Pieces of the Public Art Process: Recent and Upcoming Projects

The public art process is dynamic and often reveals the significance of place and community.

Public art is not only an object or image in public space. It’s ultimately a process that requires coordinating the realities, opportunities, and challenges unique to communities. From a work’s conceptualization, to fabrication, and eventual installation, the process involved in public art often involves harmonizing many factors–from interests and expectations to tastes and policies–in order to produce the object or image seen out in public.  For the Public Art department at the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC), the entire process has largely two components amid the broader effort of enriching communities through arts and culture.

The public art process highlights the relevance and context of “place,” be it abstract or concrete. Place can be considered not only an object or physical location, but also a way of seeing. The significance and history of a specific place can also be the inspiration behind a public artwork.

The emphasis on community is present as well. This part of the process is participatory and collaborative, where community members, rooted in place, experience, or common ground, ultimately contribute perspectives, experiences, and knowledge, and share decision-making in the public art design process.

Both “place” and “community” are elements that provide value to the work itself and the overall cultural and physical landscape in which the art is installed. Several recent and upcoming projects demonstrate the various dimensions of public art:

Artist Sabina Zeba Haque’s yearlong residency at the Portland Archives and Records Center (PARC) culminates in work that focuses on the annex and growth of East Portland’s incredibly diverse population. Haque will collaborate with neighborhood residents and PARC to examine the history of place as a marker of exclusion and inclusion over the past thirty-five years. She will weave a portrait of inclusive civic identity through hand-drawn animation, video projections, poster installations, and theater performance. Entitled “Annexation & Assimilation: exploring the archive east of 82 ave”, a one-night exhibition event will take place on October 21, from 6-9pm, at the APANO/JADE Multicultural space at 82nd and Division and include large-scale video projections, poster installations, performance and oral histories. On November 17th, Haque will present an artist talk at 7pm and a second viewing of the projections from 6-8pm at APANO. Both events are free and open to the public.

The Awareness & Prevention Through Art (aptArt) Paint Outside the Lines campaign, is a multi-wall mural project, partially funded through the Public Art Murals Program, where transglobal artists are engaging with marginalized groups in the Portland community through P:ear and IRCO’s RISE program (Refugee & Immigrant Student Empowerment) at David Douglas High School. Since its founding six years ago, AptArt has facilitated workshops and collaborative murals with communities living in conflict-affected areas, including Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Jordan.  Portland is the first U.S. city to be a part of this effort. Artists Kevin Ledo, Ernesto Maranje, and Ruben Sanchez are painting murals at four sites in Downtown Portland and the Central Eastside Industrial District. The project will extend into spring 2017, but two murals will be completed in October 2016. (Read Portland Tribune article, Eastside Mural Aims to Claw Out Conflict, 10/11/16)

Kevin Ledo's mural in progress as part of

Kevin Ledo’s mural in progress as part of “Paint Outside the Lines Portland” project on SW 2nd and Stark.

Artist Nick Goettling was selected to create two related murals on retaining walls in Portland’s Powellhurst Neighborhood, on both sides of the street between SE 136th and Mitchell. The mural design was inspired by the research and input of various neighborhood and community groups. Using a simple palette of blue, red, gray and white, the east wall depicts a montage of various images of local or historical significance strategically placed within an aerial map of the neighborhood. The west wall features the name of the neighborhood – Powellhurst Gilbert. In both murals, small pink hearts will be included to honor the life of a five-year-old girl who was struck and killed near the site several years ago. Nearly twenty neighborhood volunteers worked with the artist to complete the project by the end of September 2016 and a community celebration is in the works.

The Black Williams Project, led by artists Cleo Davis and Kayin Talton Davis, acknowledges the complex and changing history of Williams Avenue and its impact on Portland’s African American community. Contrary to recent times, North Williams/Albina was home to the City’s largest African American community for most of the 20th century. The artists have gathered stories and perspectives from the existing African American community in connection to North Williams that will be depicted on 12” x 18” panels at approximately 30 locations along Williams, between NE Broadway and NE Killingsworth. The project is funded by the Portland Bureau of Transportation and administered by RACC.

Installation of public art for the recently reconstructed Sellwood Bridge has begun, and is projected to be completed by January 2017. Boston-based artist Mikyoung Kim’s installation, Stratum Project, consists of a series of 23 fourteen-foot-high sculptures, the design inspired by the power and beauty of the geological phenomena of the Willamette River Valley. The sculpture’s richly patinaed surfaces refer to the geological processes of this region. Upon completion, the artworks will line both sides of the street east of the bridge, ending at S.E. 6th Avenue and Tacoma Street. The project is funded by the Portland Bureau of Transportation Percent for Art and will be maintained by RACC.

A public art sculpture, titled River Guardian, will be installed on the South Waterfront Greenway near SW Curry Street. Pacific NW Native American artist Lillian Pitt, along with artist Mikkel Hilde have developed the concept to stand as tribute to the resilience and endurance of native peoples. The sculptural form draws inspiration from mythical images of shadow spirits found in petroglyphs and pictographs along the rock walls of the Columbia River. Made from recycled materials, the sculpture’s represents several themes, including: honoring native ancestors, respecting nature, healing, and sustainability. The sculpture is expected to be completed by late October 2016

Following the construction of an expanded wastewater station for the City at the intersection of Fanno Creek Trail and SW 86th, artists David Boekelheide and Christina Conant were selected to design and fabricate an outdoor sculpture. They have proposed an installation consisting of a series of curved weathered steel ribbons that weave along the east side of the Bureau of Environmental Services Pump Station property. Overlapping sections of the sculpture reference the topographical elevation lines of the Fanno Creek area. In collaboration with Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation, native edible species will be planted near the installation in reference to the native people of the Tualatin tribes and first agricultural settlers in the area.

Night Lights, a monthly public art event, begins its second year of urban intervention on Thursday, October 6. Every First Thursday through April 2017, local artists and art students will claim public space at NW Park Avenue at Glisan Street, broadcasting their digital media work on the north wall of the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) offices after dark.  This fall, works by Renee Sills (October), Arlanna Gazca (November), and Portland Community College (December) will be on showcased.