Almost exactly a year ago, you may recall some coverage of the ill-conceived “rebranding” of Portland’s downtown performing arts venue Portland Center for the Performing Arts (a workable if not brilliant name that everyone in Portland knew by its acronym PCPA) into the 100% artless “Portland’5 Centers for the Arts”.
Metro presumably spent a lot of money on this rebranding effort, the net effect of which was that Portland woke up one morning last August to find the city’s largest publicly-owned arts complex was now lumbered with a name so unappealing (and ludicrous) that many people (and even some arts group tenants in the building) just kept using PCPA.
But nothing else about the complex of five performance spaces had changed. And the notion that we now have five CENTERS for the arts makes no sense. There’s the Schnitz, the Keller, and the PCPA (which has three halls inside it). What does it mean so say that each of the halls inside the PCPA is itself now an “arts center”? It…just… MAKES. NO. SENSE.
Good brand names clarify, simplify, and ARE BEAUTIFUL. They create magic. A good brand name – especially when it is for a physical space or location you want people to love and frequent – should be simple and attractive so that people will use it. It should have character. Saying the name should be fun and memorable. An example of a great brand name for a venue is “the Schnitz”, one of the five spaces unhappily subsumed under the new totalitarian moniker. “I’ll meet you at the Schnitz.” Boom. It doesn’t get much cooler than that. You know exactly what’s involved, and a distinct experience is conveyed. And it’s short.
Other examples of great Portland brand names (new and old and gone) for physical locations that people love(d)? The Ace Hotel, The Armory, The Nines, The Benson, Doug Fir, The Whitsell, Tilikum Crossing, The Guild, Cinema 21, The Woods. Note how all those names become part of the Portland landscape. They enrich the city by filling it with cool names for places that are themselves cool.
And the new brand name for TAVFKAPCPA (“the arts venue formerly known as PCPA”)?
Use it in a sentence and see what you think: “Hey Joe, do you want to catch a show tonight down at the [PORTLAND’5 CENTERS FOR THE ARTS]?” Cue sound of needle scratching back and forth across record while explosions, screams, and sirens ring out. When you try to actually use the new name you can appreciate how non-functional it is. Which makes you wonder if the creators ever tested it. More importantly, the new name has no originality or unique Portland character. It could have been mass-generated by a computer algorithm in Texas. If Portland is a creative town, how can you expect its citizens to pronounce a phrase as unbeautiful and uncool as PORTLAND’5 CENTERS FOR THE ARTS when they refer to their preeminent performance venue? It’s embarrassing. What a name like that does is drive people AWAY from the building.
And then there’s the business of the shortened version of the name that becomes the real handle people will actually use. Because no one is ever going to say the sentence above. What is the short name? Is it “Portland 5”? Note how bland and non descriptive that term is. It has no connection to live performance. It needlessly includes the name of the city, which was how buildings were named 50 years ago. Other than the city name, there is no creativity at all in the name. It sounds like the lineup for some gangland crime family incident. It is, quite simply, A TRULY AWFUL NAME.
What should have happened here? If there was something wrong with the old name (and there really wasn’t), the city could have opened it up to a public naming contest, similar to how the new pedestrian bridge was named. Portlanders would surely have come up with something better. You know they would have. And by the way, as the old proverb goes, “No matter how far down the wrong path you have gone – turn back!” It is never too late to say, “You know what, this is just not the best name for what should be an exciting downtown space. Let’s try again.”
But lo! The name is not the only non-functioning aspect of TAVFKAPCPA. It turns out the web site you have to use to buy tickets for any event in any of the PCPA venues is functionally unusable. I know – because I just tried to buy a ticket there. Have you tried it? Go take a look and see what you think. The experience is at least consistent with the new brand name. It’s terrible. After slashing and burning through five screens, I aborted and picked up the phone. When I got the box office, I asked if they knew how terrible the experience of trying to buy a ticket online was. “Yes.” It’s been this way for at least a year. So what is being done about it?
Why does this matter? If every arts group in the building has to use the TAVFKAPCPA web site for ticketing, and the online experience is bad enough to actually dissuade people from making a purchase, the web site is negatively impacting everyone. Instead of leading to more ticket sales and attendance, the poor UX is going the other way. It’s hard enough to get people to buy tickets to go see some theatre. The last thing we need is a botched web site that further narrows the number of people who can jump through all the hoops and navigate the unhappy experience.
As always, the larger question here is: Why, instead of the world class downtown performance space we need, does Portland have TAVFKAPCPA, with carpeting to take you back to East Berlin, bad food, and overpriced tickets that you can’t even buy online because the web site is so bad? Where is the larger vision? Where is the urgency to get with the program? Who is giving the current status quo a pass and saying, essentially “Yeah, looks good. Everything works for me.”
Are people aware of the issues? Someone needs to light a fire here before the next surprise “enhancement” at PCPA unveils itself.