The Workhouse isn't just part of Bend's current artistic landscape, it is unequivocally part of Central Oregon's history as well. The Workhouse is located in the machine shop of the early-20th century Bend Iron Works. In 1916 the Shevlin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon lumber mills opened, which seemed like the perfect opportunity for two young entrepreneurs from The Independent Foundry Company of Portland to open shop on donated land from Brooks-Scanlon.
A month after opening, the foundry burnt down. Right away they got back to work, rebuilding the foundry, this time with brick walls and a wooden roof. The Workhouse is located on the grounds of that rebuilt machine shop, its bones stretching across history and breathing new life into its newly beating heart.
Founded by Cari Brown and Stuart Breidenstein in 2012, The Workhouse came to life in a way that could have failed so easily: one missed payment or a slowing down just through sheer exhaustion, but they fought through. "The Workhouse was such a beast," says Brown. "Absolutely demanding. It was terrifying, but I simply refused to fail. I am certain that I made so many mistakes," she says.
The Workhouse started simply and humbly, as the best things often do. According to Brown, "It evolved out of the desire to fill a beautiful space with something meaningful." She describes the space for artists and makers as an expression of function, permitted land use, and the desire to have a positive impact on the community and economy of Bend. Workhouse is provides a space for artists and makers to interact, make work, and interface with the public on a more personal and direct level.
It started with six studios, a community work space and around 20 consigners. "We had no operating budget and relied solely on the rents we collected and commission from sales," she says. Those sales were generated by word of mouth and a lucky proximity to The Sparrow Bakery, says Brown. Eventually the community really caught on, leading to the launching of the Last Saturday art celebrations in The Old Ironworks. As a juxtaposition to the First Friday art walks showcasing major market artists, the Last Saturday celebrations tend to be maker-driven, featuring local artists.
"We wanted people to be inspired and to realize that they are creative too," Brown says.
The success of the Workhouse provides autonomy to many local artists and adds depth to the local arts and culture scene. "We wanted to feel at home and possible in the town we lived in," says Brown, who notes a sea change taking place, "where the people and the integrity behind what we consume matter."
This weekend, The Workhouse will celebrate its fourth anniversary of the Last Saturday celebration on March 26.
In that time, much has changed around The Workhouse, but the mission and the drive has remained strong and precise. "There have been a total of 18 studio members over the past few years," says Brown. "Some have moved away, had babies, moved on to open their own studios, lost their battle with cancer, or chosen to follow an altogether different path, and some have stayed on, continuing to call The Workhouse home. I am grateful to each person who has had a studio in The Workhouse, for all that they have taught me and each other, all of the support, inspiration, and insight they have shared, and for bravely showing up to my dream by showing up to their own."
Fourth Anniversary & Last Saturday The Workhouse
Saturday, March 26, 6 p.m.
50 SE Scott St. Suite 6, Bend