One of the most often overlooked, but ultimately instrumental elements that make up the fabric of a community is architecture. It shapes not only the physical environment but also the way we interact with one another within. Often times, historic architecture is replaced with newer buildings that are easier to upkeep. That is not the case with Portland’s 136 year old TOC Concert Hall.
TOC Concert Hall seems to respect and build upon the history and care of The Old Church, establishing a nonprofit, all ages venue that aims to champion diversity, equity and inclusion for the creative community through curated programming.
Amanda Stark, the Executive Director of TOC Concert Hall, answered a few questions about the foundation, the building, and the upcoming events for one of Portland’s oldest concert venues.
Could you tell us a bit about the building you’re in and how it ties into your mission as a nonprofit?
TOC Concert Hall is a nonprofit, all-ages venue in Portland, Oregon. Built in 1882, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Our dual mission is to preserve and celebrate the venue’s historic architecture and create music and arts programs that enhance the cultural life of the community.
The Old Church Society saved the building from demolition in the 1960’s, then repaired and restored it and for 50 years we have hosted thousands of concerts and other events. Through our programming and operations, we are committed to being a cultural living room open to all. Diversity, equity and inclusion are central values as we strive to foster inspired and creative community.
What goes into continuing to maintain such a historic space?
To preserve and maintain a 136-year old wooden structure in the Pacific NW, takes a lot of grant-writing and fundraising. The Executive Director spends half of her time raising the funding required to care for the building as well as working with a team of engineers and contractors.
A few improvements made in the last decade: making the building accessible for all, installing energy efficient heating and cooling, bringing the electricity up to code and converting to led, painting and restoring inside and out, transforming The Old Church into a world-class concert hall by adding state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, a bar, an exterior marquee, an oak stage, re-branding as TOC Concert Hall, and most recently hiring Emily Overstreet, as our booking director.
Your events seem to span a wide range of ages and interests. How do you build out your calendar and book events and what kind of balances do you typically seek out?
Our mission is to create music and arts programs that enhance and reflect the cultural life of the community. We intentionally curate our bookings to have diverse and excellent programs.
Other than music, what kinds of events do you have in the venue?
We produce Little Ears, free concerts and storytelling series for kids, as well as We Can Listen, a social justice series. We also host several storytelling groups.
Has any artist ever tried to incorporate the organ into their performance?
Yes, frequently. The organ is very special. It is a Hook and Hastings Tracker Action, was donated to TOC by William S. Ladd, is the same age as the building, and is maintained and tuned regularly so that it can be played.
What’s been your favorite moment at The Old Church?
Most recently it was attending the Savilá concert. The show was sold out and the energy in the room was phenomenal. Esperanza Spalding made a surprise guest appearance. The room isn’t set up for dancing (fixed seating) but no one was sitting down! It was a magical night.
What do you hope someone attending an event walks away thinking?
That they have just had an incredible experience, unlike any other venue in Portland. The architecture and character of the building is not something you see every day in Portland. The acoustics are stellar and magical things happen here. We’ve gotten good at projections and that really adds to the experience.
Any upcoming events you’re particularly excited about?
We have some great concerts in January! On January 17th Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer from the Posies are playing, and January 19th, Colin Meloy is performing. On February 14th Leyla McCalla from Carolina Chocolate Drops will be here!
Check out all upcoming events at TOC Concert Hall here, or give it a visit at 1422 SW 11th Ave, Portland, Oregon.