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One lines airport and was completed by a committee, other took a village; both are temporary

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Liza Burns (right) fourth Celebrate Oregon! mural was unveiled on Dec. 14 at the new Concourse B at Portland International Airport. It contains 127 symbols special to Oregon, and has a partial key either side of it.

Two murals made their debut in Portland recently. One, at Portland International Airport, was the work of years of planning and followed every rule in the book to keep travelers amused and edified. The other, on the fence protecting a new city-backed homeless camp beside the Moda Center, came together in four months, without approval or challenge (Watch here).

One is designed to decorate the long walls that fill airports and to amuse and edify travelers as their wait for their planes. The other is on a fence that protects people who have nowhere to sleep but outdoors in winter and is designed to add a little joy to their uncertain journey through life.

Along Weidler Street at Northeast First Avenue, the 240-foot-long green fence now matches the green of the large bike lane used by commuters from gentrified northeast Portland. Design began in August, and it was painted from September to November. BIPOC Village residents screwed designs cut out of plywood to the fence, and painted it mostly green, blue, and orange. Like the tight wooden fences that shield cannabis grow sites in southern Oregon, this fence is designed to keep prying eyes out. But the mural is designed to give a sense of humanity, to show there are people living here, and that it is not just another vacant industrial lot or scrap of Prosper Portland real estate.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - The mural at the BIPOC village in the Lloyd District was organized by Gather Make: Shelter and designed by seven members of the village.

Portland artist Dana Lynn Louis's nonprofit Gather:Make:Shelter gathermakeshelter.org helps the unhoused decorate their official tiny home villages with murals. In June some of the old fence decorations came along when the BIPOC camp moved from its last spot near the Hawthorne Bridge, but this new mural is bigger and more stable. Residents used house paint, plywood, and power tools. So far it has not been hit with graffiti, which Louis sees as a sign of respect.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - The mural at the BIPOC village in the Lloyd District was organized by Gather Make: Shelter and designed by seven members of the village.

Meanwhile, at the airport's brand-new Concourse B, on Tuesday December 14, Oregon's cultural gatekeepers and stakeholders were out in force for the unveiling of Celebrate Oregon! This is a mural (more like a large painting, on 16 feet of plywood) depicting the hills, desert, and ocean of Oregon, with 127 smaller images layered throughout it. They are somewhere between clip art and logos and represent what's special to Oregon. For example, there's a mushroom, a cougar, a sugar pinecone, and a spilyay, but also some man-made things such as Ken Kesey's FURTHER school bus, the Astoria column, and a bottle of pinot noir. The mural is flanked by samples of these images and written explanations on posterboard, like the legend to a map.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - The 240 foot mural on the fence at the BIPOC C3PO village on NE Weidler Street was painted in two months wihtout waiting for permission.

Your logo here

The Celebrate Oregon! mural has sponsors (Lithia Motors), content experts (such as Linda Castillo, Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs and Mariotta Gary-Smith, Oregon Commission on Black Affairs) and of course a named artist, the painter and illustrator Liza Burns. She was on hand to talk about it and thank a host of enablers. Burns, of Eugene, has done three more of these at other Oregon airports, but this one is bigger and more complex. More than 100 artists, jury members and content experts were involved in the design process.

Burns designed the new Celebrate Oregon license plate which also comes with a decoder key. culturaltrust.org/celebrateoregon/license-plate-narrative

culturaltrust.org/celebrateoregon/order-your-plate/

COURTESY: OREGON CULTURAL TRUST - Artist Liza Burns and the license plate version of her Celebrate Oregon! mural.

Inclusivity was the theme in the lineup of speakers.

Marylin Munoz, a 15-year-old freshman at Franklin High School, declaimed "A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes and "Touched by an Angel" by Maya Angelou.

The unveiling took an hour and included seventeen people at the microphone.

The Grand Ronde Singers sang and drummed, Dan Peppinger of the Port of Portland did the land acknowledgement, and Portland hip hop artist Cool Nutz rapped about pain. The Executive of the Oregon Cultural Trust, Brian Rogers, mentioned in passing that there is another $50 million of Biden infrastructure money available for small venues statewide, which includes public and private spaces, performance halls and small-town movie theaters. The Cultural Trust has awarded $36 million in its 20 years, but in 2022 it is set to go ballistic.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - At the airport's brand-new Concourse B, just before the unveiling of Celebrate Oregon! It is mural (more like a large painting, on 16 feet of plywood) depicting the hills, desert and ocean of Oregon, with 127 smaller images layered throughout it. A legend beside the work explains the images.

Really big cats

The BIPOC village mural's budget was $10,000, which includes $5,000 of city money dedicated by Right2DreamToo when they ran the camps, and $5,000 from GMS's private donors. Miller Paint gave them a deal on the paint. Louis told the Portland Tribune that seven residents hashed out the design. Animals and weather are a theme: Cats and birds, clouds and rain.

"They really wanted big cats," said Louis. "They want, when they walk in, a welcoming environment, they want people to feel happy." She said some of them had not drawn before but they steadily grew more confident.

As for city rules, "We didn't ask the city for permission, we were led by the urgency of the situation," said Louis, saying it would take too long to go through the Regional Arts and Culture Council or other government bodies. "We did this for the village and for the neighborhood, the Lloyd District."

Funding is in the air

"It seems like it's raining money, and I would say that Gather:Make:Shelter could use some of that money. The private sector and small foundations have been supporting us, but it'd be great if the city and the county and some of those big funds could come our way," said Louis.

The more people see the mural, the more they might understand social meaning as opposed to its aesthetic meaning.

"I had a really positive meeting with (Commissioner Dan) Ryan's office, giving examples of how it goes beyond art to community building. People are getting jobs; people are going out into the world. I felt like in that meeting he got it."

Up for now

At PDX, some air travelers stopped to look at Celebrate Oregon! and airport staff chatted with them, playing spot-the-symbol. The mural will be up for a year.

Back at the BIPOC Village, only one resident wanted to talk to the media, a resident who goes by one all-caps name, KHEM. He worked on the design and execution. KHEM used to be homeless, reduced to walking the streets. "I understood pretty quickly it was not safe to be on the street here," said KHEM. He said Portland is a hard city for living on the streets.

COURTESY PHOTO: KHEM - KHEM lived in the BIPOC Village near the Moda Center but didn't like it and has now found an apartment. He has a job at Smiles of Planet Earth, painting similar murals for mental health.

"People are territorial with their camps. And if you look like you're not that homeless, people will get you, or get over on you." KHEM wandered into Gather:Make:Shelter's Pearl District gallery, met Louis and offered his skills. (He runs Smiles of Planet Earth, painting similar murals for mental health.) instagram.com/smilesofplanetearth/

He moved into the BIPOC village in OCtober 2021, but he didn't like it and is moving in mid-December. "It has been motivation to move into an apartment as soon as possible. That's the best way to put it. Positive feeling and happy to move on."

He called it unhygienic and said the number of meals has been cut in quantity and quality. And living there with mental health struggles has been difficult.

"When you're trying to rest or living around other people who are also dealing with their trauma but are continuing to repeat those same cycles, it was not beneficial. It was a lesson learned. I'm happy to move on."

He added he is paid to paint and will continue.

"So, you put the feet on the ground, you find an apartment, you paint these murals to get some cash."

BIPOC Camp moves

This summer, 35 people from the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, & People of Color) village at Southeast Water and Main moved to City-owned land at 84 N.E. Weidler St. The village is one of the three camps started in 2019 under the brand C3PO or Creating Conscious Communities with People Outside. In October 2021 All Good Multnomah took over running the villages. The village-style shelters were started by a collaboration of local nonprofits, the City of Portland, and Multnomah County.

Undercoat

Portland artist Dana Lynn Louis's gathermakeshelter.org nonprofit has grown in the pandemic, branching out in to mural painting as homelessness has grown. She began in in 2017 when she persuaded ceramicists to make and donate bowl, then paid houseless people to decorate them. They were kiln-fired professionally and sold in the $20 to $150 range. The goal is to pay the houseless for their work and connect them to the public. G:M:S auctions off the works and donates the sales to charities. In the first year they raised $10,000 for Portland Homeless Family Solutions (families) and the Northwest Pilot Project (elders); gathermakeshelter.org.


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Portland Tribune
971-204-7874
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