Portland is a very big city. There are 645,000 (that’s double Salinas), just in the city, with a few million more living in the suburbs and smaller surrounding towns. Many of those people are talented artists.
And there are only so many art galleries, museums, and shops. All the art just won’t fit inside.
So quite a bit of it is outside. This is great! You don’t have to pay to see it, or even go out of your way. It is right there on the way to store or whizzing by the bus window.
When I talk about Art Outside, I distinguish between streetart, which takes planning, care and talent, and graffiti, which just takes a can of spray paint. Graffiti people, who call themselves “taggers” usually have a signature set of letters that they spray wherever they can reach, like a kid writing their name on the wall.
To me, this isn’t art. It is vandalism. People spend their time and money to cover up the graffiti, or wash it off. Art outside is a perfect reflection of people’s ability to make their world better, or worse.
I love returning to a neighborhood after a few months and seeing a new mural. “How long has that been here? It’s so cool!”
Three years ago, we moved to Portland. We came for its urban culture and forested parks, the wide Willamette crossed by soaring bridges, and for Auntie Katie and the cousins.
We found all those things, and more. And even in the pandemic shut down, there is a lot of city to enjoy.
PAM, the art museum, is a feast for the eyes and spirit, just a walk away. Attendance is limited to keep folks safe, but the art there can carry you away for a while.
Art isn’t just in the museums, either. It is everywhere, bright and outspoken.
The parks are still wonderful places filled with hundred year old trees, ditzy squirrels, and flowers.
Our city has gotten a bad rap, lately. Mr. Trump says we have been “in flames for decades.” He is lying. Our nightly demonstrations in a few blocks of downtown make him nervous, is all. They show we will stand up to police brutality and racial injustice.
And they are as much a part of what I love about Portland as the museums and the forests. I am glad to be a part of it.
With the corona virus shutting all our favorite businesses down, our neighborhood has gotten a lot quieter. Last Friday, we walked past half a dozen boarded up buildings to get take- out food for dinner. It could feel sad and lonely, but Portland artists have stepped up to help.
Yesterday, Auntie Bridgett and I walked down to Belmont Books. She had contacted Joe, the owner, and asked about a particular book on pattern and design, and he had found it! He has re-organized his shop layout so that the counter is just at the door. When he is open, you can walk right up and ask him about books on a subject and he will hunt them up for you.
On the way home, we walked by our old pinball haunt, The Belmont Inn. It is not a high end place, sort of a dive bar…. but it’s OUR dive bar, you know? Pinball and pool tables, and televisions where there was always some game on. Beer on tap and ciders.
Now, the windows are completely boarded up, so we have no idea what’s going on inside. Are they laying new carpet? Painting the walls? Dancing the hokey pokey? No clue.
But what we can see, the art on the boards, is adorable and quirky. There seem to be several artists with very different styles sharing the space. Sweet lambs pose on light backgrounds and geometric colors are on one panel, and just next door is a garish red Wolf telling us to Stay Home and Stay Safe.
Since art usually has a message, are we the sheep? Is corona virus the wolf? I will leave that to the philosophers. I am just glad to have bright paintings to look at.