisingly fine art is going pretty good'', he said while laughing.
I asked him whether he was worried about PPD's harassment to follow them over to the new store, he said he was not. He said being a rave producer for so long helped him to know that as a business owner he really wasn't doing anything wrong. And, if they did decide to keep watching the business over time they would figure that out too.
Flash forward to July of 2013, they are in their new location and they are going strong. Every month they are putting out solid two artist shows. Hall told me that they are making ends meet which is a great thing for an emerging street art space in Portland.