Over the past four weeks, I have interviewed some of the leading artists in our community. As I think about art and the impact it has on our city, I can’t help but compare it to other places in the world. People come from far and wide to experience the art offered in Portland and yet I am still questioning what makes art in Portland so special.
Sure we have wonderful landscapes to paint, and the low rent for “the struggling artist” that Victoria Frey spoke of, and indeed this city is historically shaped by art. But that still leaves me with a question that remains unanswered: why Portland?
The only answer that I could come up with is the people here. This may seems obvious. You’re probably thinking “well duh Hank, of course it’s the people.” But the kind of person that shares art in Portland is a unique person.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a culinary gallery showcase with my father put on by Disjecta Gallery. It was the most abstract yet interesting art experience I have ever had. The Gallery had brought an artist in from Norway for nine months and she created an exhibit complete with singing, dancing, music, abstract paintings and sculptures all surrounding the theme of “A Mortal Song.” The art that was portrayed proved the unique individuality of Portland. Not one person or one place, but the city of Portland as a whole. Thirty people gathered in a gallery to discuss contemporary art and not one of them was able to explain what they were seeing and all of them were moved and changed by what they experienced.
I have gone out and interviewed the artistic director of Artist Repertory Theater which is one of the highest regarded theaters in Portland. Every show that I have seen has been unique and abstract in their own way. “King Lear” was done in the wild west, there was more cursing in the play “Tribes” then I have ever heard in my entire life, and other shows presented share thought provoking titles such as “The Playboys of the Western World”, “The Mother****er with the Hat,” and “Race.”
So what does this mean? The people of Portland are tired of the unoriginal. When people come to Portland and are amazed that it feels like no other city in the world, it isn’t because of the hipsters or the Portlandia sketches but instead it’s about the people. The everyday person may not seem different or strange but the creative minds, leaders, and those who make an impact on our city are tired of seeing the same things over and over again. Our food isn’t incredible, it’s original. Our art isn’t amazing, it’s unique.
I am not saying Portland is the greatest city but instead the most unique. This can be seen through many walks of life in Portland but pertains nicely to art. Just as some people call us the City of Roses, we are also the City of Individuality. Not nearly as catchy, but you get the idea.