If the US Census—instead of counting things like household income and marital status— had a matrix for features such as collaboration, artistic production, and creativity, then the Ironworks Art District would be a hotspot on Bend's city map. Constructed in 1912 to support the then-booming timber industry of turn-of-the-century Bend, the Old Ironworks is a hive of industrial buildings surrounding a small courtyard at the corner of Colorado and Scott avenues. It was the biggest ironworks in the Pacific Northwest at its peak, but after closing in the 1990s became a ghost town of rotating antique shops, storage facilities, and empty storefronts.
That is, until the block began to coalesce around a singular vision as an art mecca where a combination of studio, retail, production, class, and event spaces would form an arts district unlike any other in Bend, according to Stuart Breidenstein, owner of Stuart's of Bend in the Old Ironworks.
"We called it a 'district'—we wanted people to think of it as a place where they could find handmade, well-made, and locally-made items." said Breidenstein.
The Ironworks Arts District, which is anchored by the Sparrow Bakery, is made up of four work-retail businesses: Cindercone Clayworks, Stuart's of Bend, the Workhouse, and Armature. Combined, the businesses represent around 40 local artists whose studios are concentrated in the arts district. Originally housing a machine shop, foundry, and industrial storage, the buildings are zoned wide industrial, meaning that work production must take place in any retail space.
"For industry to return to [the Ironworks] and to see it being used for its intended purpose—production—is really a point of pride for me," said The Workhouse owner Cari Dolyniuk.
The production requirement necessitated the creation of an environment where collaboration and innovation thrive as artists interface with each other and the community. At Armature, a combination consignment/studio/event space owned by photographer Tambi Lane, the variety of art being made there defines the space itself.
"Armature means the framework for a work of art. Armature is just a building, but inside we have artists at work, a gallery, photo studios, consignments, events, classes—even weddings," said Lane.
Local band Isles used part of the building for their practice space, recording their first and second albums there. The space is host to weekly classes such as ecstatic dance, yoga, and Capoeira—a Brazilian martial arts dance rooted in examining the history of slavery.
This kind of flexibility and artistic diversity is also on display at The Workhouse, where eight studio artists work individually and collectively in an airy, open space that also hosts workshops, pop-up dinners, and consignments from over 40 outside artists.
"One thing that the open format fosters is the ability for artists to ask for and receive feedback," said Dolyniuk. "[Our] artists are availing themselves of the fact that every artist here is encouraging and supportive and wants them to achieve."
The spirit of collaboration and encouragement is evident everywhere in the arts district, particularly during the Old Ironwork's monthly Last Saturday art happenings. The brainchild of Cindercone Clayworks owner Chad Fox, Last Saturdays are an opportunity for the public to gather around local bands and brews while engaging with the latest creations from Ironworks studio artists and owners. Fox sees the regular event—which he says was inspired by his experience showing ceramics during the Alberta neighborhood's Last Thursday art gathering in Portland—as a way to engage with local artists in a different format from other established art walks and fairs in Central Oregon.
"We have a unique quality because we are so condensed," said Fox. "The main difference is [that] these are studios where you get to meet the artist—it's more comfortable for everyone."
Last Saturday motivates the four shop owners to continually innovate and rethink their gallery and studio spaces as well. Fox has recently renovated Cindercone's gallery space and Breidenstein is constantly seeking to create a party vibe in his metalworking and sewing shops. The goal, says Breidenstein and the others, is to make every Last Saturday an experience that furthers the art district's vision—to support working artists and establish Bend's credentials as a city with great art.
"We try to keep it fresh and about art," said Breidenstein. "The handful of us gets together and we say 'what can we do next?'"
11 am, Saturday, March 28
The Workhouse, 50 SE Scott St., #6