Interview with Nim Wunnan
Founder of Research Club
Before attending International Waters Fest, I knew nothing about Research Club, nor was I familiar with its director, Nim Wunnan. As that eventful night came to an end, and the attendees poured into that darkened street outside Valentines, I was possessed with a sense of palpable reverence for what I’d just seen, heard, and felt. For in the span of 2000 a single evening I’d witnessed a diverse group of communities, ideas, and creative people come together for the soul purpose of sharing culture. Subsequently, I was compelled to know more about who organized this event and why. My investigations led me to the very industrious and creative Nim Wunnan, director of sorts, facilitator by default, and artist in spirit. I sat down with Nim not to long ago with a singular purpose, to find out as much as I could about Research Club.
The roots of Research Club can be traced back ten years when Nim Wunnan first came to Portland. In this “honeymoon” period as he calls it, Nim found himself engaged in a group called Gracie’s Bird Cage. By this time Nim “was nineteen, so it was sort of a crash course on how community can self organize in Portland.” By design these meetings occurred “every weekend for about two years straight, [at which time] there were free brunches on Sunday; it was a stone soup model. There were always a few people who brought ten bucks of groceries each, but we'd have like forty to sixty people on average and there was never enough to feed everyone.” The purpose seems simple enough: connect with as many people as you can, talk with them, share your ideas, and eat the food that everyone helped prepare. As a result at this community engagement the participatory model flourished, and later became the foundation for Research Club and it’s tangential projects. Nim affirmed the importance of these initial meetings in saying that “just by it’s very existence did a really vibrant community of artists, musicians and creative types exist.”
Not long after his involvement Nim left for school in Glasgow. In so doing he lost most of his connections in Portland. By the time Nim returned he was resolved to reestablish this community as he “remembered the ways to go about forming community in Portland… Through some blatant self interest” He started organizing brunches, but also let the people who participated in it guide the growth of it. Not long after people started taking interest in coming together around Nim’s objective of community involvement, participation, and collaboration. Soon Nim met Mariah Maines who then connected him with a gallery owner named Brian Wilson who had the Tribute Gallery down on Everett and 6th. The three of them decided to do five public brunches after a series of mostly private dinner. “More and more people came with their own ideas, and so I just kept pushing the snowball along” said Nim.
Today, Research Club is mainly comprised of Nim Wunnan, and Beth Levy, but three new board members have been appointed and are soon to be announced. The group is also applying for 501©3 status, with the aid of Sara Badiali as a consultant.. With so much to keep track of, Beth has become Research Club’s “chief accomplisher.” Nim assured me that “the transition to whatever we are now would not have been possible without her.” However, as I noticed at International Waters Fest, these events require more work than what both Nim and Beth can provide. As a result, Nim explained that “three other administrative volunteers are on a as needed bases, while we sort of roll up committees per project or per event.”
Not long in to our discussion did a theme begun to emerge. As Nim continued to speak about community involvement and participation, I couldn’t help but wonder by whom was he influenced? What idea had he come across that motivated him to develop such an active referential community in Portland? Subsequently, among many indelible ideas, he presented a biological structure to which the principles of Research Club were fundamentally based upon: a rhizome. Biologically speaking, rhizomes are the stem or root of a plant. Strawberries present quite the example; they shoot out little rhizomes just above the ground, which propagate into another strawberry plant. Nim stressed the importance of the lateral movement of these roots as this directional growth emphasizes the importance of connective cooperation: “Rhizomes are lateral network growth rather than the conventional hierarchical growth where you build something bigger and bigger and taller and stronger and bigger… they’re both a group of organisms, as well as an individual organism.”
Consequently, as a result of this interconnectivity, inevitably there exists an importance on equality and cooperation within the system. Nim further illustrated the necessity for cooperation as it exists in an aspen grove: “Aspens are rhizomes, and they may grow thinner but they grow over a broader area and they are connected through structures underground which are called rhizomes… no individual tree is the concentration of all those resources, and so in a circumstance where you don’t have the means to accumulate wealth or resources or structure, rhizomatic growth is a better way to go.” In other words, by appropriating more resources than we actually need, Nim suggest, our contemporary systems aren’t working as well as a system based upon resource sharing.
With these concepts in mind, it seems rather impossible not to think of Portland. Nim explains that in Portland we, “have multiple small organizations cooperating for a greater purpose, and it’s through shared context by which [we as Portlanders] can operate on a larger scale rather than just individually.”
Nim references organizations like the Independent Publishing Resource Center as an example of how Research Club operates in terms of shared context, and resources. “The IPRC has there certificate program; it doesn’t give you accreditation, but its a more nimble way to access college level training and work without engaging these larger structures. So when you see this alternate means of engagement you often see structures that are more like rhizomes, so [Research Club] has been trying to consciously fiddle with that,” says Nim.
Today, our society is based on “centralized production mass-marketed to non-producers,” which is to say that the means of production are monopolized with the purpose of creating demand. Contrarily, as exemplified by community supported agriculture, a more primitive, and some would say more sustainable model exists which emphasizes “adaptive and integrated production.” In this system, the producers are the consumers and vice versa. With regards to the latter, limiting outside support is crucial to system integrity, or in this case the ability of Portland’s communities to support themselves. Apply this concept to the initiatives of Research Club where by instead of looking towards established institutions for resources, our communities share their resources (in many cases ideas) with the purpose of developing stronger individuals, and in effect stronger communities.
Research Club isn’t going anywhere, so we should all hope, for its altruism is far too indispensable to the welfare of Portland’s community of artists, free-thinkers, DIY-ers, and the sort. Many idioms can be used to describe the value system endorsed by this noble organization; however, the most glaring expression seems to be ‘if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’
Visit Research Club online for more information and to get involved.