Sow Radical Seeds


Introducing PSAA’s newest mural, Sow Radical Seeds, at the Montavilla Farmers Market (7700 SE Stark St). This mural was designed and painted by an all-female team of artists: Girl MobbSara Eileen, and Portland's own N.O. Bonzo. It depicts two strong women, sowing the seeds of radical community-driven change, nurturing a more sustainable world where communities have food security, food sovereignty, and equitable access to healthy nutritious foods. It took the artists only 3 days to complete the mural. It is the perfect backdrop to the weekly farmer’s market! PSAA has been working with Montavilla neighborhood residents and hoping to secure more walls for art in the near future.

The mural came into existence thanks to efforts by the Montavilla Neighborhood Association and PSAA. Working together in just one week they secured partial funding, an artist team, and a mural permit.


PSAA, the Montavilla Neighborhood Association, and Montavilla Farmers Market officially introduced the mural to the neighborhood by hosting a community meeting where artists, organizers, and farmers came together to talk about how they sow radical seeds in the community with the work they do.

At the meeting, Javier Lara of Anahuac Produce spoke about his work as a farmer, community leader and activist for human rights. His philosophy on farming stems from a deep connection to nature, and his practice mimics those beliefs. Javier says farming is “more than just local or organic, it has to do with community, and human beings are part of this system.” Javier also fights for farmworkers’ rights as well by working in partnership with PCUN-Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United). PCUN is Oregon’s farmworkers union and the largest Latino organization in the state.

Lily Matlock of Lil' Starts also spoke at the meeting about her 2-acre urban farm located in the East Columbia neighborhood of NE Portland. Lil’ Starts uses permaculture and biodynamic principles to grow clean, healthy produce and robust productive plant starts for local farmers markets, restaurants, and their two CSA programs.

This mural and community meeting was an opportunity to meet people who are sowing radical seeds in Montavilla, and soak up some inspiration for your own community good works! 

Please consider donating to this project, to show your support for the artists time and creativity!


Viaduct Arts

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The Portland Street Art Alliance has been awarded an Oregon Community Foundation Creative Heights in support of the new Viaduct Arts: Central Eastside Mural Art Program. For the fifth consecutive year, Creative Heights grants fund a variety of artists and cultural projects throughout the state.  Each year, OCF provides Creative Heights Grants to up to 12 of the most innovative and culturally impactful proposals by artists and groups across Oregon. Support from OCF and generous donors expand opportunities for many of Oregon’s art communities to create work that advances the state’s artistic and cultural fields and engages traditionally underserved audiences. PSAA is truly honored to be a 2018 grant precipitant. Read more about Creative Heights and other exciting grant recipient projects here.

Viaduct Arts will support emerging artists from across Oregon in painting vibrant art murals in the heart of the Central Eastside Industrial District (CEID) of Portland in the Spring/Summer 2019.

Three established Portland street artists along with emerging artists from around Oregon will pair and take new risks to develop their public practice and skill-sets, build their connections, and promote more inclusive engagement and access to public art-making in the city.   Drawing inspiration from the district’s acronym CEID, this new program is intended to seed art making as an integral part of the district’s identity as a hub for innovation and culture building.

Street art can enrich everyday life, help build a city's identity, build bridges, and foster a sense of place and pride in our community.

The Viaduct Arts brings street art into everyday life in the CEID and aligns with, and elevates, several city and district community goals for:

  • Public place-making

  • Accessible spaces for art

  • Façade upgrades

  • Increasing safety

PSAA is dedicated to creating inclusive models for place and district-making by engaging diverse audiences and artists, and increasing access to public art opportunities, while seeding a new generation of emerging artists. Making strong visual use of under utilized spaces within the Central Eastside Industrial District increases alliance building and grassroots community engagement.

Murals PROVIDE ACCESS TO art without barriers of admission

Murals promote a sense of identity and belonging

Murals create a tangible sense of place

Read more about the benefits of murals

As a model for alliance building and grassroots involvement within the street art and business community, PSAA has garnered support from vital partners for this project.  The district-wide project will be coordinated in collaboration with the Central Eastside Industrial Council, Regional Arts & Culture CouncilCity of Portland's Office of Community & Civic Life's Graffiti Program, and most importantly local businesses and property owners.

Viaduct Arts brings together artists to build technical skills, and access support and resources, while pushing their creative boundaries.  Each participating artist is expected to hone skills that will support their increased ability to engage within their respective communities to seed arts across Oregon.

Portland is experiencing accelerated redevelopment and demographic changes, increasing the urgency for creation of spaces that welcome artists from across the state to work, grow, and thrive!

Emerging artists from underrepresented communities (BIPOC+, LGBTQ, Women, Disabled, Low SES), specifically those living across Oregon outside of the Portland metro area are particularly targeted for participation. Central to the success of this project is establishment of new connections for diverse artists to push their creative limits and make their voices heard in urban public spaces.  

PHASE 1 | Morrison Bridge Viaduct | Spring/Summer 2019

PHASE 2 | Hawthorne Bridge Viaduct | Spring/Summer 2020

PHASE 3 | CEID Mural District | On-Going


How can you help? Consider making a tax-deductible donation to support this new program! The secured grant funding covers artist and management time, but support is needed from business and property owners to help pay for additional paint and supplies.

 "You pay for the paint - We make it happen!”



Please email us at or fill out this form:



Volunteer, Help us make this happen!

PSAA is a volunteer run organization. Many of the public art projects we do depend on the community coming together to make them happen! Please fill out the Volunteer Interest Form below to get involved. 




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In 2018, the Portland Street Art Alliance launched the Taylor Electric Project at Clay Creative, a collaborative, open-air street art gallery that features the work of over 100 artists. For over a decade, the ruins of the Taylor Electrical Supply Company, located on 240 SE Clay St., became a Portland nexus of local, regional, and national graffiti and street art following a fire that left only the burnt-out husk of walls, a perfect canvas for street art within Portland’s ever-changing Central Eastside District. In 2015, what remained of the building was demolished but with the support of Killian Pacific, Portland Street Art Alliance is collectively rebuilding the Taylor Electric Project into a haven for street art once again.


In July 2018, Portland Street Art Alliance co-hosted an all-day all-ages event that included live-paintings, artist commissions, live music, a dance battle, local pop-ups, food carts, local beer, skateboarding ramps, and more. Over 2,000 members from the community came out to celebrate this new chapter in  Taylor Electric's history. Huge thanks to all the event staff, volunteers, and artists for making this event happen! It was a true community-driven event in every sense. 

News Coverage of the Taylor Electric Project (Click on Links Below)

© All photos copyright of credited owner. Do not use without permission. 




For over a decade, the burnt-out ruins at SE 2nd and Clay served as Portland's most famous space for graffiti– a free open art gallery that attracted artists and onlooks from near and far.  

Built in 1936 by the Loggers & Lumberman’s Investment Company, the warehouse at 240 SE Clay (previously 352 E Clay St) served as a home to many different businesses through its lifetime at its picturesque location at the east-end of the Central Eastside Industrial District. In the 1990s, the Rexel Taylor Electrical Supply Company purchased the building and used it as a storefront and warehouse for electrical supplies.

On the night of May 17, 2006, a stack of pallets outside the building caught fire. Fueled by the electrical supplies inside, a massive 4-alarm fire broke out. Over 125 fire-fighters from Portland and nearby cities worked around the clock trying to extinguish the blaze and protect nearby buildings. Burning for over 24 hours, the fire sent a river of debris into the nearby Willamette River.

Taylor Electrical Supply had plans to rebuild and sell the property, but that fell through, so the charred skeleton of the warehouse sat abandoned for over a decade. The ruins blossomed into a unique and iconic local landmark - a sanctuary for artists, rebels, and outcasts. When people visited Portland and wanted to see graffiti, Taylor Electric was an obvious and easily accessible destination. Cultural activities from dances, circuses, and bicycle chariot wars used Taylor Electric as a gritty stage and backdrop.

In many booming west coast cities, space for unanticipated interactions and unauthorized art are rapidly diminishing. However, these derelict spaces serve important functions for many creatives. Artists are often some of the first to find, occupy, and re-use dilapidated spaces. These cracks of the urban fabric fall outside the watchful eye of neighbors and police.

There is an inherent uncertainty and unpredictability of abandoned spaces where graffiti often gravitates. These spaces often provide the raw material conditions that incubated new ways of expression and imaginative thinking. Graffiti’s ephemeral and nomadic nature contributes to its resiliency and allure. For these reasons, the aesthetics of Taylor Electric were addictive for many, including artists, tourists, academics, journalistsphotographers, and videographers. 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.

Rumors of demolition and redevelopment plans of Taylor Electric had been circulating for years. With Portland’s booming economy and population this change was inevitable. As power and urban space collide, developers inevitably would redevelop this centrally located property. A family-owned local development company, Killian Pacific eventually purchased the property intending to develop it into a new office campus called Clay Creative. Thankfully, Killian Pacific appreciated the cultural history and raw beauty of the space and decided to preserve and reinforce part of the old south-facing retaining wall, incorporating it into the new building.

In the months leading up to its demise, the art at 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 a post-apocalyptic scene bursting with color.

On May 10th, 2015 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 covered the demolition, 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. During this time, the Portland Street Art Alliance (PSAA), a local arts non-profit that advocates for and manages street art projects in the pacific northwest, started pitching the ideas of hosting a gallery art show in commemoration of the old space. Donations immediately started coming in from community members and businesses. PSAA connected with Killian Pacific and the main tenant of the building, Simple Bank. From these new partnerships, a new idea was born – bring graffiti art back to the site, but this time, provide artists time, structure, and funding to really make a huge splash. The collective aim was to honor and continue the history of this unique art sanctuary. To create a new rotating public art gallery displaying fresh works from pacific-northwest and visiting artists.

Since 2017, the Taylor Electric Project at Clay Creative has been managed by PSAA with support of local businesses. Over 100 regional artists have painted murals at the site, completely covering the underground garage and old remaining walls of the warehouse.

On July 21st, 2018, PSAA organized a team of Portland-based artist collectives to co-host a huge block party. Over 2,000 people came to celebrate the completion of the new murals. The block party had live painting by over 20 artists, live bands, a dance battle organized by Find a Way, a pop-up skate park erected by D-Block, kids activities, a food and beer garden, and an art fair in the garage where local artists sold merchandise and did live screen printing.

Portland Street Art Alliance plans to make this an annual block party event that brings together artists from around the pacific northwest to celebrate and further seed art into the Central Eastside Industrial District and the City of Portland.





Working in partnership with Killian Pacific and Simple Bank, PSAA has managed several interior office mural at Clay Creative, with plans for more. The aim is to provide local artists access to commission opportunities, and provide workers with an inspiring everyday environment to be in, in the heart of Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial District. 


In 2017, PSAA began organizing rotating painting inside the parking garage at Clay Creative. All garage murals are done on a volunteer basis by both PSAA and participating artists. These walls provide much needed space to build  portfolios, experiment with new designs, and painting techiques. 

GET INVOLVED in 2019 block party...

Please consider volunteering, vending, donating, or sponsoring the next event. All of the management team donates their time up front, works together, and makes this all happen! Contributions are tax-deductable. 


Young Artists Empowerment Camp

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In August 2018, Portland Street Art Alliance and WolfBird Dance hosted the first annual one-week summer camp for female-identifying youth ages 11-14. YAE! Young Artists Empowerment Camp was held at Clay Creative in the Central Eastside Industrial District of Portland. This program provides youth a platform to develop their artistic voices and find empowerment through art and dance. 

During the one-week camp, ten youth from diverse communities across Portland were provided street art and street dance training, accompanied by workshops to learn about the pillars of hip hop and the history and background of this culture: Graffiti (freedom of expression in public space), MC-ing (rhythmic poetry, aka rapping), DJ-ing (artfully blending melodies using a turntable), Breakdancing (a highly expressive style of street dancing), and Knowledge (skills and community building). We dove deep into the fundamentals of hip-hop dance, focusing on free-styling techniques, battling tactics, and how to learn and remember choreographed patterns. They also received lessons in letter-making, drawing, aerosol painting techniques, mural composition, and paint safety.

YAE! Camp provides young women a platform to feel empowered and become creative, productive, and confident members of our community. YAE! Camp offered instruction from an eclectic staff of dancers and artists to display diversity in all forms of artistic professionalism. We brought guest speakers throughout the week to talk about their art and other programs happening in Portland, also lead by women. With the culmination of this camp, students worked together to create a choreographed dance, participate in an all female dance battle, and collaborate on the development of four different murals (one of which is still on display to the public at 420 SE Clay St in Portland). Our students presented these performances and murals at our final YAE! Camp wrap party, closing out the program with an opportunity for our young artists to show off their new skills to friends, family, and the community.



Daily black book sketch sessions help get creative energies flowing



Daily guest speakers helping to teach, inspire, and build community



Break out sessions with local DJs to learn the basics of turntable mixing


In the mornings, camp participants were guided by mentors from WolfBird Dance to explore how freestyle and hip-hop can provide empowerment, healing, and comfort in one’s own body. With the support of five main dance camp mentors, we taught the fundamentals of different styles of hip hop such as Krump, Wacking, and popping. We also provided the tools and understanding of how to develop your own freestyle voice and what techniques to use in a battle, while simultaneously teaching the importance of how to learn and retain hip hop technique and choreography. On the final day of YAE! Camp, our ten campers performed their choreography and participated in a final all-female dance battle.

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Learn the fundamentals of hip hop freestyle dance

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Coming together to develop new moves, encouraging each other to let loose

2018 YAE Camp | Dance Re-Cap



The afternoon session was led by members of the Portland Street Art Alliance. Campers were guided through the entire process of creating a mural, including visualizing, sketching, and painting with aerosol and brush basic techniques. They were provided both one-on-one and group lessons with PSAA’s mentors. The final collaborative YAE! Camp Mural is on-display in the garage of Clay Creative, now a part of the larger Taylor Electric Project, a historic site in the Central Eastside of Portland that provides rotating wall space for local artists.



Daily aerosol spray painting lessons from established local artists



Learning to work together as a team to create something bigger

2018 YAE Camp | Art Re-Cap


Guest Artists + Speakers

Throughout YAE! Camp, we brought many local guest speakers to spend time with the students and share their art forms and life experiences. This provided an opportunity for the girls to communicate and interact with artists they look up to in a non lecture/authoritative setting. It was important for us to ensure that the girls felt like a part of our community and that they could speak to their role models in ways that would encourage seeing themselves in these artistic roles. This year, our guest speakers included:

• DeAngelo Raines (Art Not Crime), who spoke about the history of graffiti and hip hop culture.

• Local female street artists, Wokeface (@wokeface), All the Veg (@alltheveg), and Flowering Jane (@flowering_jane), who showed the girls their work and the wide range of styles that street art can embody.

• Local female DJ, Kaeli Hertz, who taught about mixing and turntable techniques as well as her experience in the industry.

• Ella Marra-Ketalaar, a Community Engagement Coordinator at the Regional Arts & Culture Council.

• Jesus Rodales (Find A Way), a local Portland dancer and activist encouraging cultural understanding of hip hop dance, who taught about the origins and history of street dance.

• Daisy Lim, a dancer from New Zealand, who taught the fundamentals of Krump and how to use creativity and imagination to be a storyteller with movement.

• Katie Janovec (The Aspire Project), a Portland based dancer who spoke about the fundamentals of popping.

• Bao Pham (ADAPT), another Portland based dancer who demonstrated the possibilities of movement by combining many styles of hip hop, creating her own unique movement vocabulary.


Wrap Party

On the final day of YAE! Camp, we encouraged a “show and share,” an opportunity for the girls to share something unique about them, and a time for us as mentors, to encourage the girls to use this individuality in their art. Many students shared from their black books (YAE! Camp provided sketch books, for the girls to keep and practice in) their drawing styles.

One student from Mongolia shared her new found passion for taking graffiti style lettering and transposing it onto Mongolian letters. Two other students taught us about traditional African and Mexican dance. They brought the oufits required for these dance styles and performed some of the dances for us. One student told us she now likes experimenting with incorporating traditional African dance moves into her freestyle practices.

Camp was extended by two hours to invite friends, family, and the community to come see what we created and learned together. Students performed a choreographed dance, showing off their new moves and training on how to collaborate, move through space and remember choreography. Their participation in an all-female dance battle, showed their knowledge of artistic choice in free-styling and freedom of expression through dance. We then presented their group murals. The teams presented why they chose their design, what it meant to them, and their favorite camp experiences. This event was not only an opportunity for our students to show their work, but also a chance for the community to see what we can be build when a safe space for learning and creativity is provided to young emerging artists.


Feedback + Testimonials

The response and support of YAE! Camp from our students, parents, and community was unbelievably humbling. During the wrap party, students also had the opportunity to provide camp organizers feedback on the week's activities. A short anonymous survey was distributed to the youth. Eight of the nine girls ‘strongly agreed’ that they liked YAE Camp and would want to attend again, with one girl saying they ‘agreed’ and would 'maybe' come back. 

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Getting Involved

The pilot YAE Camp was run by two volunteer non-profits. Now that we have proof of concept, we plan to apply for more grant support. If you would like to volunteer to help us make this happen again, please email us at We need help with finding funding, writing grant proposals, securing donations, business sponsorships, and with camp logistics. 

The cost of the 5-day summer camp is $300 per student. This fee pays for instructor stipends, guest speakers, dance and painting supplies, and refreshments for the week and wrap party. Several business-sponsored, needs-based scholarship spaces will be available to those in need.

All donations to YAE Camp are tax-deductible. Major sponsors will be acknowledged on the project website and announcements. 

Follow @YAECampPDX on Instagram and Facebook for updates!


One of YAE! Camp’s main goals will always be providing affordable access to quality arts training. In its first year, we awarded seven 100% scholarships, one 75% scholarship, and one 50% scholarship. YAE Camp 2018 was partially funded by a seed grant from the Open Meadows Foundation. In addition to sponsoring 3 schalorship spots, Killian Pacific provided the use of vacant space in Clay Creative for the camp. Ike's Tug & Supply (@kobrapaint_ikestugandsupply) donated all of the spray paint. 


Email us at

GATS + N.O. Bonzo Mural

Portland Street Art Alliance’s (PSAA) new mural at SE 35th & Division is creating quite a stir. Located on the walls of the historic Oregon Theater, this mural was recently painted by world–renowned artist GATS (@gatsptv), and long-time local Portland artist and activist, N.O. Bonzo (@nobonzo).

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On May 1st 2018, Joseph McMillin, the property manager of the Oregon Theater, reached out to PSAA asking for help to beautify the building. Joseph had contacted PSAA back in 2012, but at that time, our small community advocacy group was just starting off, and not prepared to take on a project of this size. Six years later, PSAA is now a registered 501(c)3 non-profit that works to cultivate a more democratic culture of creative expression in the City of Portland. We form alliances between communities (art, business, governmental) to advocate for more equitable city policies and place-based programs, and provide diverse emerging artists access to resources, networking platforms, professional development, and paid commissioned work. We also work to engage the public in arts, by organizing multi-faceted events, interpretive tours, student internships, and panel talks. Since our founding, PSAA has spearheaded over 20 local art projects, and worked with 68 local and visiting artists. PSAA was much better equipped to help Joseph and the Oregon Theater add vibrant art to their building this time around!

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PSAA has managed the painting of similar murals around town, on Alexis Foods and Clay Creative, bringing a variety of artistic styles to transform blank walls into vibrant public spaces for the benefit of the community. Even with a large following and network, PSAA is still a burgeoning local organization, with no paid staff. We operate on small budgets and rely on a lot of volunteers to make what we do happen. Sometimes our projects are supported with community donations, or commission fees, other times, the property and business owners are able to chip in to support the costs of mural making.

A few days prior to being contacted by the Oregon Theater, PSAA was notified that our longtime friend from the Bay Area, GATS was planning a quick visit to Portland the following week. Joseph wasn’t able to provide any funding for the mural work, but PSAA did not want to miss the opportunity to have GATS paint a new mural in Portland. The Oregon Theater allowed PSAA to pick the artists, so this was the obvious choice. GATS was also willing to donate their time and some supplies for this project. PSAA covered the rest, paying approximately $400 for supplies from fees we charged for other for-profit commission work. 

We would like to share a bit of history about the two muralists, GATS and N.O. Bonzo and their work. Seeing the artwork is striking, but it is also important to know and understand the motivations and personal stories behind the imagery.

For 13 years, GATS, an artist from California, has brought their iconic mask imagery to blank walls all around the work. The mask, which is often likened to an octopus, represents a global identity that breaks down all barriers and prejudice. Inspired at a young age by the punk rock and skateboarding scenes, their iconic image has developed over time, and can be seen in cities and countries across the world from Jerusalem to the Philippines.

Pilsen Walls, Chicago IL

Pilsen Walls, Chicago IL

GATS focuses on painting artwork for struggling communities, such as the houseless and at-risk youth, many of whom don’t have access fine art and can’t visit galleries or museums. Last year, GATS recently painted a mural inside Janus Youth’s offices in downtown Portland. Since 1972, Janus Youth Programs has provided a second chance for at-risk youth with few resources, and no place to turn for help. In an interview with Street Roots, GATS explained:

When you’re houseless, you don’t own a wall, let alone art to hang on it. Most people in that situation don’t browse Instagram for entertainment or feel socially comfortable hanging out in galleries. A mural to someone in this situation will have infinitely more meaning than someone purchasing a painting to decorate their house. I paint houseless shelters to give the building soul. Oftentimes they feel institutional. Your environment has a huge effect on your psyche. If your room looks like a jail, you’re going to act like you’re in jail. If your room feels like a home, you’re going to take pride in it. Also, when you’re low, you don’t want to be bombarded with over-positivity that comes off as insincere. I just wanted to make the place look cool without it feeling preachy. The last thing you want is to feel like you’re being judged when you ask for help. Seeing something familiar when you walk into a space makes you feel like you’re in the right place.” [Street Roots, 4/20/17]

Janus Youth, Portland OR

Janus Youth, Portland OR

GATS is also well-known in the contemporary art world, as galleries are eager to show their work. GATS has had sold-out solo shows in Hashimoto Contemporary (San Francisco), Spoke Art (Spoke Art), Takashi Murakami's Hidari Zingaro Gallery (Tokyo), and many more. They have a significant fanbase and following on social media, with even legendary street art documentarians Martha Cooper and Herny Chalfant being followers and amongst their gallery show audiences. Every time a new GATS artwork goes up in a city, a flurry of art lovers and photographers scurry to go see and document the work. The character is a true symbol of universal humanity and grassroots resistance that tens of thousands of people around the world identify with.

Local Portland artist N.O. Bonzo has been painting with GATS for over a decade, here in Portland and in cities across the Pacific Northwest. N.O. Bonzo is a notable and highly respected artist and printmaker in her own right. Her work focuses on anti-fascist imagery, women's resistance, environmentalism, sex worker rights, and police/prison abolition. N.O. Bonzo’s strikingly beautiful style often focuses on powerful female imagery often adorn with local and medicinal plants. She is known for her meticulous attention to detail, mixing her own homemade vegan inks, inlaying gold leaf, and even painting with rust. In 2014, she hosted a gallery art show at Portland’s Upper Playground called “Drowntown” raising awareness of Portland’s epidemic of depression and suicide.  The red string held by the women in the Oregon Theater mural, are a nod to weaver and spinners guilds. 

N.O.Bonzo and Circleface Mural | Dekum Community Garden Portland, OR

N.O.Bonzo and Circleface Mural | Dekum Community Garden Portland, OR

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In a recent local interview, she described her personal experiences and the motivations behind her artwork:

“I think a lot of us who are drawn to doing this work, do so because we in some way have these overwhelming personal experiences and dominant cultural narratives telling us we don’t matter and no one values us. I came from a lot of trauma and domestic violence, and pretty early on saw the state’s unwillingness to intervene in that violence, and the communities’ (at that time) inability or lack of concern around disrupting it. A lot of the organizing and work I do nowadays surrounds community intervention and support around domestic and sexual violence. Most of my pieces are highly personal in ways that for me are easiest to communicate visually. I draw the people I do because you don’t often see women portrayed in anything other than highly consumable and passive objects. The only place you’re ever going to find folks who are telling their own stories in city space, is with the traditional and modern mural artists, graff writers, and street artists. I want to see folks who experience marginalization getting up and taking space in completely unapologetic and challenging ways in whatever feels best for them. For me the space that I’m drawn to challenge those dominant narratives, is on city property.” [It's Going Down, 8/16/16]

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Portland Street Art Alliance is honored to work with these two immensely talented and passionate artists, and we are thankful to the Oregon Theater for allowing this artwork to be shown on their walls and providing us a canvas to create new public art in the City of Portland.

Rotating Graffiti Art Walls

A brief overview of several rotating graffiti art walls in the U.S. 

Tacoma Graffiti Garages | Tacoma, Washington [2008-2013]

The City of Tacoma partnered with a private property owner to transform an open-air parking garage in downtown into a free space for graffiti. Paint was only permitted on Sundays only. This program was done in partnership with the City of Tacoma and its impact was tracked by the city. The city aimed to: 1) connect with artists who would not necessarily apply for a permit or grant and 2) provide a safe space for people to paint in public. In their research, the city found that graffiti in the immediate vicinity increased slightly, but the overall amount of graffiti found in the city reduced. The free wall in essence concentrated graffiti into a centralized space. The graffiti garages became a community gathering space, tourist attraction, and populate film and video shoot location. A few complaints were received early on, but pushback eventually subsided. Eventually in late 2013, the garage owner chose to stop allowing graffiti at the site citing safety and overuse as the cause for their decision.

Community Chalkboard | Charlottesville, Virginia [2007-Present]

The Community Chalkboard + Podium is an interactive, democratic, and uncensored monument to the first amendment, offering the public a venue to practice of the right to free expression. The chalkboard is 60’ by 7’ high, and made of slate. It is located directly in front of Charlottesville City Hall and is part of an area known as First Amendment Plaza. Due to the low barrier medium, a wide array of people interact with this wall on a daily basis. This project joins educators, artists, and designers with local youth to explore and interpret the places where they live. It acts as a public discussion board for a variety of discourse including political, social and global issues. It has received an Urban Excellence Silver Medal in the Bruner Award Program. The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression manages the wall, and the design came from Architects Peter O'Shea Wilson and Robert Winstead. Cleaning and maintenance is done mostly by volunteers who live or work nearby, and it is cleaned at least twice a week since it is so popular.

Free Expression Tunnel | Raleigh, North Carolina [1968-Present]

A long pedestrian tunnel under the railroad tracks at North Carolina State University has served as a public free wall since 1968, when it was first painted to celebrate returning veterans.  Anyone is permitted to decorate the tunnel walls at any time. Campus clubs and organizations often paint the tunnel to promote events and graffiti artists use it as practice space. Since 2010 there has been an ongoing tradition of a weekly ‘freestyle cypher’ where local artists and students gather to freestyle, beat box, sign, play instruments, recite poetry and network. The tunnel has only had one documented issue come up, which occurred after President Obama was elected. Racist graffiti appeared with threats against Obama. The U.S. Secret Service quickly identified the four students responsible for the hate graffiti and the students were expelled.

Post Alley in Pike Place | Seattle, Washington [1993-Present]

Since 1907, this labyrinthine of angled streets and steep grades in downtown Seattle has maintained a distinctive physical and cultural character. One of the main points of interest of Pike Place, for both locals and visitors alike is Post Alley. This alley gets its name from the Seattle Post, which used to be located at the alley's southern end. Today, the narrow alley passage is famous for its gum and wheatpaste art wall. The gum tradition began in 1993 by patrons of a nearby theatre. It is unclear how long the wheatpaste art wall has existed, but it's past is likely intertwined with the historic tradition of pasted city notices and advertisements, especially considering this is a high-traffic corridor once occupied by a newsprint company. With both the gum and wheatpaste walls, the Pike Place Market management and the City of Seattle police take a “hands off” approach to these public interventions, allowing and even somewhat encouraging freedom of speech and expression in these spaces. Both have become a huge tourist-draw, attracting visitors to participate in this public intervention and snap photos. Over the years, the gum has spread quite a bit. So much so that local street artists have attempted to clean the gum off the wheatpaste side of the alley. The City of Seattle's sanitary department finally stepped in to help clean off some of the build-up in 2015. City crews undertook a multi-day process to completely clean the alley. Within hours of being clean the gum started to re-appear and artists from all over the Pacific Northwest descended upon the alley to reclaim one side of the alley for pasted paper art. For the foreseeable future, Post Alley is one of the United States most open and accessible spaces for public art and expression. No permits or scheduling is needed, just show up anytime of the day or night with a pack of gum or wheat paste and go to work

TUBS | Seattle, Washington [2007-2014]

For 7 years, the former 104-year old building known as TUBS sat vacant at the corner of 50th and Roosevelt in the University District, amidst a bustling urban neighborhood. In 2009, the building owner thought it's demise was near, so they invited graffiti artists to use the 12,000-square-foot space as a canvas for their art and expression in the meantime. The owner wanting to provide the community an "ephemeral and evolving" piece of curated street art. Over time, the space opened up even more to other artists, and it essentially became a free wall - a hot spot for Seattle graffiti. A year after the free wall began, the City had received over 900 graffiti complaints. But the building owner fought back, citing their private property rights and community appreciation for the art. By this point, TUBS had become a tourist destination and like many graffiti meccas, served as an urban backdrop for photographers and filmmakers. In response to the complaints, the City of Seattle said they're hands were tied and they had no power to force the owner to clean up their building. Seattle City Attorney Ed McKenna said, "Legally, we're in a difficult position. We can't force the owner to remove his graffiti, so we have pretty much have exhausted every remedy." The City of Seattle defines graffiti as "unauthorized markings." The difference with TUBS was that the building owner willingly allowed their building to become a "free wall," so the City of Seattle could not fine or penalize them for graffiti. The free wall at TUBS continued for 6 more years until 2014 when it was finally demolished to make way for a large condo building. The TUBS free wall was an important piece of Seattle's urban art history and unique when it comes to other cities in the U.S.

SODO Freewall | Seattle, Washington [2012-2013]

The owners of a warehouse building on Occidental Avenue across from the Starbucks Headquarters, in the SODO neighborhood of Seattle welcomed graffiti artists of all types to come create art on an over 100-foot wall that backs up to the train tracks. This was a non-formally managed project where artists have free reign, and the work changed often. Because the project was on private property and backs to an industrial area, there was minimal conflict with the larger community over the activity and content surrounding the project.  

Olympia Free Wall | Olympia, Washington [2000-Present]

This free wall is located on the backside of the State Theater, in downtown Olympia. It is part of a network of urban alleyways. The walls near the free wall are marked with warning signs to not paint here and are buffed regularly to control spill-over graffiti.  

HOPE Outdoor Gallery | Austin, Texas [2011-Present]

This ‘community paint park’ is located in downtown Austin, TX. This educational project is managed by the non-profit HOPE Events and was launched in 2011 with the help of street artist Shepard Fairey. The paint park provides artists, arts education classes, and community groups the opportunity to display large-scale art pieces driven by inspirational, positive and educational messaging. The park has broadened based on the response from local families, community members and the Austin Creative Class. It has become an inspirational outlet and creative destination for all that come to visit and is recognized as one of the Top 10 Artistic destinations in Texas. The park has provided many benefits to the community including job creation for local artists, connections to art commissions, a site for school classes and field trips, live art projects, dance videos, breakdancing and urban agriculture classes. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery is located on private property. Anyone over 18 years old who wants to paint must register beforehand by emailing the coordinators. An adult must accompany any youth wishing to paint or visit. When registering, artists are asked to fill out a question form, provide proof of ID, submit a sketch or mock-up of the art intended, and sign a waiver in order to receive credentials. The park is only open for painting between 9am and 7pm daily, and no one is allowed to paint after dark. Painting passes are available for pick-up on Saturdays and Sundays during designated hours. Painters without proper credentials (a painting pass) are asked to leave and may be subject to arrest for trespassing. All participants must respect the existing art, be courteous to the neighborhood and dispose of all your trash. In January of 2018 it was announced that the HOPE Outdoor Gallery is relocating and expanding with the creation of a new six-acre project launching at Carson Creek Ranch in southeast Austin.

5Pointz | Long Island City, Queens, New York City [1993-2014]

Starting in 1993, developer Jerry Wolkoff gave permission to a group of graffiti artists to decorate his building to try and deter vandalism in the area. Over time, the building became covered in vibrant street art and the building was rented to artists as studio space. The space was managed as a rotating art wall and artists needed to arrange to paint ahead of time. It was a mecca for artists from all over the world to come and add to the murals.  For over 20 years, the location was a tourist destination, and also helped Long Island City become the vibrant neighborhood it is now. The owner eventually tore down the building, and the site is now the subject of a federal court case filed by the artists who say the artwork itself was their property based on the Visual Artists Rights Act. (V.A.R.A). The photos below were taken in 2014 after the notorious buffing of 5Pointz by owner Jerry Wolkoff. 

Special thanks to PSAA Intern Erika Galt for help researching and editing this article. 


In 2017, Portland Street Art Alliance organized the painting of a new community mural at the corner of SE 30th & Belmont. This mural honors the rich history of the Sunnyside Neighborhood & Belmont District. The mural was sponsored by a grant from SE Uplift’s Small Community Grants Program, along with support from the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, local businesses, and generous neighbors. 

This 100-foot long mural was designed and painted by emerging street artist, Mado Hues (@murky.mind), being their largest public art project to date. Each of the 10 panels represent significant pieces of Sunnyside history, such as its early rural and pioneer histories, its historic built environment, unique transportation history (being the first streetcar era neighborhood), iconic local landmarks, prominent businesses and sacred spaces, and its dynamic cultures of art and sustainability. Working closely with PSAA researchers, a local artist developed concept sketches for the panels that embodied symbols of the Sunnyside neighborhood's past and present. 


Explore the mural panels and some of the history of the Sunnyside neighborhood and Belmont Business District. 


PSAA donated all of their management time, and volunteers assisted with many aspects of the project, including wall prep, community outreach, and architectural detail painting. PSAA connected with the neighborhood via print and social media, on-the-ground flyers, and word-of-mouth. Some people just simply passed by the mural, and offered to lend a helping hand. Dozens of community members including children, teens, elders, and local houseless community contributed to mural project in some way. 


The original Belmont Mural was painted by muralist Jennifer “Jenny” Joyce and volunteer community members in September 1996. The mural was a result of the efforts of the AmeriCorps Members for Neighborhood Safety, a 1996 AmeriCorps Program. Artist, Jennifer Joyce, was sponsored by the Neighborhood Arts Program, Regional Arts & Culture Council. The mural was further supported by Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, Bitar Brothers Corp (the property owner), Graffiti Abatement Program, SE Uplift, Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, local schools, businesses, and neighbors. SOLVE also donated a lot of the paint that was used. This was a true community mural painting project with about 20 to 30 community members painting, including students, and several AmeriCorps volunteers, who also provided invaluable assistance with doing much of community outreach, organizing, and logistical work. Jennifer is a longtime fine artist and muralist, and designed the basic structure of the mural based on what she had learned about the area, and gathering input from people in the community. Jennifer also based the design for the original mural off the architecture of the building. 

In 2004, the Belmont Mural had been damaged by graffiti. Jennifer and several community members in the Portland art community, including Joanne Oleksiak and Joe Cotter of the Portland Mural Defense restored the mural, which had to be thoroughly cleaned and repainted.

Since the mid 1960's, Jennifer has painted all over Oregon, including murals in the Salem Hospital, schools, libraries, and several McMenamins, along with Portland's "grandfather of community art," the late Joe Cotter. Jennifer now lives in NE Portland. You can see some of her paintings at the Portland Art Museum's Gallery, McMenamins, and her murals in Estacada, OR. Jennifer has been working in collaboration with the Artback Artists Co-op for the past 25 years on Estacada murals. Each year, the Co-op has a different artist as the lead (Jennifer has lead the painting of three of those murals).

We are thankful to have received Jennifer's blessing on the Keep on the Sunnyside Mural, and hope that the new art lives up to the last, and keeps its original spirit alive. 


Combining research, photos, and archival materials, this interactive site allows you to explore the mural and history of the neighborhood.

Explore more of Sunnyside's rich history, from pioneering legends to oral histories from everyday people who lived and worked in Sunnyside. Comb through archival photos of the places we cherish and recongize today, and remember and honor the history we have lost.  

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Learn more about the annual Sunnyside Piazza Intersection Repair Project at SE 33rd & Yamhill. Since the year 2000, the community has come together to repaint this special intersection. It has become an important part of Sunnyside’s neighborhood identity and an icon of DIY Portland public art. This event is fully supported by volunteers, and funded by local residents and businesses. 


Have unique stories about Sunnyside or Belmont history, old neighborhood photos, or Artifacts? Want volunteer for the 2018 Sunnyside Piazza Repainting? Contact Us!

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Let Dreams Soar, but Not on Your Private Property

The “Let Dreams Soar” mural is located in St Johns neighborhood of Portland. This privately commissioned piece of art was recently given a stern warning by the City of Portland. The mural, created by longtime local artist, Adam Brock Ciresi was created over the span of 4 days, and depicts crows and children soaring through the sky with DIY wooden wings, under the iconic St. Johns Bridge.

Let Dreams Soar Mural Pic 1.jpg

Shortly before the mural was completed, the homeowner who commissioned the piece received a notice from the City of Portland. A neighbor made a complaint to the City, simply stating “Adding murals to the house without permits. Children jumping off St. John Bridge.”

Even though there are plenty of grey areas in the City’s complicated mural code, and the fact that there are plenty of un-permitted murals around on residential properties, the City was forced to respond to the complaint and take action.

Per the City’s current laws, murals are prohibited on private residential buildings with fewer than five dwelling units. Therefore, the “Let Dreams Soar” mural was not able to be permitted since it is on a single-family house. The City ordered the owner to buff it immediately or face massive daily fines.

Ciresi tried everything he could to secure a permit before staring the mural. However, like many other artists and property owners in Portland, they thought they would just take their chances and paint. Right now, the City is technically forced to consider this mural as an illegal “sign.”

A petition to save the mural was started by local supporter. As of Sept 11th 2017, the petition gathered an astounding 6,619 signatures. Even City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly signed it – the person it was to be delivered to, as the head of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) and BDS, the bureau of the City that oversees and issues mural permits.

Commissioner Eudaly has thankfully now stepped in more directly, putting a pause on BDS giving any citations or fines. The City hopes to figure out a way of amending the law, and make it possible to process residential murals within the current code. Working with Commissioner Eudaly and the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), Ciresi continues to push efforts forward to find a resolution and make this change in law happen.

“It’s sort of an archaic law that we are up against,” says Ciresi. With the support of the homeowner who commissioned the mural, Ted Occhialino, and a large number of St. Johns and Portland-area residents, Ciresi is gearing up to fight this in court. “If that means we’re becoming an advocate for loosening these laws around public art and where they can and can’t be placed, then so be it. I’m ready,” said Ciresi to the news.

The City of Portland is long overdue to re-evaluate its mural laws which were created back during the early 2000s after a long legal battle following a law suit by Clear Channel. Many things have changed since then, and the phenomenon of urban street art has since exploded across the world. Portland needs to accommodate for this new and ever-evolving landscape of creativity and intervention. Along with the residential building restriction, PSAA has also asked the City to modernize and automate its mural application process, and re-evaluate the 5-year rule to allow for curated, rotating art spaces in the city.   

On August 26, 2017, Ciresi was invited to participate remotely in the Veterans of Peace Conference in Chicago, a national non-profit organization dedicated to the abolishment of war. Within the forum, Dan Shea, Veteran and Mural Coalition participant, talked about the mural controversy and the importance of mural art and activism. In the interview with Ciresi, they discussed the mural’s legal issues and the uplifting motivations behind it. “Art is something that confronts people and has a different perspective to look at and they can imagine how it would be, the meaning of it, not just the skill, but the meaning of it all,” Shea states, referring to murals and artists like Ciresi. Shea is an artist as well, and also brings up his struggle with advertising companies when it comes to painting murals in public space. Veterans of Peace identifies strongly with the situation because they see the value of landmarks. Murals show a glimpse of history that belongs to the city and support the fact that murals, just like “Let Dreams Soar,” serve the community and become landmarks for younger generations.

This situation is unfortunately not unique - censorship of street art has happened in other cities around the U.S. It sometimes only takes one complaint to put a piece of public art at risk of being buffed. 

A now famous case surrounding two murals created for Living Walls in Atlanta Georgia were removed due to a few residents finding the works disturbing, offensive, and pornographic. Living Walls is an annual gathering of international street artists aimed at uplifting the community in a city with the nation’s highest number of foreclosures. One of the murals was painted by Argentine artist, Hyuro, and depicted a nude woman with a timid non-sexual demeanor.

Three months later, Pierre Roti, a French artist painted a self-funded mural of an alligator only to have it buffed a few days later. The image of an alligator-head man with a serpentine tail that was suppose to be an allegory about the brutality of capitalism, not a statement on religion or demons, as it was perceived by some residents. “The best thing you could say about the alligator painting was that people didn’t understand it… It absolutely did not represent what people want to see on a busy street every day,” Douglas Dean, former state representative expressed.

The Department of Transportation then stated that it wasn’t an issue of artistic value, but instead it was a matter of proper permits. Living Walls works in accordance with the property owners and permits from three city departments. The City Council members say otherwise—public art ordinance requires approval of the full Council, which Living Walls did not receive, hence its removal. It was also added that the state’s public art policy prohibited works that “include any content that could possibly divide a community”—welcoming Living Walls to put up new installations as long as they meet requirements.

Monica Campana, founder of Living Walls, worried that the decision of the removal of both pieces would stir fear in artists who come each August from all over the world—“no one wants to paint a wall that is going to get painted over. We don’t think we have to paint a rainbow and butterflies to make art that represents a community.”

Another similar case unraveled in 2016, when a mural in Toronto Canada came under siege. Homeowners commissioned a local artist, Kestin Cornwall, to create a mural of Drake; the well-known rapper. Fay and Small had purchased the Croft Street house with the knowledge of it being on artistic strip, and supported community artistic expression. A few days after the piece was completed, they received a letter stating that the City had been made aware of their property being vandalized and is in violation of Toronto Municipal Code.

This story made it to local CBC Toronto News, who then contacted the City of Toronto and had them send out a spokesperson to inspect the mural. His final verdict; “It’s fine.” The City responded that when they receive a complaint, the letter automatically sends to the homeowner rather than sending out an officer each time. Fay had a different opinion on the matter; “The City shouldn’t be sending out blanket letters, sight unseen… For a city to just blindly shut down a piece of art on a street that’s deemed kind of an art-alleyway, that’s just bizarre.”

The StreetARToronto (StArt) Program Manager, Lilie Zendel, has strived to push the street art scene and to add substance and strengthen communities, as well as to help disprove negative effects of graffiti vandalism. “I think at one point [street art] was looked as being marginal and not a really legitimate art form, and now I think it’s legitimacy has been established, and in a city with a lot of cement and grey buildings—we need colour,” Zendel stated.

In 2012, in Dublin, Ireland the mural “Repeal 8th” done by Maser was commissioned by The HunReal Issues. This political mural supported an amendment to Ireland’s constitution allowing women to have abortions legally in Ireland. The mural was removed after a complaint was made to City Council, saying it was in violation of the Planning & Development Acts (2000-2015).  A petition with over 4,000 signatures that were collected in one week with the hope of receiving full planning permission from Dublin’s City Council to restore the mural. “For me, it’s important that this is seen as an artwork and we’re supporting an artist’s idea to challenge the status quo…art can be political, art isn’t just entertainment.”

These types of cases bring up questions about who decides where and what can be put into our shared public spaces? Where does the line between private property rights start and end? How can the opinion of one person outweigh the opinions of thousands? When should the City step back and leave things to a community to decide when it comes to privately-funded street art on private property?

The question of whether negative artistic stimulation to an individual automatically ends up in a city complain and then therefore ending in the result of a removal of what is a piece of priceless art, can sound baffling to some.

Consider the visual stimulation of advertisement and marketing billboards; the public has little say over their quantity and quality, however the public is bombarded with capitalist-based market stimulation and visual pollution that litters our city streets and minds. Unlike art, advertisements push us to consume, pretend, and obey, but for some reason the permits for ads often go overlooked by cities when huge amounts of money is likely being lost due to not enforcing signage laws with these companies. Why come down on private property owners and artists who are trying to uplift our community and provide it a gift? Which one is worse?

Read more about the mural controversy:

KOIN News: City wants ‘controversial’ mural in N. Portland removed

Article by Lourdes Jimenez | Contributing Writer | Portland State University.

| 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. 

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,” nor will there ever be.

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...


Photo: Chris Christian

Photo: Chris Christian

Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance

Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance




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.  


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.