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2005 was all about us
BY IAN PAIGE
The name of the game for the 2005 Portland arts scene was engagement. The year saw the tightening of bonds between artists and institutions, collectives and consumers. Instead of ego-centric investigations of "why-me?" artists turned to public works and communal events as if to say "what about us?" The result is an even more vibrant Portland arts culture, determined to make itself stronger and more effective in the community. In a larger social spectrum, that attitude seems downright avant-garde.
No other event could lay better claim as flagship for this move to engagement than the opening of SPACE Gallery’s "Reclaiming Space" this fall. SPACE affiliates in HAZMAT attire blocked off Congress Street with copious square footage of sod and let the people play in a reconstructed urban Eden. Little (and not so little) kids admired puppet shows, musical arrangements, and acrobatic performances while the gallery space inside hosted a variety of visual and auditory explorations on the theme.
This summer’s First Friday Art Walk was augmented by a successful collaboration between Whitney Art Works and the wonderfully ambiguous umbrella organization MENSK. The "Haul-U" project involved a moving truck functioning as a roving art gallery, complete with a musical act emerging from the truck to perform at key spots around town.
Rob Lieber approached the moving truck space quite literally, shrinking the typical contents of an apartment to a suspended center, like a star pulling in on itself about to go supernova. A wooden model, less than a square foot in area, was held up with fishing line, and Phantom Buffalo was there in the truck to sing you a song about it. Lieber shows us that there are city limits, but you can reconstruct, reclaim, and resize these parameters to make whatever world you can imagine.
Whitney Art Works gets a note for moving to new digs on York Street. The cavernous space is likely to hold more of these cross-pollinating events as well as offering gallery shows of consistent merit.
Holding it down on the East End are newbies Vu-Master Gallery and Ubu Studios. Vu-Master opened with a photo show documenting the FAZE project by Karl Haase and Eli Cayer which served as a precursor to the Art Walk, MENSK, Haul-U and similar collaborations in the arts community. Ubu Studio is the brainchild of clown-school dropout, collage artist and Mystic Out-Bop member Frank Turek and has become an instant staple.
The Map Room, a small vestibule tucked away en route to the Eastern Promenade, invited people to submit problems that plague them and helped facilitate a (re)solution by other members of the community. Here in this tiny causeway is a microcosm for the arts scene in general. You got a problem? The answer lies within the people around you; all you need is a little organization.
Which leads to the final story of 2005, which has nothing to do with an exhibit. Pending "live/work" spaces for artists like the Sacred Heart building are the result of art activism on the part of individuals like Jess Tomlinson and Rose Morasco. Their vigilance in efforts to pass zoning laws that promote such spaces should fulfill a necessary element of a creative economy. Working artists may have a hope to own a piece of the rapidly dividing pie in our city’s center.
We’ve heard a lot recently from our newly-appointed mayor about his commitment to the city’s creative economy. It will be our collective job to speak loudly enough so that said economy is not just considered the Museum of Art and the Symphony Orchestra, but the weird kid painting in the apartment next door and that great festival that you didn’t know you couldn't live without until someone decided they had the power to make it happen. It is the collective energy of every artist and institution big and small that makes Portland a place worth visiting or calling your home.
That’s why 2005 is best summed up as a prelude to 2006. All we have to do is continue what we’ve started.
Ian Paige can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org