Having redeveloped Portland neighbourhoods for two decades while creating living and work spaces for artists, alumnus Brian Wannamaker ’82 can be most fittingly described as a passionate ‘artpreneur.’
An Oakville, Ontario native, Brian relocated to Oregon in 1986 following his studies at Ridley and York University. He recalls not being entirely certain where his path would lead, but began saving his earnings in order to acquire property. With a strong creative compass and solutions-oriented mindset, he soon found himself working in real estate redevelopment. Brian recalls that in the early 1990s, his then business partner exposed him to art collecting, which served to reignite an appreciation he had always had for artistic expression.
”There seemed to be a wrong in the world where artists could work on their craft so hard and barely make ends meet. I just wanted to do a little bit to help these people.”
In the years that followed, Brian was drawn to reimagining properties of cultural and architectural significance around the west coast city, and eventually discovered Falcon Apartments, a diamond-in-the-rough for which he saw immense potential.
When Brian bought the property in Portland’s north end in 1997, it was a languishing, partially inhabited apartment building with low- and fixed-income tenants. However, he was able to envision how it could evolve into a hub for working artists without displacing the existing tenants. Brian felt compelled to breathe new life into the neglected building and to support the struggling tenants living within.
Soon, his plan to transform Falcon Apartments shifted from a business opportunity into a vision to build and empower an arts community. Brian came up with a value strategy to blend the higher renovated apartments rent with the existing tenants rent and the midpoint being profitable without rental increases to fixed income residents. The “cost average “ approach allowed judicious rent to existing resident and artists, while directing a portion of the market rent to support a 14,000-square-foot multi studio space in the lower level. This way, creators (painters, sculptors, musicians, writers and more) could work in dedicated studios and feel connected to a broader creative community. The building and guild of artists are now aptly named Falcon Arts Community.
“My insight for Falcon Art Community came from spending so much time living at Ridley. It’s that basic concept that you want to be around people who you enjoy being around and who you find inspiring.”
Brian recognizes that his care for the community comes in large part from his seven years at Ridley. “It’s a compassion piece that happened at Ridley; it’s about having a big enough perspective to want others to succeed,” he explains. ”There seemed to be a wrong in the world where artists could work on their craft so hard and barely make ends meet. I just wanted to do a little bit to help these people,” Brian adds, demonstrating his embodiment of our school motto.
Throughout his career, Brian has found countless innovative ways to integrate urban renewal with his passion for artistic creativity—whether he’s beautifying a stretch of Portland’s North Mississippi Avenue, leasing converted cold storage unit spaces to a general arts college, conceptualizing an inspiring venue for musicians, or as owner of the stunning Wannamaker Estate Vineyard in Washington.
When asked what advice he has for current Ridleians and youth exploring careers in the arts, Brian imparts, “I think it’s critical to learn how to be inventive…If you learn how to be a creative problem solver, that will help take you further in whichever endeavour you follow through with.”