BY LEAH MAURER
It can mean different things for different people and this is especially true for Portland-based company The Escape Collective (ESC).
ESC is a team of designers, artists, engineers, builders, and sewers working to help everyone experience art in their own way. Friends before business partners, their mission is to promote escapism through creative practice driven by curiosity and adventure.
Most recently, ESC created one of the largest art installations at What the Festival this summer. Titled “The Cosmic Playground,” the installation consisted of a 24-foot Catalyst Dome and three 14-foot domes.
“What the Festival 2016 was really rewarding. We collaborated with local creatives Savory Events, Black Belt Studios, and Damien Gilley, and had people tell us our installation was some of the most incredible art they have ever experienced.”
“We even found photos of people in our domes on social media saying that it was their favorite part of the whole festival! We want to do more experiential work that creates that type of energy,” said one of the collective’s founders, Kara Caldwell.
They evolved from a tight group of friends starting with a dome three years ago at Sasquatch Music Fest and to a full artist’s collective whose mission and ideas continued to grow.
Photo: Chris Ryan Photography
Although The Escape Collective is known for their geodesic domes, they have a wide variety of talents as a collective of creatives. Alongside Caldwell are ESC team members Andy Carlson, Hill Hudson, Conor Kennedy, and Trevor Thorpe.
Caldwell is a multi-disciplinary artist, while Carlson is a designer, Kennedy, an engineer, and Hudson and Thrope are fabricators.
“But those are such limiting titles,” explains Carlson, “we all love to do everything. These skills really cover the basis of what you need to make any idea come to life.”
“We are inspired by work that gets us outside, and inspires other people to get outside. We like geometry and simple, efficient, clean design. We love creating anything that resonates with us, no boundaries.”
If someone feels like they are a kid again, then I’ve done my job,” says Kara Caldewell, co-founder of ESC.
Caldwell sews and also does concept design with the Escape Collective team. “As an artist, I love to create work that spurs curiosity and wonder. If someone feels like they are a kid again, then I’ve done my job. I covered a lot of mediums in school so I use whatever fits the idea best, even if that means learning a new skill.”
Carlson explains, “Through working for a handful of web-based creative agencies in Portland, I became more inspired by product and experimental-based design. When we started Escape Collective, I built the website and branding for the company. I like to come up with creative solutions that span the many available mediums we can work in.”
One of the Escape Collective’s recent projects was in collaboration with Andi Bixel, founder of Drip Ice Cream. Drip Ice Cream is a cannabis-infused ice cream that is quite popular in the Oregon market whose mission is to promote a lifestyle that encourages productivity, imagination, and fun.
Previously, ESC worked with Drip on some of their branding elements, so it seems natural that they work together on experimental fabrication. Their installation, entitled “Drip Drop,” featured at The Cultivation Classic, a craft cannabis event and competition in Portland this summer. It was also displayed in the lobby at Farma, one of the top dispensaries in the city.
“The Drip Drop was created to mimic and enhance the effect of our ice cream, and to be a place to mute the traditional world and enter into a multi-sensory experience,” Bixel said. “The hope is that after completing the experience the participants leave the pod feeling excited to look and listen to their surroundings with a different perspective and urge creativity and exploration.”
When asked about what customers at Farma thought of Drip Drop, the shop’s general manager Emma Chasen said, “I’d say most were intrigued. People appreciated the opportunity to interact with an art installation.”
In regards to sales at the shop, she said she felt it was helpful and was “a great way to let customers know some of what we carried before they even got inside.“
The Escape Collective also set up an additional geometric dome for the Cultivation Classic decorated on the inside for Serra Cannabis, another Oregon-based dispensary. While the Collective has no set plans to do other cooperative work within the cannabis industry, Caldwell did say that they “are really excited for the future of cannabis in Oregon and would love to be part of more collaborations or build-outs.”
Photo: Chris Ryan Photography
This group of artists has many differing skill sets and motives that compliment each other when combined to work on a project. Trevor Thorpe, designer and fabricator, remarks, “There is something profoundly gratifying in seeing a design concept through to a finished product.”
Fabricator Hill Hudson explains his motivations: “I am driven by generations of my family passing down the passion of industrial manufacturing, art, and design. I fabricate for Escape for the pure love and joy I receive from working with my hands.”
Conor Kennedy, an engineer at the collective, told Dope, “I have a math and science background and I primarily deal with structural design for Escape. With art and design, I favor confusion so I’m into structures and experiences that create questions.”
The Escape Collective has participated in many projects, including the Nike Campus lounge, Design Week Portland, Moogfest, Okeechobee Festival, Friendly Gathering, Mysteryland, and Pickathon. They also rent domes for private parties, weddings and other local events.
The Escape Collective provides opportunities for experiencing art through escapism, and strives to help people achieve this on all levels. In the ever evolving world of cannabis, one can certainly appreciate that.