History of the Alliance Française de Portland
The Alliance Française was founded in 1883 in Paris by (from left) the scientist Louis Pasteur, the diplomat Ferndinand de Lesseps, and the writers Jules Verne and Ernest Renan.
The Alliance Française of Portland was first created in 1933 as a social club for Francophones, Francophiles and French residents. The club faded away in the 1960s and was largely dormant for two decades.
In the early 1980s the organization was revived when Jean-Claude Paris created the French American School. Paris crossed paths with Sabine de Carbonnel de Canisy. A fluent French speaker, she had lived in the former French Algeria, the former French Indochina and the Philippines.
On her arrival in Portland, she contacted Jean-Claude Paris to inquire about a teaching job at his school. After learning that she had directed the Alliance Française of Manila, Philippines, for four years, Paris suggested that she should reestablish an Alliance Française in Portland and offered to host it at his school.
The first board of the Alliance consisted of Guylaine Iliff, Kitty Cassarno, John Marks, Sabine Artaud-Wild, Gordon Gilkey, Sabine de Carbonnel de Canisy, and Bill Buck. Jean-Claude Paris was the organization’s first President in 1983, the centenary of the Alliances Françaises in the US. Sabine taught the first French classes at the Alliance and had five students the first year.
In the late 1980s Claudine Fisher joined the board and became the group’s president. At that time lawyer Bill Buck worked to secure the group’s non-profit status. The group received their 501(c)3 nonprofit status in 1989. Due to the efforts of Sabine Artaud-Wilde, the Portland Alliance was chartered as a teaching Alliance by the Paris-based Fondation Alliance Française in the late 1980s.
When the French-American School moved to a new location, the Alliance relocated to its current home, the historic Kamm House. The organization saw significant operational growth in 2006 under the leadership of board president Joe Rivlin who recruited Linda Witt (formerly the Development Officer of the French-American International School) to the Alliance Française board. Witt restructured the school and ran operations as the Executive Director from 2006 to 2015, helping develop enduring programs such as the annual gala, Beaujolais Nouveau at the Heathman, and immersion programs.
Under the terms of Joe Rivlin and Beverly Voytko, the current board president, the group has ranked among the top Alliance Française chapters in the United States for the past several years. The Alliance is currently headed by Executive Director Sherry Charles. Former director Linda Witt serves on the national board of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises USA, helping ensure that Portland’s chapter is well represented on the national level.