Expanded opportunities for Portland’s ‘exploding’ art scene

Special Reports

Art advocates: "We’re tired of seeing blank walls in the city"

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — You never know what art you might find as you’re wandering around Portland. The street art scene has grown rapidly over the last decade or so, and now the city is considering expanding opportunities for artists and art lovers.

“I think in the last few years Portland’s mural scene and street art scene has exploded,” said Tomas Valladares, board chair for Portland Street Art Alliance. “(People) like seeing all this art on the walls, so more and more people are saying, ‘You know what, I want to see that. I want that on my building.'”

Portland Street Art Alliance (PSAA) started in 2012, to advocate for street artists.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions,” Valladares said. “When people think of graffiti they think, ‘Oh if it has aerosol it must be gang-related,’ and that’s not true in most cases … And so we really try to provide these spaces, specifically to graffiti-style writers to give them a space to really practice their work and to show off the art that is in graffiti-style lettering … and for the general public to see that graffiti doesn’t necessarily mean vandalism and crime.”

PSAA has a roster of artists it taps to paint different murals around town, and has steadily taken on more projects over the years, reaching 36 this year.

Chet Manilow, who started out as a graffiti artist, describes working on murals as “relaxed.”

“You don’t have to be worried about getting arrested so that’s always good. Getting paid is also rad,” Manilow said.

Manilow is one of 12 artists working on PSAA’s latest mural, “Bread & Roses,” located by the Steel Bridge and Moda Center and slated for completion in early August.

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“We wanted to honor the working class history of this site being right next to the railroad tracks and in the historic Albina neighborhood,” PSAA Executive Director Tiffany Conklin said.

A section of the mural painted by local artist No Bonzo depicts Rose Schneiderman, a historic labor rights leader and one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The mural wraps around two walls of the warehouse and was kickstarted by a donation from Kalberer Company. Metro Paint and Miller Paint donated paint for the project as well.

According to PSAA, the reception has been great.

“Just being out here in this location that gets a ton of traffic going by, we get folks stopping by all the time, rolling their windows down, giving us a honk saying, ‘It looks great, love that you’re doing this,'” Valladares said. “You know I think for us a big part of doing it is we’re tired of seeing blank walls in the city.”

Proposed changes

Mural applications in Portland have increased substantially from 2009, when records show the city received just two applications for new murals. In 2014, there were 34 applications. So far this year, 16 applications have been submitted.

Now, the Bureau of Development Services (BDS) and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability have proposed a package of code amendments that would allow murals on more surfaces in the city.

Right now, murals can only be installed on building walls, according to BDS. The proposal would allow them on other surfaces like retaining walls and fences, and it would remove restrictions banning murals on some buildings in the central city.

PSAA got a say in some of the proposed changes.

“We were actually one of the only community groups that were invited to the table in the city’s … reevaluation of the mural code,” Valladares said.

The proposal would also reduce the amount of time a mural has to remain in place from five years to two years.

“We love murals and we hope that they would stay forever, but we also want opportunities for murals to change,” Valladares said.

The Portland City Council is expected to see the proposal on August 7. You can see the recommended changes here.

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