Sunday, August 7, 2011

Living in an Artistic City

When I moved to Portland, I knew that I was moving to a city known for its abundance of artist-types.  However, it wasn’t until recently—having had a chance to poke around a bit—that I realized the extent of the creativity present in this city. 
For example, there’s the Last Thursday festival every month on Alberta Street.  For six solid blocks, the streets are packed with artists displaying their creations, musicians jamming, dancers and DJs jiving and inviting others to dance with them, people decked out with stilts and fairy wings, colorful food carts, and thousands of people who come to appreciate the spectacle. 
On the first Thursday of every month, there is an open-gallery night downtown in the Pearl district.  This scene has a slightly less pot-and-roses scented atmosphere than Alberta, with fewer dwarf and sunflower costumes, and nobody sitting on corners offering you tea, toast, and a dollar to hear your story.   It is instead saturated with a certain variety of posh people who stand sipping wine out of plastic cups in galleries and appear to be equally interested in looking at the artwork and chatting with other peripatetic art-lovers. 
When weekends come around, droves of people flock to the Saturday market (ironically open on Sundays as well), which is a combination of all the best art fairs you’ve ever been to, a Central American indigenous market, and a carnival.  Vendors and artists from all over the world set up a labyrinth of tents, and the smell of falafel, curry, tamales, and bratwurst wafts over crowds of tourists and locals alike. 
If you were to tally up all of the people who present their work at these festive venues, the number of ingenious sidewalk-sitters in Hawthorne District, and the incredible number of people you meet on any given day who paint, write, make jewelry, knit, or make fantastical metal sculptures in their spare time, you may find that the total encompasses more than half of the population of Portland. 
Isn’t that exquisite?  A city where being open and excited about creativity is quotidian! Where labeling yourself an artist is like claiming your humanity: “of course you’re an artist, so am I!”
The creative energy I feel here is infectious.  Rather than being overwhelming because of the sheer number of other people creating, it feels like living in an abstract mosaic mural.   Your own tile of creative space is allowed to be oblong and twisty and whatever style you want it to be.  Maybe it's completely different than everyone else's, maybe it's similar, and maybe it bumps into or even becomes part of other people’s tiles.  Close up, it's chaotic and colorful and a little messy, but when you take a step back, the beauty and magnitude of what you have become a part of is breathtaking.

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