PSAA Projects

Produce Row Mural

In the fall of 2018, Portland Street Art Alliance (PSAA) was approached by Harsch Investments Properties. Harsch had recently purchased the old Coast Auto Supply building at SE 2nd & Stark in Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial District (CEID). In addition to repairing the windows and broken downspouts, Harsch was directed by the city to abatement the graffiti present on the outside of the building. Instead of just constantly buffing it, Harsch wanted to commission a mural by local artists that paid homage to the history of Produce Row. Located at 125 SE Stark St, this site has a long and colorful past, being in the heart of the city’s Produce Row for the past 83 years, and a popular space for graffiti art over the past decade. With Harsch’s support, PSAA hired a team of four lead artists from the MLS and 4SK crews in Portland to coordinate a massive dual-mural, wrapping around most of the warehouse along Stark, 2nd, and Oak Streets.


The Produce Row Mural

Over the past six years, Portland Street Art Alliance has spearheaded several street art projects in the Central Eastside Industrial District such as Taylor Electric, Alexis Walls (across the street from Coast Auto), and the upcoming Viaduct Arts project. While we understand cities always change, loosing Coast Auto as a “defacto” space for graffiti sat heavy with us. With the neighborhood undergoing intense redevelopment, we took this as an opportunity to maintain this site as a space for local art, as the change in ownership also came with more security patrols and a regular maintenance schedule.

PSAA wanted to ensure that local artists would still have access to the walls, so two teams of long-time Portland-based graffiti artists were hired to produce a design that was inspired by the history of the district, but with a fresh new twist to the traditional history murals. Digging through archive records, the team landed on a simple concept - massive piles of Willamette Valley fruits and vegetables. The team wanted to experiment with showcasing both sides of their artistic abilities; a concept that is very rarely seen. The final composition blended painterly techniques with their unique text-based graffiti lettering. This experiment manifested itself in overlaid wild-style graffiti lettering, keeping to the colors of the background imagery.


The mural painting took three months to complete, as the work had to be done incrementally due to Portland’s wet fall and winter weather. Most of the underlying base coats were done with bucket paint and rollers, and then the muralists added details with aerosol and brush paint.

PSAA is working with several Central Eastside property owners trying to ensure that art remains an integral part of the district’s identity. As the city and the district quickly changes beyond our collective control, we want to ensure that long time local graffiti culture is still part of the urban landscape. 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 such as this, while helping to support local and regional artists.

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Produce Row History

In 1913 Italian immigrants began establishing truck farms that supplied fruit and vegetable wholesalers in a bustling new riverside industrial district that became to be known as “Produce Row.” At the heart of this historic industrial area, are two parallel loading dock streets - 2nd & 3rd Avenues. These thoroughfares transect three viaducts - the Hawthorne Bridge, Morrison Bridge, and Burnside Bridge pass overhead creating deep cavern-like spaces cutting through the Central Eastside. In 1981 it was officially declared in as an ‘industrial sanctuary’ an effort to maintain its unique land use and character. Warehouses and storage facilities were a significant part of the district’s beginnings, and the area provided a variety of blue-collar jobs (Jones, 2014).

Today, SE 2nd and 3rd Avenues still rumble with heavy trucking activity, but the industrial uses have changed, with cleaner and lighter wholesalers, and an increasing number of exclusive commercial services, including fine dining restaurants, multi-media production, as well as high-end retail have begun moving into the CEID (Jones, 2014). This is juxtapose to Portland’s booming creative, tech, and service industry, which is closing in on this historic industrial sanctuary. The infamous DIY Burnside Skatepark lies just a few blocks north on SE 2nd Avenue, nestled underneath the Burnside Bridgehead surrounded by sparkling modern towers.

SE Alder St between 3rd and Union Avenues in 1940. The building on the left would later become Corno’s Market (City of Portland Archives)

SE Alder St between 3rd and Union Avenues in 1940. The building on the left would later become Corno’s Market (City of Portland Archives)

SE 3rd Avenue and SE Alder Street in 1950 (City of Portland Archives)

SE 3rd Avenue and SE Alder Street in 1950 (City of Portland Archives)

SE 3rd Avenue in 2018 (Portland Street Art Alliance)

SE 3rd Avenue in 2018 (Portland Street Art Alliance)

Produce Row used to be the home to dozens of produce warehouses, some of which are still in operation today. Family-owned Rinella Produce at 231 SE Alder St opened in 1914. The Rinella and Lombardo families immigrated from Sicily and Rome to the US. The business has been passed down from father to his son and is one of the oldest produce distribution buildings on the West Coast of the US.

Rinella Produce

Rinella Produce

Frank and David Rinella (Rinella Produce)

Frank and David Rinella (Rinella Produce)

Over the past three or four decades, Produce Row has nurtured newer generations of produce distributors. Pacific Coast Fruit Company at 201 NE 2nd Ave is another produce company that still exists on Produce Row. Pacific Coast was founded in 1977 by Emil Nemarnik. Today they have become one of the largest, independent produce distributors in the Northwest.

Pacific Coast Groundbreaking (Pacific Coast Fruit Company)

Pacific Coast Groundbreaking (Pacific Coast Fruit Company)

Alexis Foods at the corner of SE Stark and 2nd was established by Alexis Bakouros in 1987 after operating a successful Greek restaurant. Using his European contacts, Alexis was able to import high quality specialty foods from Greece, Spain, Italy and France. As the local market evolved and vendors emerged, Alexis Foods' product line expanded to also source crafted, locally sustainable products.

Even though Produce Row continues to thrive as a distribution hub, many of these warehouses and distributors are now gone, including the Independent Fruit and Produce Company pictured below. In the summer of 2017, Alexis Foods partnered with Portland Street Art Alliance to produce two murals by local artists, one of which depicts a series of Greek-style vases.

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Independent Fruit & Produce Co. at 705 SE MLK in 1932 (City of Portland Archives)

Independent Fruit & Produce Co. at 705 SE MLK in 1932 (City of Portland Archives)

Another lost landmark was the Corno family-owned produce market. Corno’s opened in 1951 and was a very popular and well-loved market in Portland. It closed its doors in 1995, and was torn down in 2006 to make way for a pipe project which runs under 3rd Ave now.

Corno Market (City of Portland Archives)

Corno Market (City of Portland Archives)

Today, the Sheridan Fruit Company at 409 SE MLK Blvd is the last of Portland’s ‘old-school’ produce markets. In 1916, John Sheridan started an open-air produce market on Union Avenue (now MLK Blvd). In 1946, the Poleo Brothers, whose family still owns and operates The Sheridan Fruit Company today, purchased the company and began a wholesale operation in 1950. 

Sheridan Fruit Company at 333 SE Alder St (Public Works Administration Archives)

Sheridan Fruit Company at 333 SE Alder St (Public Works Administration Archives)

Sheridan Fruit Company

Sheridan Fruit Company

Sheridan Fruit Company

Sheridan Fruit Company

Another Pacific Fruit & Produce Co. Building at SE 2nd & Alder, 1935 (City of Portland Archives)

Another Pacific Fruit & Produce Co. Building at SE 2nd & Alder, 1935 (City of Portland Archives)

The History of 125 SE Stark

Built in 1936, the building at 125 SE Stark St was originally home to Pacific Fruit and Produce, built and owned by the Portland Terminal Investment Company. Sometime in the 1980s it was purchased by Coast Auto Supply, which operated an auto supply business out of it until 2017 when it was acquired by Harsch.


Legal Wall Research Project

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In 2012, PSAA was founded as an advocacy group. Our friends were being pressured and harassed by the police for making art in the street, even when they had permission from owners. Art shows and galleries that supported street and graffiti art were being shut down. Since then, PSAA has been working behind-the-scenes to help advocate for this form of art and shape the future of street and graffiti art in Portland by advocating for new City policies.

This year, PSAA is working in a collaboration with Portland State University’s Urban Planning Department to develop a Legal Walls proposal to go before the Portland Council for city-wide approval. PSAA was one of a few organizations selected (including the Portland Bureau of Transportation, the City of Vancouver, the City of Monroe, and the Cathedral Park Neighborhood Association) by the department’s Master’s student senior workshop to participate in this initiative.

Working closely with PSAA, a team of students will craft a proposal to advance the City’s policies surrounding street murals and public art for the collective empowerment of Portland’s street artist community, drawing on street art best practices and case studies from around the world. The proposal will combine research, original data collection, and analysis to present policy alternatives allowing Portland to better leverage its thriving street arts culture and solidify the City’s identity as a haven for creatives.

By listening to stories from artists and free wall organizers from around the world, and working with policymakers, property owners, and other stakeholders, this team will co-develop recommendations supporting street art’s potential to achieve City-wide district revitalization goals and use art as a means to include the voices and perspectives of historically marginalized communities.

The final proposal will be available in summer 2019. To remain updated on the process, add your input, and lend your support for City Council approval, join the PSAA community list for notifications about upcoming related events.

Read more about free and legal walls.

Read more about the history of zero-tolerance graffiti policies in Portland.

Logo Design by @Rupeezy

Design Week Portland: Art in the Open Panel Talk @ Clay Creative


On April 10th, 2019, PSAA participated in a Design Week Portland panel discussion and non-profit fundraiser, organized by Killian Pacific and held at Clay Creative (the site of our recent Taylor Electric Project). The panel was moderated by Ann Hudner, an Art Consultant + Communications Strategist based in Portland, OR. Panelists included Adam Tyler, President of Killian Pacific, Tiffany Conklin & Tomás Valladares, Founders of the Portland Street Art Alliance, Kristin Calhoun, the Director of Public Art at the Regional Arts and Culture Council, Chris Herring, the Founder Portland Winter Light Festival, artists Alex Chiu, Lane Walkup, and Joe Thurston. The event also featured interactive art pieces, including a diatom-inspired LED interactive lantern show by Tor Clausen, hyperreal arrangements by Manu Torres, metallic dreams by Lane Walkup, and live mural painting by Alex Chiu, with assistance from several local Portland-based artists including HeySus, May Cat, and Vincent Kukua.

Panel Topic: Has the definition of public art expanded?

Our built environment is a canvas for artistic expression providing opportunities for artists that extend beyond the confines of gallery walls. How can we advocate for and broaden not only the understanding of public art, but the city’s expansive creative capacity and its potential to impact the cultural vibrancy of Portland? As individual property owners, real estate developers, government entities, community members and civic leaders incorporate the artistic community as active participants in a dynamic city, what is the role of public discourse and community engagement?

In this changing landscape where urban planning, business objectives and artistic expression intersect, what are the challenges and opportunities for meaningful change? How does one interpret beauty, cultural aesthetics and new art forms in public spaces? How do we celebrate the public art that currently exists or the experimental spaces and communities that are emerging? Where are the crossroads for public/private and city-wide collaboration?

Huge thank you to our friends at Killian Pacific for hosting this event. Thank you to the beverage sponsors: Union Wine Co., Dirty Pretty Brewing & Brew Dr. Kombucha.

Young Artists Empowerment Camp


YAE Camp is a partnership between several female-directed nonprofits and collectives. YAE! is a summer camp for young girls; an immersive experience designed to build confidence and empowerment for female identifying youth inside of typically male dominated artistic spaces. YAE! provides mentorship for female/femme/non-binary youth ages 12 to 17 years old. Participants came from diverse, historically marginalized communities, and under-served low-income homes in Portland are given top priority in the scholarship program. Students come from all different levels of technique and experience in visual art and dance. By the end of YAE!, campers learn the basics of aerosol painting and safety, and will have completed a large-scale permanent mural in SE Portland. Campers also showcase a dance they have helped choreograph and participate in a freestyle/cypher/jam session with local female dance artists. 2019 camp registration is open now!

Week 1: August 12-16, 2019 Week 2: August 19-23, 2019


Get Involved

If you would like to volunteer to help with YAE Camp, please email



The cost of the 10-day summer camp is $300 per student. This fee pays for art instructor stipends, guest speakers, mural-making supplies, and refreshments for the week. Each year, we aim to raise money from local businesses and community members who can donate to this cause, so we can offer needs-based scholarship spaces. Our goal is to make the camp available everyone, including under-served and diverse youth from all around Portland. Please consider donating to this important program. All donations are tax-deductible. Major sponsors will be acknowledged on the project website, AT THE EVENT, and IN SOCIAL MEDIA announcements. 

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 | Summer/Fall 2019-2020

PHASE 2 | Hawthorne Bridge Viaduct | Summer/Fall 2019-2020

PHASE 3 | CEID Mural District | On-Going

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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. 






The Portland Street Art Alliance has 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.

Taylor Electric BLOCK PARTY

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 NEXT block party

Date TBA | Sept 2019

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. 


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.


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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| 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 by @OddioPhoto

Photo by @OddioPhoto

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


All photos © Portland Street Art Alliance @OddioPhoto


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Sunnyside Piazza on Facebook and Instagram for updates! 

All Photos: © PSAA | © Anton Legoo


The Art Fills the Void! project took place during the summer of 2015 and was sponsored by SE Uplift’s Small Neighborhood Grants Program. This project included several community outreach, education, and networking events, including a comprehensive map of street art in SE Portland, a interpretive bicycle tour, a street art of SE Portland brochure, and the revitalization of Portland’s oldest “gorilla graffiti,” the iconic Art Fills the Void!  mural on SE 12th & Division.

The goal of this project was to provide more community resources and opportunities that promote livability and art in the streets of SE Portland. These types of experiences not only increase the number and diversity of people engaged in and connected to their communities thereby promoting stronger cultural and historical identities, but they also empower people to become active leaders with the skills and inspiration needed to continue to shape and improve their shared public spaces in the future.


The Art Fills the Void! project provided a public interpretive bicycle tour of existing murals and street art installations in the SE Uplift area of Portland. PSAA tour guides provided descriptions, histories, and explanations of the artwork seen at each tour stop.

PSAA tour guides provided a bicycle tour that provided descriptions, histories, and explanations of the artwork seen at each tour stop. Several local artists, activists, and academics participated by being guest speakers a tour stops; talking about various topics they focus on and experiences they’ve had painting murals in Portland.

Speakers included local artists Jon Stommel and The Lost Cause, who spoke about their experiences painting the Music Millennium mural in 2013 in collaboration with PSAA.

Local artists Paige Wright and Lord Blakley who spoke about their experiences painting murals for the 2014 Forest for the Trees project.

Representatives from the City of Portland including City Planner and mural permit program coordinator, Douglas Strickler and Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) Public Art Manager Peggy Kendellen provided overviews of both official systems for creating legal art in the streets.

Other speakers included Gage Hamilton, director of Forest for the TreesKohel Haver a lawyer who specializes in artistic copyright law, and PSU geography professor Hunter Shobe whose research focus on the politics of public space, geographies of graffiti, and sense of place. Unfortunately the bicycle tour had to be cut short due to inclement weather (even for Portland standards!) so the rest of the group converged at Sweetpea Baking Company for good coffee and conversation.

Take a self-guided tour, by following this BIKE ROUTE MAP! 


The Art Fills the Void! project also included the full historic restoration of the iconic Art Fills the Void mural, something that has not been done in decades. After decades of tagging, buffing, and haphazard touch-ups, PSAA connected with muralist and sign painter Frank DeSantis to obtain original photos, stencils, and schematics to be able to reproduce the mural true its 1982 form.

The repainting took weeks of planning, 5 days to buff and repaint. This was all completely done with volunteer labor, organized by PSAA. In addition to core PSAA volunteers, several local artists like Galen Malcolm, Jon Stommel and Travis Czekalski (Rather Severe) donated their time and expertise to paint the mural details.

Additionally, several banana mural neighbors, mainly Joel and Mary Schroeder, provided invaluable assistance, coming out to help on multiple days, storing ladders, and helping PSAA manage on-the-ground logistics. Restoring this mural was truly a community achievement, through and through.

Everyone passing by had great things to say about the mural, recounting their experiences with it throughout the years and how wonderful it was to see it being restored. Local business employees came out on their breaks to watch us paint and chat about the project. Passing cars honked, bicyclists rang their bells, and every two hours we got a tipsy applause from the bar-hopping group bicycle tour, Pedalounge.

These types of experiences not only increase the number and diversity of people engaged in and connected to their communities thereby promoting stronger cultural and historical identities, but they also empower people to become active leaders with the skills and inspiration needed to continue to shape and improve their shared public spaces in the future. PSAA was proud to be able to restore this piece of Portland history for generations to come.

More pictures from the mural restoration. All Photos © PSAA (Anton Legoo)

CONTINUED MURAL RESTORATION & PRESERVATION HELP NEEDED Want to help keep the banana fresh?! PSAA is asking for doantions to help support covering the additional costs of the discounted protective anti-graffiti clear coating ($300) and continued maintenance of the mural. PSAA is also hoping to one day raise $200 so we can have a bronze historical plaque cast and adhered to the wall, describing the historical importance of the Art Fills the Void! mural. Please consider donating to this important community effort via the project’s on-going GoFundMe. All donations are tax-deductible, please email us for details.


Part of the Art Fills the Void! project was to create a comprehensive MAP SE PORTLAND STREET ART. This map is a snap shot of permission street art during the Summer of 2015. Since art on the streets is always changing, with old murals being lost and new ones painted all the time, we look to the community to notify us of new or lost art.


Gorilla Wallflare, 1982. (Photo:  Gorilla Wallflare )


With its abundant low-lying commercial buildings, ample wall space, and eccentric quirkiness, Portland Oregon had a unique mural arts scene in the 1980s. In 1982,Gorilla Wallflare formed.

It was one of Portland’s first anonymous “graffiti” art crews. This small group of citizens brought some much needed color and excitement to Portland dull walls, all undercover, and without permission. They called them “painted landmarks, political statements, graffiti, and spoofs.” After painting each of their three Portland murals, they sent a type-written letter to city officials and news outlets telling them about their actions and motivations.

Gorilla Wallflare’s first “attack” was their Art Fills the Void! banana mural at the corner of SE 12th and Division. This large 30 by 50 foot painting of a bruised banana may look like a reference to Andy Warhol, but a member of Gorilla Wallflare has said that it was originally about the war in Central America, a banana republic, “Viva mi banana! The group later decided to change the wall’s exclamation to “Art Fills the Void,” as a protest to the existence of such a boring blank wall.

Art Fills the Void! is the oldest mural in Portland. Predating even the 1984 Black Pride Malcolm X Mural (Read more about that mural here).

It is also a rare example 80s murals in Portland. Many old community murals in Portland were lost between 1998 and 2005, during the lengthy legal battle between the City of Portland and AK Media (now Clear Channel) over signage rights.

This local landmark is centrally positioned on the corner of SE 12th and Division. Once a quiet and somewhat seedy and abandoned part of town, this is now one of Portland’s most quickly gentrifying and developing neighborhoods, being cooked up by Portland’s sizzling food scene.

The Art Fills the Void! mural shows how communities can embrace a piece of illegal graffiti, and over time come to appreciate and embrace it. With or without permission, this piece of “graffiti” has lasted decades, and now holds a special place in Portland’s urban landscape and social consciousness.

2014 Interview with Frank DeSantis

Tell us a little about Gorilla Wallflare, and what made you form the group? There were about 5 of us who actually painted the murals. Of that, 4 were professional artists. But we had lots of honorary members. We were inspired by graffiti artists, just get out there and doing something about it. Artistic inspirations came from Calder, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Dali, Duchamp, Matisse, Man Ray, and a group called the Art Squad out of Canada.

Willamette Week called you Portland’s “underground graffiti gang,” did you see what you were doing as “graffiti” as we think of it today? Although I saw it as graffiti, I wanted it to be something different. We waved to authorities while we painted in broad daylight, sometimes taking all day to complete the project. Naïve, maybe, but there was definitely an adrenalin rush in being clandestine and brazen at the same time. I remember liking that, but didn’t care for using the words “underground” or “graffiti” at the time.

Other than Art Fills the Void! did Gorilla Wallflare paint any other guerilla murals in Portland? We painted three murals – “Art Fills the Void,” ‘Oh No!” on the Hawthorne Bridge, and the “Fingerprint” on SE Belmont.

What were these other murals about? The Fingerprint mural on Belmont was a subtle message about privacy and the rights of the individual. It felt as if soon everyone would be followed and watched. The Oh, No! explosion, on the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge, was about the end of the world, then in 1984, just a few years away.

Why did Gorilla Wallflare send letters to the press about the murals? The letter was fun to write, and a great public relations gag. How else can you get a half page of free public relations and advertising in The Oregonian newspaper? 

What were the reactions to you guys out there painting these murals in broad daylight without any permission? We wore painter’s pants, hats, and had official-looking ladders. We usually painted on Sundays. At the time, there were no sign inspectors or mural regulations. This was also the worn, torn, and tattered Eastside; people just didn’t notice of a couple of painters painting the wall. We had one person stop at the banana painting, a small Asian man carrying grocery bags. He looked up at us on the ladders and said, “Oh, that’s enough food to feed my family all week.” He laughed and kept waking. A police car drove by once and just kept on going. The owner of the office supplies store where the banana was painted was surprised by the new art, but they liked it. They actually incorporated it into their marketing campaigns.

Did you find that your antics generated any discussion in the city? Some discussion, I’m sure, but in circles I wasn’t privy to in Portland. The city’s mural program did loosen up some a year or two later, or so it seemed. We really weren’t interested in the legal aspects. We were a guerilla operation; in and out. It was about free speech. We had more of an affinity towards graffiti, than the stodgy mural scene.

Gorilla Wallflare painted their murals before the City of Portland had to enact mural and sign permitting regulations we have today. How do you feel about that shift, how the city handles now handles public murals? Who’s to say who can approve or not approve art? I’m not that knowledge about these mural waivers and permits, but I do know about sign codes and permits. Those I understand, but why regulate murals? They are artistic community ventures. We went through all that rigmarole for other murals. It was too much bureaucracy. Too much of being a “suit.” By the time we got through it, we were bored with the whole thing and could care less. The initial creative thought and energy were lost. Better to beg for forgiveness, than ask for permission.

For more information and news on Gorilla Wallflare, visit them on their Facebook page.


In September 2014, representatives from Portland Street Art Alliance (PSAA), Endless Canvas (Bay Area, CA) and Graffiti Defense Coalition (GDC) (Seattle, WA) participated in a panel discussion exploring the use of graffiti as a tool for communication and activism.


The event was held at the University of Oregon in Portland, as part of the Cascade Media Convergence, a three-day long regional gathering of community-based media organizations, journalists, and artists.

The panel discussion focused on what activism graffiti is, how it can be an effective tactic, how it’s spatial and social contexts affect its message and impact, and how city municipalities and corporations have responded to these types of actions.

The panelists were first asked how they define “graffiti” for the purposes of the discussion.

Occupy graffiti, Portland 2011. Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance

Occupy graffiti, Portland 2011. Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance

Although each panelist’s definition differed, consensus was that graffiti should be framed both legally and culturally. Legally speaking, graffiti is any marking text, or imagery that’s done in public (private property or public city-owned space) without permission. One type of illegal marking, is activist graffiti, which aims to communicate a dissenting message to the larger public. It was noted by panelists that all of these definitions are fluid and not universal. What is, or is not, considered graffiti greatly depends on the cultural, spatial, and legal contexts within which it is created and viewed.

The panelists then discussed how graffiti exercises our rights to free speech and expression.

Make Living Space Cast out Investors, Berlin September 2011. Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance

Make Living Space Cast out Investors, Berlin September 2011. Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance

Panelists felt that graffiti is a highly autonomous and democratic mode of communication. Because it occurs in public, graffiti is a way for a wide range of people that might not typically interact with one another, to freely and directly communicate with one another. The anonymity acts as a mask, protecting people from being prosecuted (unless caught) and encourages honesty and harsh criticism.

Endless Canvas representatives pointed out that graffiti is an accessible medium for anyone, no matter what their socio-economic status is. Everyone can, at least in theory, create graffiti in public space. In so doing, graffiti can give value and power to under-served parts of society because it’s a way to insert their voice and presence into spaces where they’re otherwise not welcomed or allowed.

Anti-Ulises Ruiz Ortiz graffiti, Oaxaca 2006. Photo: Itandehui Franco Ortiz

Anti-Ulises Ruiz Ortiz graffiti, Oaxaca 2006. Photo: Itandehui Franco Ortiz

Women’s Rights graffiti by Grrrl Army, Seattle 2012. Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance

Women’s Rights graffiti by Grrrl Army, Seattle 2012. Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance

Graffiti also challenges so-called “free speech zones,” acting outside of these regulated spaces and pushing the boundaries of what is done and tolerated in public space.

Next, panelists provided examples of how graffiti has been used as a tactic for activism and direct action.  

Occupy graffiti, London 2011. Photo:

Occupy graffiti, London 2011. Photo:

Protest graffiti has been used in countless social movements throughout history. Recent examples can been seen in the Occupy, Egyptian, and Greek uprisings of 2011, the 2006 Oaxaca, Mexico protests, and the 2014 anti-World Cup graffiti in Brazil.

“In our home, our own freedom, our own strength and our own truth.”   Kyiv, Ukraine   April 2014. Photo: Magdalena Patalong

“In our home, our own freedom, our own strength and our own truth.” Kyiv, Ukraine April 2014. Photo: Magdalena Patalong

Today, the multiplying power of social media technologies can amplify the reach of these social and political commentaries. Therefore, these types of unregulated communications can have an immense amount of potential power that governments fear. Governments have been known to shut down telecommunications during political uprisings (for example, in VenezuelaUkraine, and Egypt).

Memorial Mural for Victims of Police Brutality Oakland, 2013. Photo: Endless Canvas

Memorial Mural for Victims of Police Brutality Oakland, 2013. Photo: Endless Canvas

Violations of free speech like this can even be seen in the U.S. For example, Endless Canvas representatives explained that following the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by a BART police officer in 

Oakland, BART shut down all underground cell phone service to try to prevent large protests. In some cases, graffiti is one of the only ways people can communicate dissenting messages to the public.

Billboard graffiti, Berkeley 2009. Photo: Craig Cook

Billboard graffiti, Berkeley 2009. Photo: Craig Cook

Also discussed was how graffiti is often used to protest the “visual pollution” of corporate advertising. One of the most interesting cases presented was how Bay Area graffiti writers concentrated their interventions on certain billboard advertisements. These pieces tended to last longer on billboards than other spaces in the city because they were in hard-to-reach spaces, which proved to be difficult for the billboard company to remove. The owners eventually found these billboards to be a lost cause and were decommissioned due to unprofitability. Though the graffiti writers were unconsciously making a political statement, other guerilla artists found that these tactics were a powerful way for average people to fight against corporate advertisements in public space.

It was also pointed out by one panelist that after the AK Media (now Clear Channel) vs. City of Portland case of 2005, painting murals without official city permission in Portland was (and still could be) seen as a form of protest. Today, all murals that are done without a permit or RACC waiver can be reported as “illegal graffiti,” fined, and forcefully removed by the city (regardless of whether or not the property owner consents).

Art Fills the Void by Gorilla Wallflare, Portland. 1982. Photo:   Gorilla Wallflare

Art Fills the Void by Gorilla Wallflare, Portland. 1982. Photo: Gorilla Wallflare

Kickin Ass for the Working Class by Nuclear Winter, May 1 2011. Photo:   Endless Canvas

Kickin Ass for the Working Class by Nuclear Winter, May 1 2011. Photo: Endless Canvas

Panelists were then asked how permitted activist art differs from un-permitted activist graffiti.

Anti-GMO mural in Oakland by Pancho Peskador and Desi W.O.M.E, April 2012.

Anti-GMO mural in Oakland by Pancho Peskador and Desi W.O.M.E, April 2012.

On one hand, panelists saw both legal and illegal activist art as two different strategies that can work simultaneously. Both forms can communicate powerful messages to the public though political commentary, making an impact on civic consciousness.

On the other hand, panelists also pointed out that it is impossible to radically change the system by working within it. Some believe illegal activist art is a much blunter weapon that maintains maximum power and impact. With illegal art, there is no censorship. It is not mediated through the framework of capitalism or the state and the risks artists take to trespass and produce their artwork illegally infuses their art with intrinsic symbolic power.

Occupy Walls by Graffiti Against the System (GATS), Portland 2011. Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance

Occupy Walls by Graffiti Against the System (GATS), Portland 2011. Photo: Portland Street Art Alliance

Lastly, panelists were asked to think about the public’s reactions to graffiti and how it alters our perceptions of space in the city.

Falsas Promesas Broken Promises, South Bronx, 1980. Photo: John Fekner

Falsas Promesas Broken Promises, South Bronx, 1980. Photo: John Fekner

A Graffiti Defense Coalition representative gave the example of New York City in the late 1970s when many young people saw graffiti as a creative way to bring much needed color to the crumbling and decaying city, exciting the urban landscapes around them. Amidst this political and infrastructural chaos, authorities and the media began to campaign against graffiti, associating it with dirt, decay, disease, and madness. These anti-graffiti campaigns cited the “broken windows theory” as their basis, arguing that minor misdemeanors (like graffiti) must be stopped or there will be an atmosphere of lawlessness that will attract serious criminal offenders who will assume that residents don’t care about the neighborhood.

By promoting a culture of unrealistic fears, and tapping into the public’s moral insecurities, authorities were able to justify increased policing and regulations of our public spaces. Policing ideologies like this did nothing to address the longstanding social inequalities, infrastructural neglect, purposeful arson-for-profit scams, and declining tax revenues that were causing urban decline at this time. Today, it’s clear to see that graffiti is often actually a sign of a vibrant urban area, or one that’s in the early stages of gentrification (Berlin, Bushwick, and Miami, etc).

Portland Street Art Alliance members then pointed out that dominant ideologies define what is, and is not appropriate in public spaces. In the case of graffiti, the public was told by city-sponsored anti-graffiti ads and public announcements that they should prevent graffiti at all costs, that it didn’t belong in the city, and will cause a spiral of decay like is seen in extremely neglected and ignored urban neighborhoods, like the South Bronx in the 1970s and 80s. Subsequently, the tide of fear and criticism against graffiti rolled in.

Representatives of Endless Canvas echoed the sentiment, stating that graffiti doesn’t actually physically hurt anyone, and the battle between the city and graffiti artists, is a sign of a much larger battle for control, voice, and representation.

Graffiti is considered a major urban problem because it challenges the notion of private property, and by extension, the entire system in which modern society is built upon. It also makes us think about who really does or should have control of our public visual space. It is symbolic of a much larger struggle for our collective rights to the city.

Special thanks to Brett Peters for helping to write this article and CMC organizers, particularly Tim Rice, for supporting and making this regional discussion possible. 


In the spring of 2013, Portland Street Art Alliance and two local artists, The Lost Cause (TLC) and Jon Stommel of Rather Severe, successfully completed a community-funded mural on the backside of Music Millennium (3158 E Burnside). This was PSAA's first project, bringing together the founding team to engage with the community and facilitating art in the streets. 

PSAA and this project started in an unlikely way. The prior winter (2012) TLC and local art shop, Home:bass, launched a very successful fundraising campaign, raising almost 3 times more than what they asked for. Everything was going smoothly until TLC was painting the mural and was approached by Portland Police. The officers interrogated him, asking what he was doing, and if he had a permit. No one knew that in addition to owner-permission, you also need a City of Portland mural permit to legally paint an art mural. The Home:bass shop was no stranger to Portland police, being the frequent target of surveillance, especially during their street art show openings. Due to these complications, the Home:bass mural project fell through when Home:bass's lease was not renewed by the property owner. 

That is when the founding members of PSAA stepped in, Tiffany and Tomas. After a few brainstorming sessions, the team hit the streets canvasing local business to find a new mural space for this project. After approaching about 20 business on Burnside, Stark and Hawthorne, we walked into Music Millennium, the oldest record store in the Pacific Northwest. We were imminently directed to speak to Terry Currier the owner. Terry was very open-minded and excited at the prospect of bringing some color and energy to his blank white wall. Even better, the artists were willing to do this project at no cost Music Millennium, as the crowd-source funding covered most of the costs associated with paint and labor. 

The artist team worked with Terry Currier, the owner of Music Millennium, to create a design that would be reminiscent of the record store’s psychedelic roots. They decided on a colorful Beatles-inspired array of happy characters and swirling patterns. PSAA secured the City of Portland mural permit.

Speaking about his art and the new mural, the The Lost Cause said, “We just want to make people smile and laugh. It was a great experience to paint this mural and get to talk with people of all ages, some neighbors and others coming to the record shop. They liked the characters and bright colors.”

Check out PSAA's video documenting some of the creative process!



PSAA Co-Director Tiffany Conklin recently moderated a panel discussion on Art & Public Space at a Symposium in Victoria B.C. The following is a report back from that event.

Founded in 1972, the Open Space Arts Society is a non-profit artist-run centre located in Victoria, British Columbia. Open Space supports artists who utilize hybrid and experimental approaches to media, art, music, and performance. In April 2014, Open Space hosted a two-day symposium that brought together artists, scholars, curators, activists, city officials, community organizations, and engaged citizens to examine the goals, perceptions, problems, and possibilities of unsanctioned public art. This free and public symposium also featured presentations and a series of round-table panel discussions to encourage audience involvement and participation in these important conversations. The symposium was generously sponsored by the City of Victoria and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Open Space Assistant Curator Sara Fruchtman and local artist-in-residence Cameron Kidd organized this local and international community event. The symposium was the final finale of Kidd’s 10 month residency at Open Space. During this time, he’s helped to create 3 murals, and a variety of projects that addressed the need for youth engagement and more publicly accessible sites for street art in the city.

Kidd and Fruchtman just successfully pitched a new project to the city – turning Commercial Alley behind the centre into a new city-sponsored mural zone, the first of its kind in Victoria.

Key note speaker Barbara Cole, the director of Other Sights for Artists’ Projects presented examples of how artists she works with are resisting, reinterpreting, and reinventing the ways in which our cities’ public places are experienced. In 2010, Other Sights curated a piece of public art by Folke Koeb­ber­ling and Mar­tin Kalt­wasser, two Berlin-based artist who built a compostable bulldozer in empty lot about to be developed in Vancouver B.C.

The first panel discussion focused on the various types of spaces in the city: public, semi-public, and private space. On the panel was: art activist Kika Thorne, geography professor Reuben Rose-Redwood, sculptor Mowry Baden, and the founders of the The Wayward School, Stefan Morales and Heather Cosidetto.

They discussed questions like: What is public space? Who has the right to occupy and use these space? Do all members of society have access to it? What should public spaces be used for, and not used for? Does public space need to be regulated ? If so, by whom? Can public space be community-managed? If we spaces completely open for any use, then how do we govern our relations within those spaces? How do we sustain a shared and safe space, and prevent a tragedy of the commons?

The second session focused on public art and youth engagement, specifically the ways in which communities can support youth in becoming more positively engaged with public space, especially when it comes to art practices. The panel included Sue Donaldson of the BC Arts Council, Haida artist Sacha Ouellet, Tla-o-qui-aht wood carver Hjalmer Wenstob, and theatre director Will Weigler.

Katrina Thorsen provided examples from her 10 years of experience as a therapeutic art facilitator. Similar to alcohol and drug addiction therapy, Thorsen uses street art as a therapeutic practice for at-risk and traumatized youth. She’s found that community-based street art can be used as a highly effective tool of empowerment, helping youth integrate themselves into public life, build confidence, strengthen community support structures in an active, positive, and supportive ways. Thorsen found that providing youth public spaces to express themselves in helped them find their ‘voice’ and feel like they are be heard.

Next up was the screening of 100 Layers of Beige, a local documentary directed by Kay Gallivan (VIPIRG) and Zsofin Sheehy (Wandering Eye Media). The film focuses on  Trackside Gallery and the conflicts that led to the end of one of Canada’s largest graffiti walls.

100 Layers Beige Trailer from Zsofin Sheehy on Vimeo.

The final session focused on exploring the differences between sanctioned and unsanctioned street art. Panel participants included street artists Cameron Kidd and “Other” (Troy Lovegates), the City of Victoria Arts and Culture Coordinator Nichola Reddington,Erika Heyrman the owner of Wildfire Bakery and a local free wall, and Tiffany Conklin of the Portland Street Art Alliance.

This last panel explored topics like: Why are some forms of unsanctioned interventions (often called street art) more socially acceptable than letter-based graffiti? What are the differences and similarities between these practices? Both are often illegal, but are both always vandalism? The panel also proposed ideas on how communities can support the types of artistic interventions they want to see. Rather than criminalizing, dictating, and suppressing, instead asking: how can we collectively manage, compromise, and improve the quality and vibrancy of our streets?

Although many insights arose, a few key ideas seemed to resonate with the crowd. Some called for more action against the overabundance of advertisements in the city. Saying, that this type of visual pollution is often tolerated and ignored, only because it is backed by capital. Graffiti is no different than ads, except that it is free and springs from the grassroots. Additionally, advertisers are not easily regulated since they have strong legal teams and lobbyists. They can promote with impunity, regardless of the negative effects campaigns may have on our physical and mental spaces.

The quality and accessibility of a city’s public spaces are a true reflection of the quality, commitment, and vibrancy of the communities that live there. The peopleof the city are in control of it’s public spaces. However, this right to the city can only be realized if we have an active and empowered citizenry. Rather than being complacent or passively complaining about something, we need to act, sometimes alone, but more effectively, as a diverse group working from all angles towards a common goal.

Sharing experiences and ideas (even if conflicting) is one of the best ways to generate new solutions and approaches. Having safe social spaces where we can all communicate and be heard, regardless of our power, money, or status in the community, is the primary objective. Pubic space is the original and only true democratic arena, however, it can only serve this role if people consistently occupy it and communicate with one another about the pressing issues of their time and place. We are the city, and the city is us.