We are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend and devoted production engineer, Denis Nye. He has been a constant fixture in Congress Square Park for the past three years. We first met Denis like many other park supporters: we had seen one another often in the park, developed a sense of familiarity, and eventually introduced ourselves to one another. He lived nearby and wanted to get involved. In 2014, he first volunteered to help, putting out the cafe tables & chairs.
The following year, he wanted to do more. He became a founding member of our Programming Committee, which selects events, and served as co-curator for our Third Thursday Art in the Square series. Last year, Denis became our first employee, our sound technician, quietly working behind the scenes to make sure every performance sounded fabulous.
At the helm for over 100 events, Denis was there for us and the community. We counted on him absolutely. We were always confident each show would run smoothly. He had his finger on the pulse of Portland’s art scene, and helped us to continuously improve the caliber of our programming, to increase attendance, and to reach diverse audiences.
Every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday afternoon, Denis would roll a wagon filled with sound equipment into the park from our storage space two blocks away. It often took two trips, so Denis would find a familiar face to watch the first load while he went back for more. We will fondly remember him sitting back and quietly taking in the scene as visitors delighted in the music, theatre, films, and dance he helped bring to life.
His artistic vision pushed us to diversify our repertoire of programming. He encouraged us to try new things, and was responsible for our embrace of opera, chamber music, silent films with local scores, and more. It was his idea to screen a series of short, local films on a freezing February First Friday, with the park ensconced in several feet of snow. Denis was convinced people would come. They didn’t.
He opened our 2015 season with a Hinge/Works performance of his original scores, dancing, and spoken word video. This year, we planned to reprise a Hinge/Works performance to close out our season at October’s First Friday.
It was Denis who coined the phrase “in the Square,” giving VIA the inspiration to create our Meet, Art, Dance, Films and Music In the Square branding.
Denis made us laugh. He compiled three hours of cat-themed songs for our Kitten Therapy event. To kick off the event, he played the Lion King theme as kittens were lifted through the crowd and into the therapy box, inciting exuberant cheers of delight from the cat-fanatics.
Denis accepted people without judgement. It was easy to sit and enjoy his company. Recently, a senior neighbor, living in an adjoining building, approached him during a programming meeting and asked, “Is there music tonight my friend?”
Denis replied, “At 6 o’clock, Haseen.”
The neighbor replied, “Thank you, my friend, you’ve made my day.” This was a sentiment shared by many.
Denis was a neighbor who visited the park to read, relax, compose, and eat lunch. He took ownership of the space and lent his talents to it, shaping programming and helping make it the place that now matters so much to all of us. In this way, he became the perfect embodiment of our organization’s mission to build community through creative placemaking.
In his unassuming way, Denis filled the park with sound, energy, and joy.
His contributions have been invaluable and critical to the park’s transformation. He will be deeply missed. But his spirit will live on in Congress Square Park.
A celebration of Denis’s life will be held on Saturday, August 6th at Picnic Point on Peaks Island. His family and friends welcome all who were touched by Denis to join them on the 5:45 AM ferry to celebrate his life.