| The Alexis Walls | Wall 2

Portland Street Art Alliance’s new graffiti production, The Alexis Walls has just expanded. The Alexis Walls will showcase some of the finest and well-respected Pacific Northwest artistic talent, and provide the public with a curated rotating public art gallery. On the second wall, PSAA brought together some of our favorite local rail-riding artists Guams, Humen, and Clamo (Clamnation).

Business and property owners constantly came by to chat with the artists about their work, loving what they saw and asking for them to paint their walls too. We got tons of honking horns and thumbs up over the 5 days it took the artists to paint this mural. Inspired by Greek vases, the artists took this general idea and added their own unique flare. 

The aim of The Alexis Walls is to show the larger community what is possible when artists are given the time, space, and means to produce quality work in this genre of art.

Special thanks to the owners of Alexis Foods; who provided PSAA open access to their walls and a donation to kick-off this project. We are looking forward to bringing more communities together, securing new walls, and helping to sow the seeds of creativity and acceptance in the Central Eastside.

| The Alexis Walls | Wall 1

Introducing Portland Street Art Alliance’s new graffiti production, The Alexis Walls! After months of planning, we are thrilled to launch this unique and dynamic project. The Alexis Walls will showcase some of the finest and well-respected Pacific Northwest artistic talent, and provide the public with a curated rotating public art gallery. In this first round of murals, PSAA brought together local graffiti legends Kango, Joins, Giver, Spud, Rasko, Rite, Nekon, Ekose, Jade, and Eras.

Photo © @yay_pdx

Photo © @yay_pdx

After just a few weeks of painting, the project has already sparked excitement in the arts community and buy-in from the larger SE industrial business community. It’s not everyday the public gets to see such a display of graffiti-style art.

It is our aim to show the larger community what is possible when artists are given the time, space, and means to produce quality work in this genre of art.

Special thanks to the owners of Alexis Foods; who provided PSAA open access to their walls and a sizable donation to kick-off this project. We are looking forward to bringing more communities together, securing new walls, and helping to sow the seeds of creativity and acceptance in the Central Eastside.

Photo © @OddioPhoto

Photo © @OddioPhoto

Photo © Portland Street Art Alliance

Photo © Portland Street Art Alliance

The Black Hat Project

The Last Bus Club & InvoicePDX have recently launched The Black Hat project, with the goal of opening an innovative artistic hub in Portland. Together they strive to raise awareness and to build a foundation of artists and makers of all kind while documenting the artistic progression that’s happening in Portland. The Black Hat will serve as a local innovative artistic space; providing contemporary gallery space, artist studio space, resources, and art supplies. The project founders say that they will be offering the lowest gallery commissions in town (galleries often take a 50% cut of the selling price to pay for operations).

Chase Muromoto of Invoice Pdx & and Forest Kell of the Last Bus Club began collaborating in 2015 when they did the One Stop Shop, a pop-up parking lot art event using a painted van and pallets to create a temporary art space. They have also hosted other gallery art shows including Writer's Anonymous (2015), Inside Out at Compound Gallery (2016), and the PBR Art Design Contest Show (2016).

InvoicePDX has also published two volumes of Invoice Magazine, which features original and submitted photos of Pacific Northwest graffiti art, along with exclusive interviews with artists like GATS, GIVER, and EKOSE along with long-time graffiti photographers, like Oddio. InvoicePDX says that the magazine “provides a discrete outlet for the graffiti/art community.”

In April 2017, Invoice PDX & Last Bus Club launched The Black Hat project, and hosted a benefit show that welcomed the community by providing a free art show for all ages. Food was served by Braddah Bowls, and drink sponsors included Pabst Blue Ribbon PDX and Guayaki Yerba Mate. The event also offered live screen-printing by Tour Print, local company created by a team of designers, brand experts, merchandisers, and artists. The Black Hat project launch party also featured a special appearance from local street dance group Soul Trigger and Supreme Beings.

To promote this project, Invoice PDX & Last Bus Club collaborated with local cinematographer and creative director Jon Christoperson (@JCCinematography), who has also recently made wonderful promotional commercials for local sticker artist RxSkulls and Portland-based female street artists like @wokeface @eillegal_rose @hellokitska and @placeboeffectpdx.

#theblackhat #pdx #streetart @invoicepdx @lastbusclubclothing

A post shared by Jon Christopherson (@jccinematography) on

Josh McQuary, also known as McMonster (#tinymike), was also involved in hosting the launch party.  McMonster’s art shows a perspective of a surreal world taking images from nature, science fiction, and female anatomy. McQuary recently won the #PBRart Art Can contest and will have his art appear on a millions of PBR beer cans nationwide staring in July 2017.

New Mexico artist VELA provided event attendees with live art painting, showing his process while creating a Hawaiian-inspired piece. VELA has also been featured in Invoice Magazine, displaying his surreal take on Mexican and Native American graffiti culture. His intricate usage of color, imagery, and geometric symbols creates a unity of nature and spirit through aerosol. Many other local artists displayed work and came out to support the project, including Galenism, Voxx Romana, NABRU, TheEarwig22, and many more.

All funds collected from the The Black Hat project event go towards a space where artist and supporters can call home and continue to support artistic progression in Portland. If you missed the event, you can still contribute by donating to the project’s crowdsourcing fundraising campaign.

Special thanks to Lourdes Jimenez for covering the show and contributing to this article. 

KEEP ON THE SUNNYSIDE MURAL PROJECT

In the summer of 2017, with the support of SE Uplift’s Small Community Grants Program, PSAA will organize a local team of artists to design and paint a new mural that honors the rich history of the Sunnyside Neighborhood and Belmont District. This mural will be over 100 feet long and include 10 panels, each representing significant pieces of Sunnyside history, like its early Native American and pioneer histories, its historic built environment, unique transportation history, iconic local landmarks, prominent businesses and places of worship, and its dynamic cultures of art and sustainability.  

This website will serve as a hub for documenting Sunnyside’s history, and the process of creating this community mural. The Keep on the Sunnyside Mural Project will culminate with a mural celebration event, where the community can come together to celebrate its proud history as Portland’s first streetcar-era development and its bright future as a neighborhood dedicated to strong social ties, sustainability, and colorful streets.

Historic Sunnyside Archival Photos

 

While the majority of this project is supported by a SE Uplift grant, PSAA needs the community’s help raising money to pay for a protective clear coating for the mural wall, to ensure it is resistant to vandalism and UV fading. This coating is expensive but it is an important to ensure the mural lasts for years to come. All of PSAA's organizing and management services are being donated for this project. Please consider supporting the project, by donating to the GoFundMe (www.gofundme.com/keeponthesunnyside) or contacting PSAA directly. All donations are tax-deductible!

CLICK HERE OR BELOW TO DONATE!

ALL DONATIONS ARE TAX-DEDUCTABLE!

Do you have unique stories about Sunnyside or Belmont Main Street history,  have old neighborhood photos, or Artifacts? If so, email us at info@pdxstreetart.org or fill out the form below. 

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The History of Zero-Tolerance Graffiti Abatement Laws in Portland

Graffiti abatement “zero-tolerance” laws in the U.S. are primarily based on an outdated and unproven (perhaps even disproven) theory commonly referred to as “The Broken Window Theory.” This theory was first outlined in 1982 by two researchers, James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. The premise was that a place which looked like it was not being taken care of, and had things like broken windows and trash in them sends messages to criminals that the space is not regulated or controlled. This appearance of neglect would then attract all sorts of violent and quality of life crimes, descending the area into chaos. Even though Wilson and Kelling only very briefly mentioned graffiti as one of these “symbols of disorder,” the lasting effects of their idea on the criminalization of graffiti culture and our urban landscapes, with the patch work of buff we often see, can still be felt today across the country.

More recent research calls into question the legitimacy of the Broken Window Theory because of the lack of evidence supporting its validity; there is not a direct correlation between violent crimes and so-called quality of life crimes, such as graffiti. This broken windows and zero-tolerance reasoning is a common tool in cities to make a mostly harmless misdemeanor (like graffiti) into a felony.

Zero-tolerance graffiti policing had its origins in New York City during the Giuliani administration and then eventually spread across the U.S. Zero-tolerance approach to graffiti abatement in Portland can be traced back to Hugh McDowell, the Office of Neighborhood Involvement’s (ONI) Graffiti Prevention Coordinator in 1998 (prior to Marcia Dennis taking the reins).

McDowell drafted a detailed “Anti-Graffiti Strategy” which outlined Portland’s new zero-tolerance approach to graffiti. The City even tried to implement a "graffiti free" zone in inner industrial SE Portland, but that intense effort of course failed. This attempt was infamously mocked by the classic Portland film The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal (2001).

During this time, Portland’s graffiti abatement efforts became more formalized and Graffiti Abatement and Removal moved from a sub-category under “Crime Prevention” in ONI to a separate Service Level [program].

In 1998, the City of Portland also enacted the “Graffiti Nuisance Abatement Trust Fund” that helped gather city and business funding to support these increased graffiti abatement efforts. These funds went towards paying for the cost of graffiti removal, purchasing graffiti removal equipment and supplies, and for personnel to administer the new graffiti nuisance abatement ordinance.

The City of Portland’s new approach was outlined in this news article:

“Estimate the damage in 1998 at $2 million, much of it caused by 50 to 80 hard-core taggers. Fed up, city officials in August that year ratcheted up the city's response: They created a zero-tolerance zone in the Central Eastside Industrial Area, adopted a tougher anti-graffiti ordinance requiring swift cleanup, hired a full-time staff person to coordinate the city's $280,000 graffiti-abatement program and subtly put more pressure on police to nab the hard-to-catch criminals. Today, Mayor Vera Katz thinks it's working: Since 1997, the city's six-day-a-week graffiti cleanup crew has repainted more than 14,000 sites, and, in the past year alone, the city has investigated or prosecuted about 40 vandals. We aren't going to let up, Katz says. Oregon's 1997 repeat property-offender law means a minimum of 13 months in prison for the most serious vandals, and some states fight back even harder.”

In 2007, an increased effort to crackdown on graffiti resulted in the City of Portland adopting a new policy regulating "Graffiti Materials and Sales.” This policy is now commonplace in most large U.S. cities. Under this policy, if a store sells spray paint, aerosol tips/nozzles, paint pens, glass cutting, or etching tools they are required to verify the photo ID from purchasers and keep a log of specific information on products sold, including the name of the purchaser, their driver’s license or ID number, and address.

The store must also secure all graffiti materials to be inaccessible to purchasers without employee assistance (i.e., in a locked case, behind the checkout counter). Strangely, these types of laws act more as an annoying slight deterrent for two reasons. It is extremely unlikely and difficult (if not impossible) to prosecute someone, especially in a city, by connecting them to a graffiti crime with only spray paint purchasing evidence; graffiti artists need to be caught in the act or on camera. However, there are ways around these city ordinances. Today, companies like Montréal-based Bombing Science sell graffiti supplies worldwide online which only require a valid credit card.

The City of Portland also regulates graffiti in its landscape with the controversial “Graffiti Nuisance Property Code,” requiring all graffiti to be removed within 10 days after being reported. Essentially, any graffiti or street art reported to the City that does not have a city-issued mural permit or waiver, is required to be removed even if it was done with permission or the property owner. If a building is labeled as a “graffiti nuisance property” and the illicit art does not get buffed within 10 days, the property owner will receive a fine. On top of paying for the City’s buffing, the property owner could face a fine of $250 for each abatement instance. If the owner refuses to let the City on the property, the City Graffiti Abatement team may request a judge to issue a warrant to access the private property to remove the graffiti.

All it takes is one disgruntled or vigilante graffiti reporter for this cascade of events to happen. The City has no formal process for gauging the severity of the situation, the consensus of public opinion on the situation, or the possible community support for the art. For example, the ArtsBase controversy on Williams a few years ago.

Additionally, all of this graffiti removal and abatement is done in the name of “public safety and health;” however, this “broken windows” mindset only represents one way of thinking about graffiti and how it operates in our cities. PSAA receives countless inquires from people wanting to see the best of Portland graffiti. Cities across the world use their vibrant graffiti culture as an asset in their tourist marketing efforts. Street art and graffiti events worldwide bring huge crowds.  Furthermore, it is often said by the community that harsh measures to regulate graffiti only result in a proliferation of vandalism-like tagging, and suppress more artistic ventures, and the indoctrination of youth into traditional graffiti culture (that is at least bound by codes and pillars of respect).

We ask, whose public safety and health are these draconian graffiti removal efforts supporting? Surely not the people who actually live in these neighborhoods, who either choose to live there for their “gritty urban DIY feel,” and/or have much bigger safety and health concerns to grabble with (toxins in the earth and air, actual violent crime, rising cost of living, etc.). Cities across the country, including Portland, should reevaluate their priorities and focus on things that the vast majority of their populations are actually concerned about, and not spend precious tax dollars fighting an imaginary war on graffiti that will certainly never be won. No city in the history of human civilization has ever been “graffiti free.”

Saving Banksy Film Screening

PSAA recently co-hosted a free screening with do503 of the Saving Banksy documentary, directed by Colin M. Day (2017). do503 is an event website and app, part of an international network of sites that list and ranks daily events happening in cities. Do503 periodically hosts their own events which support local non-profits, like Portland Street Art Alliance, helping to raise money to support the causes.

At the Saving Banksy event, proceeds from a special cocktail menu and an original art raffle were donated to PSAA. We also tabled at the event, with art for sale by local street artists, informational brochures, and free stickers.

Finally, PSAA arranged for two local street artists to speak about their involvement in the documentary. Mad One, who helped distribute the film across the United States, and Jesse Hazelip who was featured in the film putting some fresh new art in the streets of California. The event was well attended, with Century Bar reaching capacity. The following is a film review, written by PSAA contributor Lourdes Jimenez (@lou_jim).

Saving Banksy follows the life of a specific piece of street art made in San Francisco by famous nom de guerre street artist, Banksy. The film focuses on the profiteering and co-option that is occurring within the street art world.

Banksy is of course famous for his elusiveness, clever stencil imagery, social commentary, cabalistic messages, and extremely site-specific work.  His fame has reached such fervor that there is now a new phrase associated with this sweeping phenomenon, “The Banksy Effect.”

The immense power of this anonymous figure has arguably created one of largest markets for contemporary art in generations. As Wooster Collective explains, “Like Andy Warhol before him, Banksy has almost single handedly redefined what art is to a lot of people who probably never felt they appreciated art before.  By being an iconoclast, and in the process becoming a mythic hero for a lot of people, Banksy has become an incredible icon in our society.” With worldwide distributions, sold-out events, and extremely high auction prices, anything that is associated with Banksy goes viral.

Cash for your Banksy Installation in Portland, OR by Mad One.

Cash for your Banksy Installation in Portland, OR by Mad One.

Banksy’s art seems to transcend the typically argument of graffiti being “art” or “vandalism,” with admirers cutting across the spectrum of society. People who would usually classify anything done without permission as graffiti vandalism, seem to view Banksy pieces as something else, as art, with value. As legendary street artist Blek le Rat says in the film, “It’s not Art unless you can sell it for lots of money.” For these reasons Banksy’s art both paradoxically stays in the streets and is removed quickly. Many Banksy pieces are preserved behind protective glass, and cut out of walls to sell in auction houses.  

When Banky’s film, Exit Through the Gift Shop premiered in San Francisco in 2010, they skipped the interview and press events, and instead gifted the city with a handful of illegal graffiti in the Mission, Chinatown, North Beach, and South of Market. As the days went by, many of these pieces were written over and added to by others, however, at least one piece in the Haight-Ashbury District managed to remain untouched. Placed at the top corner of an old Victorian bed & breakfast, a rat styling a Che Guevara beret and clinging to a Magic marker. The mischievous rat drew a long line from one side of the building to the next, ending with text, “This Is Where I Draw the Line.”  

Brian Greif, an art collector and former general manager of KRON-TV, was able to strike a deal with the bed & breakfast owner to buy the top corner of their building’s siding and remove 10 redwood siding planks on which the rat was painted. Grief raised $10,000 to help cover some of the costs in its removal and preservation through a Kickstarter campaign. All in all, it cost Greif about $40,000 to remove the Bansky piece safety from the building and preserve it.  

Greif promised to never the sell artwork, even though other Banksy creations have sold for millions and he has been offered thousands to sell it. Unlike most art collectors and gallery salesmen, Greif’s mission with the Haight Street Rat, was to preserve the art and maintain its rightful place in the public’s eye, where it can be safely displayed for the public to view and appreciate. He wanted to donate the piece to a museum, but no museum will accept his offer due to the lack of authentication of the piece, and permission from the living artist, Banksy.

Most of the time when Banksy’s art is removed from the streets, it is sold to elite clientele. For example, Stephen Keszler a private art dealer with a gallery in South Hampton, NY, is known for removing Banksy artwork from public spaces and selling them for immense personal gain, all without the artist’s consent.

Saving Banksy raises important questions about artistic intent, the value and impact of street art, the commodification of it, and public ownership of graffiti art. Is graffiti art worth saving for future generations to learn from and enjoy? Does removing it from its original context (the street), completely diminishing its importance and changing its meaning?

Analyzing the Data: Portland “Hate & Political” Graffiti

The City of Portland manages graffiti primarily though the Graffiti Abatement Program, which is operated under the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI). This program works with residents and business owners to identify, report, and remove graffiti in the city. The Graffiti Abatement Program's annual budget goes towards paying for personnel salaries, contracts with graffiti removal companies, and providing volunteer cleanup supplies. Although Graffiti Abatement Program’s staffing has changed over the years, it currently employs one full-time program coordinator and a part-time assistant.

The Willamette Week recently published data obtained via a public records request. This data shows that the Graffiti Abatement Program has logged 99 instances of what they classified as “hate or political graffiti” in Portland since Nov. 1, 2016.

The data showed that almost half of the graffiti reported under this classification during this time (46 of the 99 instances) included some sort of negative reference to Trump. The most common tag that is being classified as “hate or political graffiti” in Portland since the election is "Fuck Trump." The second most common, was swastikas with 24 reports.

Infographic Created and Published by the Willamette Week, 3/29/17

Infographic Created and Published by the Willamette Week, 3/29/17

At first glance, the “rise” of swastikas appearing on our streets is obviously very concerning. We would however wonder, how many reports of these there were prior to the election, on average. We have unfortunately seen swastikas sprinkled throughout Portland’s graffiti for years. Oregon has historically been a hot bed of KKK activity and was founded as a “whites-only” state. In the mid 1920’s, the KKK's membership was estimated between 14,000 to 20,000 members. During that time, Oregon’s Governor Walter M. Pierce (1922-1926) overtly supported by the Klan and promoted the Klan’s agenda. It was not until 1999, when the Oregon state legislature held a "Day of Acknowledgement" to recognize the past discrimination earlier legislatures had sanctioned, and finally offically removed language from the state's constitution preventing African Americans from owning property in Oregon.

What is concerning us about this report, when it comes to graffiti advocacy, is that the Graffiti Abatement Program is lumping “Fuck Trump” graffiti (and other similar anti-Trump graffiti) in together with swastikas and other real hate graffiti directed at minorities – all under this broad umbrella of “hate or political graffiti.”

At a heated public meeting on March 3rd, 2017, the Graffiti Abatement Program made a presentation to City Council about the need for more graffiti abatement funding, citing first and foremost a “significant increase” in reports of “hate graffiti.”

This knee jerk reaction to call for increased resources for graffiti abatement correlates with reports that Oregon leads the nation with an increase of “hate incidents’ that have swept the U.S. in the month since Trump was elected.

During a City Council meeting, Commissioner Nick Fish picked up on this blending of these two types of graffiti, asking ONI what they classified as “hate” or “biased” graffiti and if they had a “working definition” of it. In response, the Graffiti Abatement Program representative said that hate graffiti was “against historically oppressed groups.”

So, based on their own definition, is the City of Portland saying that Trump and his cabinet are a “historically oppressed group?” Is the fact that they City of Portland is lumping anti-Trump graffiti in with real hate graffiti against historically marginalized and oppressed groups inflating the counts?

We see “Fuck Trump” and “Not my president” tags as understandable public outcry against a possibly illegitimate presidency that represents the wealthy 1% as very different from swastikas or a ‘Fuck Feminism” tags. Although these may all be “political” in nature, there is a huge difference when it comes the symbolism and motivations involved – either standing up against oppression or promoting it. 

We highly suggest the City of Portland further specify and modify their working definition of “hate graffiti” and clearly separate real hate graffiti that targets "protected classes" as outlined by the Civil Rights act of 1964 and Oregon law (Chapter 659A), from general political graffiti that is not directed at these protected and oppressed groups.

To compare Trump to groups that have been subjected to generational hate and mass genocide is an insult. Do not sound un-needed alarms to an already distressed and distraught community. And do not use inflated and skewed data as a tool to argue for more graffiti abatement funding.

Just this week, the home of an Iranian-American man in Troutdale was targeted by anti-Muslim hate graffiti.  This type of targeted and hateful graffiti is the real concern and crime.  The City of Portland should be focusing on preventing and prosecuting real hate graffiti, and supporting programs like the new Portland United Against Hate to develop collaborative strategies to protect vulnerable communities from hate and intimidation. All of this comes at a bad time as ONI is under public scrutiny after the recent and surprising resignation of its Director after a scathing audit of the agency.

It is also important to understand the larger context in which the Graffiti Abatement Program is operating within and how its funding has changed over time, along with the amount of graffiti found on Portland streets.

From 1995 to 2013 there were a total 10,341 incidents of graffiti reported in the City of Portland, which accounted for 8% of the total counts of vandalism. Between 2004 to 2013, vandalism in Portland decreased or remained stable except in a few neighborhoods.

Between 2009 and 2017, the number of graffiti reports being made has increased, but this could partially be due to the implementation of the pdxReport app making it much more easy for people to report things like graffiti and potholes.

Between 2009 and 2012 the budget for the Graffiti Abatement Program also increased. However, this increase in graffiti abatement spending did not have that much effect on decreasing the amount of graffiti reported.

For instance, in 2011-2012 GAP’s budget spiked to $527,711. The increase of the GAP budget in 2011 was to support the salaries of two Police officers dedicated to graffiti investigations. This huge increase in spending was justified due to reactionary concerns after Portland hosted a large graffiti art show in the summer of 2011. The Special Delivery show, organized by Endless Canvas an Oakland-based street art collective, drew artists to Portland from all around the country and was one of Portland’s largest art events in the past decade. After this spike in graffiti abatement spending the number of graffiti reports made in 2012 went down some, but still not to pre-2009 levels.

Over the past few fiscal years, between 2014 and 2017 the GAP budget has remained fairly consistent, around 350k, as have the number of reported cases of graffiti at about 8000 per year.

If you would like to comment on ONI’s upcoming budget decision on June 8th, please email Commissioner Chloe Eudaly who oversees ONI and attend the City budget hearings on April 11th and 19th to voice your opinion. 

The Rise of Anti-Trump Graffiti

Photo: @artistpegasus

Photo: @artistpegasus

The 2016 U.S. presidential election has spurred a considerable about of tension across the world. People are waking up, becoming more politically active, expressing their opinions. From scrawlings and slogans, to informational wheatpastes and large-scale murals, a flood of politically-charged graffiti has hit the streets. Here, we highlight just a few iconic examples of resistance art making waves online, and a few piece of graffiti that have been documented on the streets of Portland recently. City municipalities across the U.S are reporting considerable spikes of graffiti, but usually the "hate graffiti" such as swastikas are dominating the news. As expected, in times of political and social strife, people from all walks of life are using public spaces as message boards, a way to spread and amplify messages.   

In February 2017, street artist Pegasus portrayed Trump in a wheatpaste as Hitler captioned with, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” An aphorisms originated by American philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952). A powerful message paseed down over generations, drawing upon historical narratives of the hostile dictatorships and sharply applying it to the current political situation in the U.S. A few days after the piece went up, Pegasus informed the Huffington Post that he had received death threats due to this image. His response towards the intimidation was, “I will never give into fear mongering, nor will I ever be censored—I am American and I believe in freedom of speech and artistic freedom of expression.”

Image: @TABBYthis

Image: @TABBYthis

TABBY, a street artist from Austria, has created an entire series of anti-Trump pieces. TABBY’s, “Don’t Feed The Trolls” depicts a clan of Trump trolls with golden toupees flying off to the side. When asked about the piece TABBY stated, “Trump is everything that’s right and wrong with America and the world—He’s the American dream of being super wealthy and saying what you want, while being totally out of touch with reality.”

Photo: @TABBYthis

Photo: @TABBYthis

Another common theme is Trump embracing himself, or Vladimir Putin. Harkening back on Banksy’s famous “Kissing Coppers” and the Berlin Wall mural of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker locking lips, artists today are utilizing this iconic and provocative imagery. 

Art by: @designerBONANU

Art by: @designerBONANU

Pieces like these symbolize a challenge to gay stereotypes (by depicting strong authoritative male figures in ways not typically not seen in mainstream media), comment on legal controversies (like gay marriage), and with TABBY's piece, sharply criticizing Trump's narcissistic tendencies. 

In a similar vein, projection light activists have displayed the image of pregnant Trump being cradled by Putin, promoting the message of 'love through hate.'  

Photo: @LoveThroughHate

Photo: @LoveThroughHate

One of the more iconic and lasting pieces we have seen during the 2016 election cycle was the “Dump Trump” mural painted by American punster Hansky on Orchard St in NYC in August 2015. Here, Trump is depicted as an emoji-like pile of shit.

Hanksy and his pose even took a cross-country #DumpAcrossAmerica trip protesting Trump. His team went as far as getting into a rally and got Trumps attention. When Trump realized there was a disturbance and saw the protest signs, he remaking “What is that? A potato?”

Hanksy also offered the public free downloadable versions of his work, allowing the image to be replicated and used for protests all around the world. When interviewed by ArtNetNews about the piece Hanksy stated, “I painted that silly Trump mural in NYC late last summer a few weeks after the wigged one announce his presidential run. The mural was a joke and so was Trump. Unfortunately, the punch line never came and it’s scary as hell.” The mural was later buffed, and in response Hanksy said, “It was a shit mural anyway, however, if anyone has a nice giant wall, preferably in direct view of 725 5th Ave [Trump Tower], I’d be happy to paint it again.”

Photo: @dek__2dx (Via Juxtapoz)

Photo: @dek__2dx (Via Juxtapoz)

Street artists aren’t just sticking to walls, Miami graffiti artists, TESOE, SHINE, and CRIS, took over a billboard and painted over an American flag with a “DEPORT TRUMP” message. Little has been said about this piece, but its message is clear and taking a stand on Trump’s anti-immigration political actions.

Photo: Via Vice

Photo: Via Vice

INDECLINE, an American anarchist art collective made up of several artists and supporters from different states. INDECLINE first spray-painted Trump with a red ball gag covering his mouth and the words “¡RAPE TRUMP!” at the Tijuana Mexico/United States border with specific instructions on how to travel to the White House from there. This was INDECLINE’s response to Trump’s inflammatory statement: “[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” 

When the anonymous creative director of INDECLINE was interviewed by VICE about the piece he explained, “We don’t honestly expect anyone to crawl over the border and follow the instructions and find Trump and rape him, but we want to raise awareness about the horrible shit he said. Controversy works better than something subtle.”

Photo: James Bareham (Via The Verge)

Photo: James Bareham (Via The Verge)

In August 2016, five identical statues of a completely nude and unflattering depiction of Trump appeared overnight on street corners in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle, and New York City. This unique street intervention was also done by INDECLINE and was titled "The Emperor Has No Balls." INDECLINE told the Washington Post, "like it or not, Trump is a larger-than-life figure in world culture at the moment. Looking back in history, that’s how those figures were memorialized and idolized in their time - with statues." These installations captured viral attention across the world in just a few hours after they were erected in the street corners across the U.S. When asked by MMC The Monitor about the meaning of the lude installations, the collective responded, “Donald Trump, our modern day emperor of fascism and bigotry is never installed in the most powerful political and military position, the man goes out of his way to ridicule everybody, he deserves it.”

Photo Arlene Mejorado

Photo Arlene Mejorado

Approaching the current political situations from a different angle, L.A.’s Shepard Fairey, (well-known for the iconic OBEY logo and the “HOPE” poster during Obama's candidacy), launched his “We the People” project. This series of posters consisted of Muslims, Native American, Latinos, and African Americans along with the first words of the U.S. Constitution, “We the People Defend Dignity,” “We the People Protect Each Other,” and “We the People are Greater Than Fear.” Fairey wanted to focus on the essence of what “We the People” represents to the public. Unlike his previous “Hope” posters, Fairey choose to challenge the president-elect by depicting powerful images from the “communities that the conservative white right wing can’t bring themselves to treat equally.” With the help of a very successful Kickstarter campaign, leading up to the Inauguration Day Women's March, Fairey and his team purchased full-page color ads in the Washington Post to be distributed to 600,000 people across the U.S., distributed the images at Metro stops, via moving vans, and at drop spots in Washington D.C. 

Randomly encountering these striking and provocative images while we go about our daily lives resonates in ways common media and news cannot. Reminding us of the dire situation at hand - the clear and present threats to democracy, liberty, and justice for all. Throughout history, graffiti has always been a tool for the disenfranchised and disillusioned. These street campaigns give voice to the communities that feel threatened, all while shining a harsh light on deeply rooted prejudices and privileges.

Arguably, some of the best art and graffiti makes us feel uneasy, challenges us to think differently, ask questions, provokes our emotions, and pushes ourselves beyond our daily routines. In the best-case scenario, resistance graffiti makes us feel like we are not alone, perhaps giving us the courage to stand up for ourselves and even better, launch into real action. Graffiti has, and will always be a powerful voice from beneath; a cry, scream, and demand.

The seeds of uncertainty have certainly been sown over the past few months. We are in uncharted waters. Use this manure as a fertilizer - to grow, sprout, and spread seeds of resistance.

More images of Anti-Trump graffiti...

PORTLAND

Photo: Chris Christian

Photo: Chris Christian

Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance

Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance

UNITED STATES

WORLDWIDE

SPECIAL THANKS TO LOURDES JIMENEZ FOR CONTRIBUTING TO THIS ARTICLE

SE Asia Street & Graffiti Art

The palest ink is better than the best memory. - Chinese proverb

Southeast Asian cultures have a long history of highly ornate and intricate craftsmanship and arts. From the glittering and colorful temples of Hong Kong and Bangkok, to the intricately carved ruins of the city of Angkor Wat, it is easy to see the long history and value artistic expression holds; it is intricately woven into everyday life, past and present. The following is a brief report back from a 3-week trip to SE Asia, documenting the street art and graffiti art found in Hong Kong China, Siem Reap Cambodia, Phuket, Phi Phi, and Bangkok Thailand.

Hong Kong

Few other cities in the world compare to Hong Kong on its sheer size, beauty, and economic vibrancy. Classified as a “mega city,” Hong Kong currently has a population of over 7 million. It is a vertical and dense city, constrained by a natural urban growth boundary, surrounded by the sea and mountains. Its public transportation is world-class, whizzing you around from place to place, with wait times mostly less than 2 minutes.

In 1997, sovereignty of Hong Kong was transferred to the China, ending over one and a half centuries of British rule. Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China with a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign affairs and defense.  In 2014, a student-led series of sit-in street protests, often called the Umbrella Revolution rocked the streets of Hong Kong and produced an impressive array of street art and graffiti campaigns. The protests began after the People's Congress issued a decision regarding proposed reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system. The decision was widely seen to be highly restrictive, and equivalent to the Chinese Communist Party's pre-screening of the candidates for the leader of Hong Kong.

Searching online, in social media, and on the city streets of many of the central city neighborhoods, it is quickly apparent that the street art and graffiti art is mainly concentrated in one neighborhood, Sheung Wan.  Sheung Wan is known for its famous Hollywood Road, the second road to be built and the first to be completed when the colony of Hong Kong was founded. Hollywood is lined with exquisite Asian antique dealers, galleries, and flea markets, this area also showcases a variety of public expression on its alleyway walls.  

HKWalls

The group HKwalls organized many of Hong Kong’s prominent murals throughout the city. Founded in 2014, HK Wall is a non-profit organization that aims to create opportunities for local and international artists to showcase their talent through street art and culture. HKwalls hold an annual street art festival during Hong Kong’s art month in March, as well as year-round programming that focuses on artist career building and arts awareness. The festival partners include Vans and Montana and have featured big-name street artists like Vhils, Peeta, Above, and Okuda.

The 2016 festival focused on the Kowloon neighborhood or Sham Shui Po and included 40 artists from 17 different countries, painting 40 murals. An impressive 42 workshops were also provided in March by HKwalls and House of Vans.  

There is also a strong stencil scene with several artists seemingly at work. Unlike other cities, there doesn’t seem to be as much tagging occurring, and surprisingly little obvious evidence of buff. Perhaps this is due to the more conservative culture, or the fact that one neighborhood is concentrating the art, so people know that painting there will likely produce more lasting pieces.


Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap is Cambodia’s second largest city with a population a little over 200 thousand. It is the gateway “resort town” for visitors seeking to explore the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, with the site measuring over 400 acres. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple of god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, and gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century. Siem Reap is an emerging economy based mainly on tourism and has a large number of NGOs and other not-for profits organizations. Torn apart by war, famine, and still plagued with the horrific situation of landmines, Cambodia is a diamond in the rough, a city home to some of the kindness and strongest people.

Siem Reap did not have what you would traditional call street art or murals, but it did have a moderate amount of random graffiti, some of which was done by visitors. The worldwide graffiti culture has seemingly not reached Siem Reap yet. With no evidence of buffing, the existing graffiti appeared in alleyways off main streets, easily spotted by the prominent mode of transportation, a Tuk Tuk or motorbike.

Surprisingly at least two bars embraced a graffiti art theme, one of which even had a full half-pipe on the roof, proudly proclaiming “Cambodia” in bold wildstyle graffiti lettering. This bar is certainly a hotspot for both locals and visitors alike with 50-cent beers, live music, skateboarding, and pool tables.


Phuket, Thailand

The islands of Phuket and Phi Phi are home to some of the most pristine and exotic natural landscapes on the planet. Phuket is the hub, often just a stopping off place for island hopping, but if you stay a few days and visit the older parts of town, it is clear that it is home to a vibrant creative scene. The beautiful old Sino-Portuguese architecture in Phuket’s Old Town is burst with exquisite island colors. Phuket has several art galleries, local craft fairs, including a weekend Indy Market featuring local artisan goods, resale clothes, a variety of food and beer vendors, and live music, a cultural hot spot for island youth and tourists.

Phuket is not that big, so you can pretty easy wander around and find a lot of great street art fairly easily. General roads to transverse are Phang Nga, Thalang, and Ranong. A great guide and map can be found on this blog.

 

F.A.T. Phuket Mural Project

The city also has an urban arts initiative called F.A.T. Phuket (Food Art Old Town), that has organized 12 large-scale mural paintings, based on local food, culture and customs. Started in mid-2016, this initiative was between a well-known property developer and a local artist. Local artists and some of Thailand’s most famous street artists quite literally canvassed the streets and murals started popping up all over the place. To see murals of this size and quality in a town the size of Phuket is a delightful surprise. Rising above its busting markets and perfectly playing with its textured walls, bold street art has certainly made its mark on this city.

While tourists’ flock to these sites to take photos, not everyone on the island appreciates the new style of art appearing on the walls. Some of So Phuket’s murals in the historic Old Town District have stirred up controversy amongst more traditional locals. Newspaper articles covered the situation, even conducting a public opinion polls to find out what people felt about and wanted to see happen with the new art. One mural by famed Bangkok artist AlexFace was eventually buffed based the public survey.


Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

On the small island of Phi Phi off the coast of Phuket, the central part of the island is notorious for its backpacking and party scene. Here you will find an impressive sticker art display on many of the poles and pathways. There are no cars or motorbikes on the island, making it very pedestrian friendly and localized. Although there are not any large-scale murals here, graffiti can be found in the alleyways (like at tattoo shops) and along popular tourist hiking pathways.


Bangkok, Thailand

The sprawling metropolis of Bangkok is home to over 6 million people, with the official city limits covering over 600 square miles. Bangkok is an extreme example of a “primate city,” because its huge population significantly dwarfs Thailand's other urban centers. Stretching along the Chao Phraya River, this was a central port city, between the ancient eastern and western worlds. Bangkok’s urban development has allowed for many of the older buildings and sections of town to remain. Expanding over such distances, locals and tourists mainly rely on cars, taxis and tuk tuks to get around, as Bangkok’s public transit system is still in its infancy.  Bangkok is famous for its food, with an amazing array of street vendors and restaurants serving up some of the most tantalizing and complex flavors; all with 5-star quality for ½-star price.

Bangkok had an impressive array of high-quality mural work, along with local street art and a very active graffiti scene. Walking over 50 miles in 3 days, finding street art in Bangkok proved to be a bit more than in some cities. Impressive pockets of graffiti art can often be found along the cities many canals. While graffiti art is spread throughout the city, the Saen Saep Canal, Charoen Krung Road, Bang Rak, and Klong San were particular hot spots in 2017.

Folk Art in the Trok San Chao Rong Kueak Alleyway

In the quiet residential enclave of Talad Noi, Trok San Chao Rong Kueak alleyway is known for its historic folk art. In the meandering alleys and passageways, you will find interesting examples of local art, amongst these well used communal public spaces.

Bangkok Art & Culture Centre

The Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC) is a contemporary arts facility in mid-town. BACC aims to create a meeting place for artists, to provide cultural programs for the community, giving importance to cultural continuity from past to contemporary. It aims to open new grounds for cultural dialogue, networking, and create new cultural resources from both the public and the private sectors. To do this they provide programs for art, music, theatre, film, design, and cultural/educational. What is particularly unique about BACC, is that the facility also houses multiple museums, local pop-up stores (think Tender Loving Empire), artist studios, spray-paint distributors, coffee shops, restaurants, art bookstores and public libraries. BACC provides an amazing hub for artists and the larger community. 

BUKRUK Urban Art Festival

Founded in 2013, the BUKRUK Urban Art Festival has organized many of the larger scale murals on Bangkok’s walls, hosting art by international artists such as Nychos, Aryz, and ROA. The first edition gathered successfully 30 artists from Thailand and Europe, bringing artists from over 10 countries together to paint. This 10-day project features murals, art exhibits, artist talks, animations, music festivals, , mapping projections and workshops. Interestingly each year focus on partnerships with particular parts of the world. For example, in 2013 the festival focuses on Thai-Europe. In 2016, it boarded to Asia-Europe connections.

Chalermla Public Park

A notable place to view street art is in the Chalermla Public Park. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has revamped this overgrown, rubble-filed abandoned space over the course of 2 months in 2015. The walls surrounding the park host impressive large murals, local and regional art along with graffiti. Complete with guerilla gardening style plantings, this park with its edginess was an impressive example of adaptive reuse that neighborhood and local kids obviously loved. A city spokesperson said that “People mostly come to use the park in the mornings and evenings, jogging or having picnics. Small children run around.” When asked how they feel about graffiti they said, “We have no problem with that graffiti. I actually kind of like it. It makes the park more colorful and cheerful. Graffiti artists can come to paint here freely. The only thing that I ask is that they don’t damage my grass! It’s hard to grow and maintain.”

While cities in places like the United States would likely never fully embrace a rough park like this as an official city park, it does offer an excellent example of DIY style tactical urbanism and the intrinsic power of allowing for art to create vibrant cultural spaces that everyone with an open-mind and common-sense can safely enjoy.

Winter Light Festival 2017

As winter continues to keep the city in hibernation mode, Portland’s 2nd annual Winter Light Festival commences—presented by Portland General Electric and hosted by Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).This public art festival provides a unique experience that lures the community from winter’s dim to an innovating aura of coming Spring. Showcasing contemporary light based art installations and performances of over 60 artists; they combine light and technology to create educational and interactive artwork.

The wet weather didn’t stop families and friends from gathering together to experience a public display of inspirational community-based projects. The purpose of this event was to bring the community “out of the dark” that comes after the holidays and create and glowing stepping stone to what is to come.

Being held a the East end of the Tilikum Bridge and along the Eastbank Espalanade, you are instantly being greeted by the PXL Matrix done by Josh Kottler on the Hampton Opera Center. It seems as if one light connects and leads you to another, taking you further down a path full of light and wonder to the Radiance Dome held at the bridge lot. This installation done by Light At Play is based on a “5 frequency geodesic dome that contains 190 illuminated panels and 120 vertex lights which together form a highly customizable, light-driven 3-D surface”. Glowing hula hop performers captivate the audience and fill the dome with radiance from the inside out.

For those that wanted to leave a mark, Graffiti Lanterns invited the audience to interact by scratching off the layered black opaque paint, exposing a hidden light source beneath. From people’s names, to designs and illustrations, these lanterns bare markings of those who have come and gone, sharing and making the experience together.

The illumination of light doesn’t only come from the installations but it is seen the faces of the people. Children look up and marvel with curiosity as they tug on their parent’s hand to look onward and move from one creation to another. The Light Chimes installation, an artistic collaboration between Andrew Haddock and design studio, Sticky CO., “reacts to movement giving off various sounds and beams of colored light, providing a melodic and visual synesthetic experience”, give each individual stepping under it a sense of self-awareness.

Moving on forward towards the Esplanade, over 50 Glow Bunnies cover the grassland—made from once piece of corrugated plastic, Olivier Bouwman uses wireless controlled LED light bulbs that are programed to shift colors and patterns all throughout the event. If we weren’t excited for the pastel season already this definitely captured everyone’s attention. Flamboyant Productions offer up space performers on stilts and curious bugs on wheels—adding more substance to the idea of innovation.

As you continue to follow the path that his been lit by the ideas of others, the installations not only encouraged interaction with the exhibit but other festival attendees. From the Pixel Throw-up, Glowing Buckets, to the Parallax, the 2017 Winter Light Festival brought some warmth to what has been a very cold season.

The community showed their support to the artists, as well as the event itself, by lighting themselves up in Christmas lights, glowing umbrellas, and creative light themed outfits that showed true Portland Spirit. The concept of this event is as innovating as the art in it—lighting the way from dark to light, cold to warm, and leaving each individual with a touch of glow they can carry back to their homes and on to the new season ahead. 

ARTICLE BY LOURDES JIMENEZ

Photos © Anton Legoo

Art as Resistence

 In Janurary 2017, PSAA director Tiffany Conklin took part in a panel presentation at Portland State University that focused on the Intersections of Activism and Effective Nonviolent Action Tactics. This event was hosted by the Peace Action Exhibition & PSU Students United for Nonviolence. The panel sought to explore the intersections of art, protest, and law in making positive change and how people can get involved in creating meaningful and sustainable change. Other panelists included Gregory McKelvey, one of the leaders of Portland Resistance, and Steve Kanter, a Lewis & Clark law professor and former president of the Oregon ACLU. The following is a recap of PSAA's presenation. 

The human urge to make art is rooted in our desire to develop and share lasting narratives that reflect, inform, and construct our identities and societies. The making of art is an important and vital part of human evolution. It has served as one of our main modes of communication and culture building. Therefore, art can be used as a “conceptual frame” through which observations and interpretations about society can be explored, and new ideas put forth.

Resistance art often aims to influence attitudes. It interrupts and exposes injustices, mocks and disarms perceived evils, and pushes for collective action against powerful social, political, and corporate structures. Throughout history, it has been a tool for the disenfranchised and disillusioned. In most revolutions, some sort of artistic and creative messaging has helped the movements mobilize and sustain themselves. Social movements require a lot of communication between many of different types of people. In order to reach everyone, these “public consciousness wars” are often fought symbolically and literally in the media, on city streets, and through art and literature.

When analyzing resistance art, one similarity is very clear, it relies heavily on the use of symbols; place holders for larger ideas and shared narratives. However, creating powerful symbols is not easy. Speaking for and representing something significant enough to be meaningful to a community, requires an engagement with deeply embedded symbols in that community, as well as dependency on already agreed upon visual cues. 

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Join, or Die is one of the oldest commonly used symbols of resistance. Originally drawn by Benjamin Franklin in 1754, the cartoon depicts the early American colonies as a snake divided into 8 segments; a representation of colonial unity. Franklin’s ability to develop and disseminate powerful messages like this helped reinforce his influence as an effective communicator.

The Resistance Fist dates back to ancient Assyria, where depictions of the goddess Ishtar served as a symbol of resistance in the face of violence. In modern times, the Industrial Workers of the World first used the fist as a logo in 1917. The symbol is now highly recognizable and adopted by oppressed groups around the world, as a symbol of solidarity, strength, and resistance.

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The Anarchy Symbol is also well-known. The "A" stands for "anarchy," and the "O" stands for "order;" together standing for "Anarchy is the Mother of Order.” The first recorded use of this symbol was by the Federal Council of Spain of the International Workers Association in 1868. 

The Guy Fawkes Mask is another old symbol of resistance, dating back to 1605. This is not just a symbol, it also serves an important logistical purpose. Remaining anonymous can help one evade authorities and continue revolutionary activities. In certain situations, having your identity exposed can put you, your friends, and family at risk. However, this symbols is highly co-opted. It was the top-selling item on Amazon in 2011 and Time Warner owns the rights to the image, so they profit from every sale. 

 

Like resistance art, propaganda art is also a mode of artistic communication, aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position. Since propaganda is often used by political regimes to manipulate people’s emotions by displaying facts selectively and presenting utopian (sometimes false) views of the society, it’s often viewed negatively. For better or worse, over time, propaganda art has had a profound influence on public consciousness. The techniques used by propaganda art are not inherently bad; as it can also be used in a positive way, to relay things like health recommendations, PSAs, and encouraging people to vote. 

Take for example, the evolution of the We Can Do It poster created by Westinghouse Electric in 1943. Initially, it was used to boost the morale of female employees so they would be more productive. Later in the 1980s, the poster was rediscovered and used to promote feminism. It is often mistaken for Rosie the Riveter, also created in 1943, but by Norman Rockwell. Again, Rosie was a “call to arms” for women to become strong capable females to support the war. Examples of this imagary can be found being used all around the world and continue to be used and adapted today. 

We can also see examples of resistance art in political cartoons and satire art. Many of these cartoons depict harsh commentaries and critiques, encouraging people to question the politics of the time. For example, the Pyramid of Capitalism has been a powerfully illustrative critique of capitalism. Painted in 1911, it depicts a system of social stratification and economic inequality. It is a powerful reminder that if the workers of the world withdraw their support, the system would literally topple over. 

We could also look at many different types of examples of resistance being made in the fine arts. For example, the post-apocalyptic worlds by Scott Listfield, or the satirical portraits of world leaders and dictators by Scott Scheidly (photos above). It is important to remember that galleries and museums have more limited access than public space, so while it can be powerful, this art may only reach more privileged urban audiences.

Photography can also be used for activism. For example, in 2017, an Oregon community college student created her #SignedByTrump project for a photography class using Donald Trump quotes painted on mostly nude female bodies. These photos went viral right before the 2017 presidental election. Or the photography of Portland-based Yay PDX, a local activist documenting protests and our city’s houseless population.

Light Installation, Portland Oregon

Light Installation, Portland Oregon

One of the most influential places where art can make a profound impact  is when it’s placed in public space. Whether its scribbled, scribed, pasted, placed, painted, or acted out; our city’s public spaces have always been a hub for expression and communication. They are, after all, the original arena for free expression and democracy. Graffiti and other types of urban interventions are a way to freely, automatously, and democratically communicate with each other, regardless of social or financial standing. You can reach a lot of different types of people, they just need to be passing by. You don’t need to have enough money to pay for a billboard or TV ad to get a message across. 

Public art provides a space for representation; a way to expand reach and amplify voices. If the embedded message is particularly relevant and powerful, people will take photos of it, it will end up on the internet and in social media, where its reach is almost infinite and it will live on forever, even if it’s removed from public space. Another important thing to realize is that during revolutions, governments not only increase their surveillance of public and online spaces. They will often shut down social media and limit internet access (like they did in Egypt and Greece recently). In these instances, we’ve seen graffiti used as a way to continue to communicate dissenting ideas, agitations, and instructions. Recently, social movements like Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution, Standing Rock, the Egyptian Revolution, and the Black Lives Matter Movement have all employed art to further their cause and spread their messages. 

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In certain cities, entire organizations have formed around the focus of making and promoting resistance art. Perhaps one of the best examples is the Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca. ASARO teaches art workshops for young people from Oaxaca’s impoverished districts and encourages them to translate their histories, perspectives, and social grievances into creative visual exchanges with others. They make stencils, woodcuts, wheatpastes, flyers, and public installations. They teach classes at their studio, hold meetings, maintain blogs & active social networks. By disrupting urban spaces with contradictory messages of conflict, they help to reveal inconsistences between the state’s manufactured image and the actual experiences of the people. The art they support helps summarize the critical force that comes from the periphery, to resist authoritarian political structures and capitalist economic priorities. These pieces invite viewers to stand up with the artists and participate in transforming their social realities together. 

By disrupting urban spaces with contradictory messages of conflict, ASARO helps to reveal inconsistences between the state’s manufactured image and the actual experiences of the people. The art they support helps summarize the critical force that comes from the periphery, to resist authoritarian political structures and capitalist economic priorities. These pieces invite viewers to stand up with the artists and participate in transforming their social realities together. 

Resistance art has had a profound influence on public consciousness throughout human civilization. It plays an indispensable role in the formation of public discourses, representation, and our struggles towards democracy. The best art challenges us to think differently, provokes our emotions, and encourages healthy debate with others. In uncertain times, when economic, social, and political systems fail to support society, art and graffiti serve a vital function of communicating grassroots ideas, sympathies, and demands. 

TAYLOR ELECTRIC PROJECT

Over the past decade, the ruins of Taylor Electric served as the city’s most famous space to view and engage with street art – a showcase for local, regional, national, and international art. The Taylor Electric Project will be an interactive art event and public engagement platform, documenting, creating art, and displaying community-contributed photos, videos, and artwork of the former ruins of Taylor Electric in SE Portland.

  • Document the history of this unique art sanctuary via an online website
  • Promote dialogue and build community capacity
  • Reinvigorate the remaining space with vibrant murals by some of the best talent that ever graced the walls of the former ruins
  • Project culminating in a weekend event, with art, music, and performance
Photo © Crystal Amaya

Photo © Crystal Amaya

BY CREATING A SPACE FOR ART, PEOPLE CAN REMINISCE AND APPRECIATE THE HISTORY OF THIS PLACE AND CONTINUE TO BE INSPIRED BY ITS RAW BEAUTY.

PROJECT VISION & GOALS

The Taylor Electric Project will be an interactive art event and public engagement platform commemorating the former industrial ruins of the Rexel Taylor Electric Supply Company in SE Portland – a culturally significant space for street art that was demolished in early 2015. This event will formally display community-contributed media (e.g., photographs, videos, poems, zines, articles, original artwork, etc.) taken in, and inspired by, Taylor Electric. Our project aims to create a range of community engagement opportunities that encourage diverse community participation. To accomplish this, there will be several public engagement elements that will occur through the project website, the art event, and in the community.

The central focus of this project is to create art and spaces for public learning and dialogue. At the event, local artists, community leaders, and academics will lead public discussions on various topics (e.g., street art, the politics and privatization of public space, urban exploring, insurgent place-making, and the impacts of development and urban change on the art communities). The forums will be open and promoted to the general public. With these discussions, we hope to facilitate dynamic and positive dialogue between the street art communities and other community groups like academics, neighborhood leaders, activists, developers, and business owners. The broader goals of these discussions are to educate and build new relationships between diverse communities to help increase mutual understanding, cooperation, and alliances. The street art community, while sometimes praised for their bold and colorful interventions, is often under-represented in local politics and misunderstood by the media and larger community. With these engagements, we hope to dispel some of these myths and prejudices and promote active community involvement.

In preparation for the Taylor Electric Project event, the community will be invited to contribute their personal experiences with Taylor Electric through the project’s website. This site will provide a centralized space to document and archive Taylor Electric’s history and art. It will also serve as a platform for the global community to share lived experiences interacting with and creating this unique and famous public art gallery. The public will also be invited to actively participate in this project by submitting their photos (via the website or hash-tagged as #TaylorElectricProject on social media) to produce a real-time publicly generated projection installation on a wall outside the event space.

WANT TO GET INVOLVED?

If you are interested in participating or volunteering your time to make this project happen, PSAA is currently looking for people with Square Space development skills, graphic designers, videographers, DJs, photography show coordinators, and more. Email PSAA to inquiry about opportunities. PSAA will be putting out a separate call to artists and photo submissions. 

READ MORE ABOUT TAYLOR ELECTRIC:

THE HISTORY OF TAYLOR ELECTRIC

ASHES, ART AND ARCHITECTURE: THE RICH HISTORY OF SIMPLE’S HOMEBASE

GRAFFITI ABATEMENT, BROKEN WINDOWS, AND ZERO-TOLERANCE

Graffiti is a polarizing phenomenon. For decades, its presence has fueled intense debate. For some, graffiti evokes fear and is viewed as strictly criminal vandalism; a destructive attack upon an otherwise clean and orderly society. For others, graffiti is seen as a natural form of human expression, a sign of a vibrant modern culture, and an important form of grassroots resistance. By definition, public space is supposed to be open to everyone. The quality of our public spaces, and the degree of access we have to them, speaks volumes about what we, as a society, believe to be important. Access to public space is important because these spaces serve as the only real arena for common democratic actions.

Across various municipal entities, the City of Portland spends an average of $2-5 million a year on graffiti abatement and removal. The City’s Graffiti Abatement Program (GAP) began in 2007, operating under the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI). GAP employs one full-time program coordinator and a part-time assistant, who manage the program and organize volunteers to carry out periodic graffiti removal “sweeps” of Portland. ONI allocates approximately $40,000 a year in community grants for graffiti abatement and prevention ($42,000 in 2010, $40,000 in 2011). Like many cities, it has codes regulating the sale of “graffiti materials,” such as spray paint and markers. It also has a Graffiti Nuisance Property Code that requires all reported graffiti to be removed within 10 days, or the property owner faces fines of $100 a day for everyday the graffiti remains. The City essentially operates under a zero tolerance policy where any graffiti reported (that does not have a city-issues mural permit or waiver) is required to be removed. Many of these reports come in through the City's Graffiti Hotline and the PDXReporter smartphone app. GAP works in partnership with the Graffiti Task Force that meets monthly and consists of two dedicated full-time police officers who investigate graffiti crimes, public agencies and district attorneys. Although they have publicly stated (at the 2013 and 2014 Graffiti Abatement Summit) that the main focus of the graffiti police officers is to investigate gang graffiti crimes in East Portland and other urban outskirts, many in the community say that the officers focus more effort on easier and more visible targets, such as street art and graffiti in inner Portland and in the downtown core. The officers have come under public scrutiny for targeting street art collectives and owner-permitted works. Another key player in Portland’s graffiti abatement scene is the newly created Friendly Streets, a non-profit entity that promotes livability and works in partnership with residents, businesses, public and private agencies, local officials, utility companies and others, to foster safe, attractive, and well maintained city streets. Marcia Dennis, the former head of GAP, is the vice president of Friendly Streets and one of the board members is the owner of a for-profit graffiti removal company in Portland called Graffiti Removal Services.

  • Portland taxpayers spend between $2 to 5 million annually on graffiti abatement.
  • In 2012, Portland spent $3 million on graffiti.
  • Cities across the U.S. spend between $12 to 25 billion on graffiti abatement every year.
  • Many cities now outsource graffiti abatement. For-profit private graffiti clean-up companies are increasingly common.
  • Most graffiti occurs on soon to be demolished vacant buildings. Even these structures are continuously painted over (i.e., buffed).
  • Research shows that continuously removing graffiti does not eradicate it in the long term.

In tough financial times, are these expenditures justifiable? Can our tax money be better spent?

  • Portland’s graffiti abatement program supports building felony cases whenever possible.
  • In 2012, more than 100 people were arrested in Portland for graffiti.

Are felony charges really the best approach to prosecuting those caught doing graffiti? Do felony charges really deter graffiti or prevent repeat offenses?  

  • Portland has a ‘zero-tolerance’ graffiti policy requiring that all un-permitted public expression be promptly removed.
  • If issued a citation, Portland property owners are required to remove graffiti within 10 days or face search warrants, fines, and possible imprisonment.
  • These policies are relatively new, and are based on the "Broken Windows" theory. Even though it did not directly reference graffiti when developed in the 70s, this theory is used by law enforcement to suggest that graffiti actually causes urban decay, the collapse of moral values, and physical violence.
  • If anything, graffiti arose as a response to, or a by-product of, urban disinvestment and desperate situations.
  • Research, including studies done by Harvard Law Professor, Bernard Harcourt, show that the broken windows theory has not been proven or adequately tested.

Should we blindly accept the broken windows theory? Is it right to stereotype people who do graffiti or street art as being violent criminals who lack moral values? Listen to this 2016 NPR segment about how this thoery of crime and policing was born, and how it went totally wrong.

  • Anti-graffiti campaigns often criminalize artists and further the divide between them and the larger community. 
  • It’s a common belief among anti-graffiti activists that graffiti is a ‘gateway crime’ that leads to other more serious offensives.
  • It’s estimated that less than 15% of all graffiti in the City of Portland is gang related.
  • Artists who do graffiti/street art come from all demographics. It is a world-wide phenomenon.

Why can’t we work to educate the public about the different forms of graffiti (and how to identify gang graffiti) so there’s less fear and more understanding of this global subculture?

  • Portland no longer has any designated outlets for graffiti art – they have been systematically eliminated over the past 50 years.
  • Countless NW cities (Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, San Francisco, etc.) have free walls that are open to public expression. Free walls provide a designated safe place for people to practice and refine their skills.
  • School art funding has been systematically reduced over the years, providing less opportunities for youth to express themselves artistically.

Why not explore other options that provide youth the support and safety they need to develop artistic skills and the ability to interact with public space in a more acceptable way? Why not ask residents what kind of graffiti management they prefer? Would community-specific place-based graffiti management be a more effective than a blanket zero-tolerance approach?

Above all, PSAA wants to promote more dialogue surrounding these important issues. The City of Portland, in many ways embraces the weird and quirky. Many of us choose to live in Portland because of its quality of life and vibrant cultural scene. We believe that allowing for more free expression in public space ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity to express themselves and be exposed to art in their daily lives. Having a vibrant arts scene is also a vital ingredient that helps the City of Portland attract creative professionals and artists who want to live in vibrant, accessible, dynamic, and safe city.

Read more about incidents artists have had with Portland's graffiti abatement in our article covering the forced buffing of an owner-authorized mural by a world-renounded artist. 

The City of Portland' Graffiti Abatement Project periodically organizes volunteer group "sweaps" to remove graffiti on public property along Portland's main streets. On Saturday June 28th 2014, the City of Portland’s Graffiti Abatement Program implemented a large graffiti cleanup of SE Belmont Street, between 20th and 40th Avenues. According to GAP, Belmont had been “hit hard with graffiti over the last couple of months.” Approximately 20 to 30 volunteers participated in this city-sponsored event, which provided graffiti removal training and a free continental breakfast.

A group of anonymous street art advocates participated in this community event to get a ‘sneak peek’ into Portland’s graffiti abatement efforts. As Morton’s clean-up crew moved down the street, they documented and provided satirical commentary about the politics of graffiti and graffiti removal; even going as far as interviewing a few passersby for their opinions. The next day, PSAA was sent the video below, and interviewed Morton and the other volunteer art advocates who participated in the Belmont Graffiti Cleanup Event.

In a classic détournement style, these advocates lightheartedly and subversively participated in an event that they would not have normally participated in. They wanted to see what was going on, and learn more about graffiti abatement tactics. PSAA would like to thank all the community members who participated in this neighborhood event, whether they were wearing orange vests, or simply having a conversation about what was happening around them. Strong communities are made up of an active and engaged public, so regardless of our opposing opinions on the issue, we’re happy to see people outside trying to “improve” our shared public spaces.

After speaking with participants of the event, PSAA like to pose a few questions for the city to consider: first, why spend time and money funding events that focus on scraping stickers off the back of street signs? As long as the front of the sign stays clean (for obvious safety and informational reasons), why not meet us halfway – let the community put art on the back of our street signs. Seattle takes this moderate approach, why can’t Portland? These signs are, after all, public spaces. Second, why not focus more on removing (and fining) illegal profit-driven advertisements? Ads vandalize our public realm, often without penalty. The same is not true for community members who choose to speak through art on the streets.

PSAA would like to encourage Portland artists and advocates to engage with not just their peers, but reach across the aisle and talk to the City and your neighbors. Try to understand their perspective and tell them about your perspective too. Even though we have differing opinions about how to best maintain and manage our shared public spaces, we should try to find commonalities and work together in whatever shared spaces we can.

PSAA's Full Interview with the Street Art Advocates:

PSAA: Why did you guys participate in the Belmont Graffiti Cleanup Event?

Morton and Friends: We wanted to help our community, make it a better place. We love our city and we want to change the world we live in. We wanted to remove blatant and illegal advertisements, in addition to stickers that were old, worn, and tattered. We saw this as cleaning the canvas, making way for fresh DIY art stickers. We also wanted to see what graffiti abatement was up to and how they managed events like this.

PSAA: Why do you think the City of Portland sponsored this event?

Morton and Friends: At the event, the main reason the City said graffiti removal was important to do was to make sure that tourists were not scared away from visiting certain Portland neighborhoods. As far as the focus on Belmont, who knows… they said it had been “hit hard,” but really Belmont doesn’t have any more graffiti than any other popular Portland drag.

PSAA: What were you and the other volunteers asked to do?

Morton and Friends: We were told to focus on removing stickers and a bunch of anti-abatement protest signs that had been put up along the cleanup route. When we questioned the organizers about why they were not removing ALL the other flyers on the poles, they told us to not worry about those and just focus on the anti-abatement signs. We thought that was weird because as flyers are illegal postings too. Otherwise, volunteers were told to focus on removing stickers from poles and the backsides of street signs.

PSAA: So they said to only remove stickers from the back of signs, what about the front of signs?

Morton and Friends: If the front of a sign had stickers on it, we think the entire sign was replaced in a lot of cases. I guess the solvent can damage the reflective coating on the signs, so they just have to remove and replace the whole thing. The cleaners they gave us did a good job removing the stickers pretty quickly, the stickers mostly slide right off. If the sticker didn’t come right off, they said to just scratch and destroy the sticker enough to make it unreadable.

PSAA: What did you take away from participating in the Belmont Graffiti Cleanup Event?

Morton and Friends: Surprisingly, we came away with a new understanding for the similarities between graffitists and graffiti abaters. Both want to make an impact on our community and make a positive difference. Both act to change the aesthetics of their environments. Both feel like it helps their sense of community. The main differences (between these two communities) are that aesthetically, one likes seeing community interventions and art, and the other, likes a blank, and in our opinion, very sterile environment. Also, one group uses the streets as a space to exert their right to free speech. The other group sees it as their duty to suppress this speech in the name of the law. We all felt like we were making a difference in the world!

All Photos © PSAA 

THE HISTORY OF TAYLOR ELECTRIC

Since 2006, the remains of the Taylor Electric building have been a unique Portland landmark. A sanctuary for artists, rebels, and outcasts. Over these nine years, this burnt out industrial skeleton at SE 2nd and Clay had been continuously and illegally reinvented by the public into a gallery for urban art and exploring. Taylor Electric was full of possibilities, a homemade refuge, and a cultural space of our own making.

The aesthetics of Taylor Electric were addictive for many, not only artists and tourists, but academics, journalistsphotographers, and videographers. As geographer Bradley Garrett wrote “these spaces are appreciated for their aesthetic qualities, for their possibilities for temporarily escaping the rush of the surrounding urban environment and their ability to hint at what the future might look like, when all people have disappeared, a visceral reminder of our own mortality.”

In the months leading up to its demise, the art in Taylor Electric flourished as the fences went down and security was reduced. More so than ever people of all types, young and old, high heels and rubber boots, descended on this public place to experience an post-apocalyptic scene bursting with color.

Rumors of demolition and development plans had been circulating for years. With Portland’s economy and population is booming this change was inevitable. As power and urban space collide, developers moved their attention to this centrally located urban property. It was a profitable time to rebuild. This time instead of an electrical supply company, this site would be occupied by an office building and café. Part of the existing south-facing retaining wall of the 1936 building will be preserved and incorporated into the new structure.

In early May 2015, a large fence was erected, surrounding the entire building and closing an adjacent street. On Monday May 10th the demolition of Taylor Electric began. Spreading quickly through social media, artists shared images of the first walls to fall. Some onlookers talked with workers, gathering details of the plans. Local media outlets, like the Willamette Week covered the story, focusing on the cultural importance and impact of this space.

While a sense of loss pervaded, there was also a sense of unity and reflection that arose, as many people began to introspectively think about what was being lost, but also what had been built over the years in this space.

A local group of artists created this video:

Taylor Electric was showcase of local, regional, national and international graffiti art. When people visited Portland and wanted to see graffiti, Taylor Electric was the obvious and easiest destination.

While it has been difficult to see Portland’s only truly public and easily accessible graffiti space crumble before our eyes, graffiti is about temporarily occupying and re-imagining the spaces of the city. This spark that creates culturally rich places like Taylor Electric, lives within us. We use these urban voids as conduits and staging grounds for our creative energies. Taylor Electric was a particularly conductive environment for such electricity, but there are always new frontiers. That’s part of the beauty of graffiti; it’s always searching out the unexplored and raw. Strangely, it’s ephemeral and nomadic nature contributes to its resiliency and allure. Because it won’t be there forever.

All images © 2015 Anton Legoo

LAST DANCE WITH TAYLOR ELECTRIC

If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution – Emma Goldman 1931

Last night, from a ruined crack of the urban landscape, culture erupted with fiery explosions of color, light, and movement. Crowds gathered inside and outside the space to watch this mysterious event. Playing amongst these ruins, using rubble as the raw material for innovation, the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre Northwest’stook over Taylor Electric, using it as a stage for Ragnarok, a Norse mythological tale of destruction and rebirth. The dance performance featured artists from Portland State University, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

This event is the first and perhaps the last opportunity for the public to officially experience this space, before it is lost forever. Demolition plans have been set.

Since the ruins of Taylor Electric were left to stand outside the political economy of urban development for years, it has functioned as richly occupied public space.While it was not legally public, it also was not subjected to the exclusionary controls of commercialization that increasingly afflict our cities. Taylor Electric offered a ‘shelter from the storm’ for a diverse community of outcasts, illustrating why debates over urban economic and cultural gentrification often evolve into debates over social well-being, social order, and social justice.

Many officials and developers envision streets purged of marginalized populations, cleared of human trash. These uncomfortable reminders of decay and neglect counter a narrative of a city made safe for endless effortless consumption and full of programmed urban activities. Officials often present redevelopment as economic salvation, or as social and cultural stimulation – restoring their version of a ‘quality of life.’

However, for many people in the city, spaces like this are essential for quality of life. We choose to live in the city for the unexpected and the grit. In this way, we view the demolition of Taylor Electric as the destruction of our public and cultural sphere. In many modern sanitized cities, space for unanticipated interaction and chaotic urban pleasures are rapidly diminishing. 

Over the past few weeks, as the fences have been slowly removed, the amount and variety of urban explorers descending upon the space has dramatically increased. People of all types come to take photos, reminisce, and talk with each other about what the place is and its future. Experiencing the dance performance shed light on how easy it would have been to use a space like this for community events. Imagine if grass were planted in the factory floor, turning the space into a unique pocket park surrounded by the burnt-out skeleton walls. Live bands could play music, people could have picnics, street artists could paint murals, and mobile food carts could provide food and beverages. As many from the street art community have argued for years, if permitted, this would have provided a perfect free wall space, something the city does not have and desperately needs. Portland has a ‘zero-tolerance’ graffiti policy requiring that all un-permitted public expression be promptly removed or the property owner will be fined. Countless northwest cities (Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, San Francisco, etc.) have free walls that are open to public expression. Free walls are a community asset because they provide a designated safe place for people to practice and refine their artistic skills and a place where urban flâneurs and tourists can go to see this style of art.

Our vision of the City of Portland is a place where gutter punks, graffiti writers, and the houseless community will no longer be driven from public space. They’ll be embraced as members of the community. In such a city, residents would no longer be taught to fear marginal spaces like Taylor Electric, they would be embraced for creativity and cultural innovation, where the inherent uncertainty of the unpredictable provides raw material and conditions that incubate new ways of being and thinking. The allure of this vision is undoubtedly fleeting. We must not forget this spark lives within us, not necessarily in the spaces we create and occupy. We use these urban voids as conduits and staging grounds for creative energy. From the ruins of the past, time and time again, we rebuild.

Special thanks to Hart Noecker and Anton Legoo for contributing to this article.

Some material adapted from Jeff Ferrell’s 2001 book, “Tearing down the Streets: Adventures in Urban Anarchy” 

All images © 2014 Anton Legoo

TAYLOR ELECTRIC FREE SPACE

Seven years ago, a massive fire engulfed the wooden frame Taylor Electric Supply Warehouse on SE 2nd & Clay in the Central Eastside Industrial District of Portland. The building housed electrical equipment, flammable materials and chemicals. It was one of Portland‘s largest industrial fires ever. It burnt into the night, causing power outages and oil spills in the Willamette River. The next day, the smoldering building collapsed. All that remained was a charred skeleton and an ash-covered floor.

Today, the building‘s shell stands mostly unchanged, but with one important difference. It serves as a public art gallery, a mecca for Portland’s street art and photography community. Here, emerging and veteran artists showcase their art to the public; free, direct, and uncensored. On most days, visitors discover a range of graffiti here including, tags, stencils, installations, and huge masterpieces. As with many official and unofficial ‘free walls,’ the graffiti in Taylor Electric is generally found to be more aesthetic pleasing. The artists have time to create more detailed work.

During the day, the building comes alive in other ways. On the edge of Produce Row, a flurry of manufacturing and shipping activity surrounds it. Professional photographers, film crews, wedding parties, and urban explorers descend upon the building to photograph its walls. It is even used to market locally-made mustard.

Even though graffiti is often stereotyped negatively as promoting blight and urban decay, a thriving street art scene is also a sign of a vibrant, innovative, and creative city. Under-use and decay of built environments is not caused by the presence of graffiti; it is instead a by-product of an area that’s already in disrepair. Artists are drawn to these spaces because of their gritty aesthetics and the anonymity they provide.

Cities like Berlin, London, Melbourne, Basel, and Miami have realized that fostering creative activities in public (both planned and unplanned) can be beneficial to the city, financially and culturally. In many cities around the world, graffiti removal is mostly targeted to the central downtown core. The extent of graffiti abatement outside the city is left to individual neighborhoods to decide and manage. Some neighborhoods are mostly free of graffiti, and other areas the walls burst with color. This is not the case in the City Portland, where a blanket zero-tolerance policy covers the entire city. It is illegal to paint graffiti (or a mural) on an outside wall, even if you have permission from a property owner. If graffiti is not covered up in 10 days, property owners run the risk of being issued substantial fines from the city. Additionally, Portland does not host any official free walls, like other northwest cities, like Tacoma and Olympia do. What often results in Portland is an abundance of quick tags (which most people dislike) all over the city, instead of more elaborate pieces painted on designated walls or districts.

Portland’s zero-tolerance policy has been playing out on the walls of Taylor Electric for years now. The entire building has been ‘buffed’ (painted-out) every few months to remove the graffiti even though it was an un-salvageable building with no residential neighbors. The premise behind this continued effort was that it would “reduce social deterioration within the City and promote public safety and health.” The assumption is that consistently covered up graffiti will deter more from occurring. Research done by Portland State University graduate students in 2004 and 2012 (Gorsek & Conklin, respectively), suggests that, in fact, buffing does not to deter graffiti from reoccurring. If anything, the solid paint provides a fresh canvas to work on and incentive to get bigger and better.

The potential for re-development of the Taylor Electric site, and the surrounding area, cannot be denied. It sits just minutes from downtown Portland, offers panoramic city views of the city, and easy access to the Willamette River, East Bank Esplanade, and Hawthorne Bridge. Down the road, you find Distillery Row, the heart of Portland’s craft distilling movement, several of Portland’s famous food cart pods, the Museum of Science and Industry, and most recently, the new Eastside Streetcar line.

A different type of gentrification is occurring in the Central Eastside Industrial District (CEID). It is zoned industrial, not residential. Some of the businesses in this district have operated here for decades. There is even a non-profit, volunteerorganization, responsible for representing businesses and property owners in the Central Eastside Industrial District. This group fights to protect the rights of property owners and businesses in the district and keep CEID as an ‘industrial sanctuary,’ and major employment zone for the city.

Just recently it was announced that the Taylor Electric Building had been sold. It is now slated to be re-developed into office space. New building plans can be found here. This re-development was inevitable. Portland’s and urban growth boundary makes it a very dense city. Most vacant land in and around the urban core is developed. This land-use planning protects our cherished natural surroundings, fosters walkable, bikeable, cohesive, and vibrant neighborhoods.

However, this density also makes finding hidden under-used spaces that allow for alternative uses very hard to find. Undeveloped landscapes serve as a reminder that there is value in not having all urban space in continuous official use. These spaces in-between are voids that allow for unscripted activities. In Portland, out of under-used parking lots, culinary meeting grounds arise. In a trash covered ditch under a bridge, one of the most famous skateboarding spots in the world, Burnside Skatepark, was built by hand and without permission.

Although many people might at first think these spaces as uninviting, boring and even dangerous, other people see great potential in these derelict wastelands. These spaces offer respite from the city‘s watchful eyes. They are places in a state of uncertainty, caught between uses, and open to endless possibilities.

ALL PHOTOS © PSAA

SUNNYSIDE PIAZZA

Since 2000, neighbors of Portland’s historic Sunnyside neighborhood have come together every Spring to re-paint a huge sunflower at the intersection of SE 33rd and Yamhill, one block off Belmont. Originally, without City permission, neighborhood residents came together to claim ownership of their public space and create a vibrant community gathering place.

This was one of Portland‘s City Repair’s first projects that aimed to repair and reclaim underutilized space. City Repair facilitates artistic and ecologically-oriented placemaking through projects that honor the interconnection of human communities and the natural world. City Repair have been accomplished all around Portland, by a mostly volunteer staff and thousands of volunteer citizen activists. They provide support, resources, and opportunities to help diverse communities reclaim the culture, power, and joy that we all deserve. 

In an effort to create community-oriented spaces, local residents painted a huge orange sunflower, inspired by Fibonacci spiral geometry, in the middle of the intersection and installed multiple art pieces at each corner. Ever since then, engaged residents have turned this intersection into a space for art, expression and community building. Over 700 interviews with residents, in an academic study on the project in 2003, suggest that the community experiences more happiness, health and safety because of the repair. The Piazza has also become a a central point of the Sunnyside Neighborhood and Historic Belmont Main Street, in the heart of Southeast Portland. It has blossomed into a community cooperative movement that has cultivated social connectedness and a sense of community that gains momentum every year.

A lot of planning and effort goes into making this happen every year. Starting months before the event, organizers start planning. They canvas the neighborhood getting the required signatures for the block party permit, so they can close the intersection off to traffic and provide their community with a safe space to spend the weekend together, re-painting, talking, picnicking, and playing. They take inventory and order paint materials, repair benches, cob structures, clean-up poles, plant new flowers, coordinate a team of volunteers, and gather monetary and material donations from local businesses and the community. For the past few years, Portland Street Art Alliance has managed the project, along with fellow dedicated neighbors.

Several local businesses donate funds and supplies to help support this community event as well. Escape from New York Pizza on Belmont hosts an annual Piazza Pizza Party fundraiser in mid-May where 30% of all proceeds between 5pm-10pm go towards the project. Other local businesses, like The Sweet Hereafter and Dick's Kitchen, make significant monetary donations that help the communtiy purchase the paint and supplies needed to repaint the sunflower every year. 

What also makes Sunnyside unique is that in addition to the commissioned and organized art at the Piazza (like the painted sunflower, cob structures, mosaics, sidewalk trellises, and planter barrels), there are several un-commissioned street art interventions in the area. These unofficial pieces of art vary, but often include birdhouses, chalk boxes, metal sculptors, wooden plaques, yarn installations, and various forms of art adhered to the backs of signs and poles. Passersby tend to notice and be drawn to this community art, it is a real tourist destination. Visitors often ask questions, touch, and take pictures of these quirky interventions.

Brooklyn NY-based Portlandia star, Fred Armisen even commented on Sunnyside neighborhood’s distinct character:

At the corner of Southeast Yamhill and Southeast 33rd Avenue is the most Portland-y spot in the city. There is an artwork painted on the actual road. It’s like a sun or something. It’s too big for me to remember exactly what it is. It just looks cool and feels cool. I feel the most like I am in Portland when I stand in this spot. You’ll see what I mean. It’s residential, but there’s something about it that makes me feel very much at peace. Not like nature-guy peace. I hate that. I mean like “Hey, I am going to stand here for a few minutes and not think.” It’s quiet but you can still hear some cars go by a street over on Belmont. It feels European but still American. I stand by that description.

Along Belmont, there is a high-concentration of businesses between 33rd and 35th Avenues. Most of these mixed-use properties have high real-estate values due to their visibility and foot-traffic along this historic arterial roadway emanating from downtown. Through the 1980s and 90s, Sunnyside struggled with problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, crime, and vandalism. Younger creative were drawn into the neighborhood by its cheap rents, historic bungalows and Victorians, and its proximity to public transit. Just a few years ago in 2010, many of the businesses along Belmont were closed and boarded up. Now, all storefronts are occupied and business is booming. Sunnyside often teems with activity. On sunny days, people fill the sidewalks, eating, drinking, taking pictures, sitting on benches, and visiting local shops. When the sun sets, the night crowd descends, frequenting the bars and pool halls on the strip.

Whether it is authorized or un-authorized by the City does not seem to concern many Sunnyside residents. They see this as their community space and their responsibility to maintain. This is an active community that feels strongly about the power of community art and access to the public spaces around them.

Follow Sunnyside Piazza on Facebook and Instagram for updates! 

All Photos: © PSAA | © Anton legoo | © yaypdx 

ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK: THE HISTORY OF PIRATE TOWN

Everything is ephemeral. Sometimes it takes loosing cherished pieces of our city to realize what is important and how change is the only constant, especially in a city. As Portland’s wild-west development bonanza booms, many of us are hard at work documenting and fighting to save these important pieces of the urban landscape.

Our urban growth boundary helps preserve our hinterlands and create a dense city, but it also ensures that vacant space is temporary and abandonment is short-lived. As in other cities, Portland is growing at an unprecedented rate due to the millennial desire for a more sustainable urban life. With this influx, comes change and with this change there are important considerations and sacrifices. What impact does the loss of free, hidden, and accessible spaces have on the city and its arts culture?

Indeterminate “spaces in-between” are voids in the city, undesirable to most people and sought after by some. These abandoned, contaminated, and sometimes dangerous spaces are where DIY activities flourish. Whether it be for graffiti art, skate/BMX parks, urbex, or guerilla gardens, these “cracks” in the urban fabric provide respite from norms and regulations of modern urban space. These spaces are open to possibilities for intervention and ripe for activation; places where the seeds of innovation and authenticity can be sown.

As we contest and cope with our changing city, it is important to document and remember an important piece of Portland’s DIY and graffiti history that is quickly fading into distant memory.

It was known by many names: Popsicle Land, Creosote Factory, SuperFun Site, officially named Triangle Park, and most infamously Pirate Town. This 35-acre superfund site is situated on the Portland Harbor at the base of Waud Bluff and in the University Park area of North Portland. With an industrial history dating back to at least 1900, this site has been home to nearly 50 different industrial operations.

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Most recently, this was the site of the former Riedel North Portland Yard, which dredged rivers, constructed boats, and cleaned-up hazardous railroad spills. Riedel closed in 1986, but the effects of its operations (and the site’s prior operations) will be present for centuries to come; as soil and groundwater tests show high levels of toxic contaminates, mainly arsenic.

This abandoned complex consisted of a dock and three cement buildings. The site provided both a canvas for the most prolific graffiti in Portland at the time and space for creation of DIY skateboarding and BMX structures. Skaters and BMX riders revamped Pirate Town, turning the spaces into parks reminiscent of the early Burnside Bridge days. For years, Pirate Town was a cherished space for all sorts of adventure; a place to end midnight bicycle rides, hold massive parties, host an epic chariot wars, army training ground, and a horror movie theater.

Photo: The Skateboard Archives, skateandannoy.com

Photo: The Skateboard Archives, skateandannoy.com

A 2009 Portland Mercury article by Sarah Mirk documented the public sentiment when demolition plans were announced: “It’s one of those places where there’s no rules. I’m perpetually frustrated by how society stomps out the places where people can create new things,” Zander Speaks told reporters. Similarly, Zachary van Buuren said that it was “one of the few places that graffiti artists could go to do their art and it’s completely alright. It’s a giant industrial canvas, sad to see it go.” Gabe Tiller who rode around town on a coffin bike, explained that “these urban decay areas are gorgeous and every city needs them, it was inevitable I guess. Fun while it lasted, and there are other great spots out there waiting to be found!”

Photo: Jeremy Running

American Institute of Architects even hosting a photography show displaying the work of Bruce Forster, commemorating the graffiti that covered almost every inch of the structure.

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

Reminiscing about the Pirate Town 10 years later, native Portlander and professional BMX rider Caleb Ruecker explained to PSAA that for many years it was a favorite spot for him and his friends, for not only biking but fishing off the decaying old docks. For a long time it was a chill spot, mainly just used by the bikers, skaters, and graffiti artists, and sometimes visited by photographers and explorers. Then around 2003 nearby University of Portland students started going down there more, even driving their cars down the access road (unlike most who took the back way in along the tracks). This brought a lot of attention to the site and then there were fences and guards.

Photo: Sam Policar

Photo: Bruce Foster

Photo: Bruce Foster

In December of 2008, the University bought the site for $6 million and swiftly demolished it; releasing a statement saying that it was a liability. Back then, UofP representatives explained that the site would allow them to “expand without going into the neighborhood.” They saw this as an “opportunity to take blighted and contaminated industrial land and restore it under the stewardship of the University of Portland as a public asset.” Rumors circulated that it was going to be developed it into a baseball, sports field, or storage area. Today, over 7 years after its demolition, some environmental restoration has happened, but the site still sits completely vacant, being almost completely reclaimed by nature.

Interestingly, the University’s comment about how they intended to restore the site into a “public asset” raises the question about who this development is for, and how the divergent values placed on spaces. These abandoned spaces are actually often being well-used, just not in traditional, scripted, or city-sanctioned ways. While technically being private property, many times these types of sites are left to rot, especially turning into semi-public spaces.

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

These spaces are then reclaimed by certain subcultures and turned into unique “community asset.” However, the general ethos does recognize the value in these unique DIY spaces in cities, they just assume that they are blighted, debauchery-ridden cesspools that need to be removed. True in some cases yes, but in others they are just removed for the sake of removing them, paved or grassed over, or left to sit for another few decades until market demand rises to the point of profit.

Photo: Brandon Seifert
Photo: Aaron Rabideau

As urban planners strive to design authenticity in our cities with placemaking and tactical urbanism-inspired plans, we ignore and disregard the fact that original and authentic place-making is done by the communities like these, in places like Pirate Town and more recently in Taylor Electric. Toxic wastelands flourish into meccas for activity, adventure, and raw beauty. Enter at your own risk.

Special thanks for Caleb Ruecker for providing invaluable insights and inspiration for finally writing this article. Be sure to follow his demolition and abandoned documentation adventures @calebrueckersphotos.
Photo: Aaron Rabideau