By Midge Pierce
60 Minutes viewers may think Portland’s moment has passed, but a 100 foot long, 10 panel mural is helping keep Portland’s art scene vibrant at Belmont and SE 30th in Sunnyside. Its depiction of the richness of the area’s early days is a reminder that old Portland’s playfulness and charm is something new Portland should preserve.
The project was initiated by the Portland Street Art Alliance(pdxstreetart.org), an advocacy group for the street art community it calls an “essential ingredient” to a dynamic city. By matching street artists with commissioned work, the Alliance seeks to keep Portland’s storied creative class in Portland.
Too much talent is getting priced out of apartments and workspaces, according to educator and co-founder Tiffany Conklin who fears the City is losing its heritage. An art aficionado and historian, Conklin found an outlet for the art community to restore a deteriorating mural in the heart of her neighborhood. The resulting mural (aptly named “Keep on the Sunnyside”) is the group’s largest project to date.
With the bulk of funding from a SE Uplift grant, the Alliance hired emerging street artist Mado Hues to design, paint and collaborate with Alliance founders as they dug up details about the streetcar era; local restaurants with quirky names like Buttertoes; interesting characters like Ben Milligan and Jerry Bosco who were credited with finding, preserving and storing local artifacts; Lucy the neighborhood dog and legends like the pied cow Lydia, whose ghost is rumored to still roam the street.
All of these – along with Sunnyside’s honorary Mayor and its newly anointed Sheriff – are represented in the mural.
At a kickoff celebration at Bare Bones Cafe, Conklin called the mural a bridge to the past that offers hope the future.
“Each panel represents a piece of Sunnyside’s culture of dynamic art and sustainability. When you look at it, you can’t help but smile. There’s soul in these murals.”
The project took six months to complete and tons of volunteer hours. Artist Jennifer Joyce, who painted the original mural painted back in the 80s, was said to be delighted with the result.
For artist Hues, community help and support was most gratifying. “I met so many awesome people. I became friends with a local homeless guy Bill.”
Known as the Sharpie Bandit, Bill would write over Hues’ designs every night until Hues confronted him and they found commonalities in a lengthy heart to heart. After that, Bill became chief advocate, critique and ultimately sheriff.
“Sheriff Bill was there guarding it every day to make sure no one tagged it.”
Co-founder Tomas Alfredo Valladares said interest is growing for more murals in the Central Eastside Industrial Zone. He advocates for a more democratic culture of self-expression. “Every year, the scene is changing. We need the City on board.”
A longterm goal is to lobby for rules to allow for more art districts and murals so street artists can enhance their portfolios and art and artists can ultimately stay in Portland.
Conklin says it’s critical that street art gets recognized and rewarded as a legitimate form of expression before more artists leave town. “We’re all feeling the rising costs. Five or six years ago, it was easy for an artist to work in a coffeeshop, pay the rent and be able to paint.”
Portland’s legacy is disappearing fast, frets Conklin who as part of the Save Historic Belmont campaign has tried to fend off demolition of the Eastside’s first Main Street.
“We have so much development going on. We don’t want to lose our past.”
To learn more go to pdxstreetart.org.