Our Founders & History

Walter Jaffe & Paul King

Co-Founders of White Bird

Walter Jaffe and Paul King launched White Bird in July 1997 as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing excellence in dance to Portland, Oregon. Their cockatoo Barney is the ‘CEO’ and namesake of the organization. They currently serve as Co-Presidents of the White Bird Board.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Paul is a Cordon-Bleu-trained Chef and worked in 4-star restaurants in New York City and France. He served 9 years on the board of Dance/USA, including a two-year term as Chair of the Board of Dance/USA, the national service organization for the dance field. He previously sat on the boards of California Presenters, the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA), and Travel Portland, and currently serves on the Dean’s Circle of Portland State University’s College of the Arts. For fifteen years, he has served on the Advisory Council and as a Juror for the ChangMu Performing Arts Festival in Seoul, South Korea.

Walter (Ph.D., German Literature, Yale, 1979), born in Fall River, Mass., is a former publisher and former board member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Walter was a member of the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts Foundation and currently sits on the Dean’s Circle of Portland State University’s College of the Arts.  He served as Chair of the Presenters Council as well as on the Board of Dance/USA. He is a former board member of the Western Arts Alliance (WAA) and served with Paul King as Co-Curator of the semi-annual Pitch Session of the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) for over six years.

Paul King and Walter Jaffe received the Jerry Willis Achievement Award for Artistic Excellence at the Western Arts Alliance Conference (WAA) in Seattle in August 2011 as well as the 2012 William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence and Sustained Achievement in Programming at the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) Conference in New York in January 2012. The Co-Founders and White Bird were thrilled to receive a Proclamation from the City of Portland naming April 24, 2018, White Bird Day.


The White Bird

Barney, the charming avian inspiration behind White Bird's name is a 35-year-old cockatoo. With a beak for broccoli and a heart for the arts, Barney is always ready to put on his own wing-flapping performance to his favorite song "Come Fly With Me" by the legendary crooner Michael Bublé.

Barney has shown us that life is all about spreading your wings and embracing the arts in every form. So, let's raise a chirp to Barney, the true beak-on of inspiration for White Bird, where the arts take flight on wings of imagination.

Genesis of White Bird & Milestones

June 1996 - Walter Jaffe and Paul King arrive in Portland, OR from New York City, where they subscribed to NY City Ballet and Paul Taylor Dance Company. Walter was Paul Taylor Board Member.

Late summer 1996 - John Tomlinson, Paul Taylor General Manager (now Executive Director), invited Jaffe and King to WAA Conference at Portland Convention Center. Suggested that they bring the Taylor Company to Portland. They consult with arts leaders and learn that there is a large dance audience, deprived of dance since the demise of PSU Contemporary Dance Season.

July 1997 - White Bird founded by Walter Jaffe and Paul King in Portland. Named after pet Goffin’s Cockatoo Barney.

October 7, 1997 - White Bird launches with Paul Taylor Dance Company, attended by close to 1400 people at Schnitzer. Followed by Stephen Petronio Company at Newmark Theatre May 1998 and debut of Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland’s BodyVox June 1998.

1998-99 - First full subscription season featuring Portland choreographer Gregg Bielemeier’s Odd Duck Lake.

May 1999 - Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project sells out two shows at the Schnitzer. Priority tickets to White Oak were offered along with a subscription to the following season, and subscriptions increased from 750 to 1700.

2000-2001- White Bird/PSU Dance Series debuts at Lincoln Hall, focusing on mid-size and smaller companies. Changes name to White Bird Uncaged in 2008, due to temporary closure of Lincoln Hall.

April 2001 - First presentation of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Schnitzer for two sold-out shows. First White Bird/Portland Public Schools Outreach Project, inspired by Alvin Ailey’s life and art, with a free student matinee for 2700 students and teachers at the Schnitzer.

June 2001 - Michael Curry Spirits, co-produced with acclaimed puppet designer Michael Curry, with three sold-out shows at 3,000-seat Keller Auditorium.

Fall 2002 - Launch of White Bird NEST program (NO EMPTY SEATS TODAY), offering returned subscriber and sponsored tickets in prime seats to Portland’s human service organizations.

September 30, 2012 - Two free performances of Le Grand Continental, a line-dance for 160 members of Portland’s diverse community, choreographed by Montreal-based Sylvain Émard. Attended by 5,000 people in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Spring 2020 - White Bird live performances shut down due to Covid-19.

2021-22 - White Bird reopens with short transitional season, featuring Dance Theatre of Harlem.

2022-23 - White Bird’s 25th anniversary includes return of Paul Taylor Dance Company for the 6th time, Ballet Hispánico’s Doña Perón, and Shay Kuebler’s Momentum of Isolation.

Importance of White Bird and Future Sustainability

White Bird has always been about community both in our theatres and in our city. We are proud to have built a passionate and knowledgeable audience who love the diversity of dance that we have presented over the years. At times we went out on too much of a limb and brought artists who clearly alienated our audiences. We learned that context is essential for our audience members to appreciate work that is not immediately accessible. Successful programming entails leading our audience to discover new dance voices, which are at times challenging yet of high quality, balanced with “old friends.”

As important as presenting great dance on Portland’s stages, we are dedicated to building strong connections between our dance companies and underserved populations in the Portland region. Our annual Outreach Project with Portland Public Schools, dance workshops for students of all ages, community gatherings in Portland’s diverse neighborhoods, Le Grand Continental in 2012—these have provided us with the greatest satisfaction.

In addition, we are proud to have commissioned 40 new dance works to date, more than half from Portland.

We also have felt a great responsibility in helping lead the dance presenting field in the United States. Many presenters in the US shy away from dance due to budget constraints. We consistently see our “job” as encouraging dance presenting throughout the country, and for that reason, we have developed the MOVE FORWARD network, covering dance presenting throughout all of North America. We are dedicated to encouraging presenters to bring more dance to their venues and communities, helping build more dance tours while keeping costs down, and securing funding for dance presenting in the US.

Over the last ten years, we have sought to find ways to make White Bird sustainable. We knew that we needed to move the office out of our home and find office space at a reasonable rate. We also had to develop a succession plan since we started White Bird when we were in our 50’s. We are thrilled that we have now found a beautiful space in downtown Portland, thanks to our great friends at The Standard. Most important of all, we are delighted to pass the baton to White Bird’s first Executive Director, the enormously gifted Graham Cole, and his hugely talented team.

Land Acknowledgement

White Bird is located in Portland, Oregon in Multnomah County.

We honor the Indigenous people whose traditional and ancestral homelands we stand on, the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Tumwater, Watlala bands of the Chinook, the Tualatin Kalapuya and many other Indigenous nations of the Columbia River.

It is important to acknowledge the ancestors of this place and to recognize that we are here because of the sacrifices forced upon them.

In remembering these communities, we honor their legacy, their lives, and their descendants.

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