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Panel Discussion
The Pioneer Spirit: Doing Things Differently in Portland
June 2, 2006

Namita Wiggers: Contemporary Crafts Museum and Gallery, Moderator
Jenny Joyce: McMenamin’s
Greg Wilber: Art in the Pearl
Bonnie Metzer: Portland Open Studios
Toni Ngugen: PDX Supercrafty

Namita opened by talking about Portland, how it is different and unique. The art scene in particular has boomed in the last few years, with a big burst in contemporary arts. The art scene reflects the shifting, changing and redefining of Portland.  

Jenny Joyce represents Mcmenamins; one of the first places that Portlanders take visitors. One of their facilities is Edgefield, which was a former poor farm. Jenny holds a BFA from Hoefstra College and began her career as a teacher.  She is known for suggesting people to find their own way, and create their own job.

Jenny gave a history of the Mcmenamins.  The brothers Brian and Mike McMenamin have over 50 locations, with the first pub was opened in 1983.  Mike’s passion is art and music, so the artists work closely with him. They employ 3 full-time artists and two full-time historians.  

The project discussed today was a mural painted earlier this year at the Baghdad Theater. It was painted on canvas 20 feet high and 15 feet long, as a backstage mural in the back of the theater. The theater was built in 1927 as a moviehouse and vaudeville hall. There was a big room behind the stage that was used to raise and lower backdrops.  After the McMenamins bought the building, this room was used as storage until just recently, when they decided to turn it into a pool hall.

The original drop was turned around to form the back wall, and this mural was painted on the 80-year-old unprimed canvas.  The historical data was divided into 6 eras, and each artist was responsible for one era. To keep with the Baghdad theme, a lamp was drawn at the bottom, with the smoke billowing up and dividing the canvas into the 6 distinct areas. Lots were drawn to determine which artist would illustrate which space (some determinations were made by who could tolerate heights as the top part involved standing on scaffolding). After the areas were assigned, the artists discussed ideas, then went home and sketched.  The next meeting, the six sketches (or “cartoons”) were taped together to form the whole.  It was decided that the general theme would be a Persian miniature with brilliant colors and dense with details. Artists worked around the clock, using the data from the historians as their theme. 

Jenny described mural, starting from the top and going clockwise.

  • The opening in 1927 of the theater was a very big deal in Portland. The  movie studios in Hollywood sent representatives, a stuffed camel and trick horse, which are included in the mural.
  • Three vaudeville performers, including Sammy Davis Jr., who did appear there, are shown. There are also scenes from movies which premiered, had long runs, or were important to the Baghdad Theater.
  • The different owners and managers of the theater and some employees are commemorated.
  • The McMenamin years are depicted, including Ken Keysey’s Magic Bus, (his memorial service was held there), and some of the McMeniman’s employees.
  • The famous Portland organ which used to be in the theater is shown played by a woman who formed an all girl jazz band.

All the artists collaborated on the painting of the smoke, the backdrop, the Mandela, the lamp and the border. Jenny likes to call it “historic surrealism”  

Greg Wilbur has a BFA in Jewelry and MetalSmithing, and a AS in Arts Education from the University of Oregon. He is known around town as the person to ask if you any questions on metalsmithing. He is a mentor to the students at College of Contemporary Arts. He is here to day to talk about Arts in the Pearl, which he started and is now in its 10th year.  It is one of the only artist-run festivals of it’s kind that is not a fundraiser. 

After Greg graduated from art school, he looked for venues to sell art.  He found Saturday Market in /Eugene, the Oregon Country Fair, and the Portland Saturday Market.  Different Guilds, such s the Oregon Potters Association put on fairs or shows as well. In Portland, the ArtQuake was held Labor Day weekend, but ended in 1994 after 25 years.  After that, there wasn’t a street fair of high quality in Portland.  

In 1996, a group of twelve crafters decided to put together a street fair for Labor Day weekend. They each put $100 into a fund, compiled mailing lists, announced booth fees, and provided the leadership for the show.  The Oregon Potters Association, which puts on a dynamic show in the spring at the convention center, and Waterstone Gallery, which used to be in the Park Blocks, where the show is held, were part of the founding leadership.  

Of the twelve original artists, 6 are still involved and they have lifetime showing benefits. The Board of Directors now has 22 members. Each member gets a spot in the show, without having to be juried or pay a booth fee. The main problem with this board is that there is no central clearinghouse. 

The group’s goal is to do the best show possible, so they use a jury process. There are 5 independent jurors. During the jury process there is no talking.  The jurors write down a point value for each entry, and choose the top 150 entries.  

Every year there is usually 10% turnover, as the Sausalito Art Fair is the same weekend, and that is considered one of the top 3 shows in the country. Most artists apply to many shows simultaneously, and hope they are accepted to at least one. 

This show is different from most fairs in that it is not a fundraiser for any group or organization, but proceeds go directly to the artists. 700 applicants apply for 100 spots. The other 25 spots go to the previous years Best of Show, the jurors, and the board members.  

There is usually good weather Labor Day weekend, although one or two years there was a little rain.  Portlanders are good art and craft purchasers, with two of the top arts and crafts stores (Twist and The Real Mother Goose) being located here.  

There has been some resistance from the local condo owners and residents to the show. Complaints are handled by trying to compromise, and relations with the residents are generally good.  

The show offers 3 places for kids in the four-block area. Many kids bring their parents to the show each year. There are also art demonstrations from blacksmithing to 2-d art ongoing all three days. These are very popular.

Special projects include a collaborative effort with Canadian artists.  

Bonnie Metzer is a textile artist, but she doesn’t use traditional textile material. She earned her BA in Education at Monclair College, and MSA in design. Her first solo exhibit was in 1971, Bonnie is known around town as the person who gets other people involved in projects, and the person who makes sure the project gets done. Today she will be talking about the Open Studios Program.  

Kitty Wallace, who brought the program from Santa Cruz, started Portland Open Studios. Bonnie did not get involved with the project until 2000; the second year she received an invitation. She had been complaining to her husband that she had no “community” of artists, and she felt isolated in her studio producing her work individually. She saw the Open Studio Program as a way to connect with other artists.  

The program is very different from a gallery show or fair. Artists do not have to pack and transport works. They just have to sweep and clean their studio and empty the kitty litter box.  

The program has grown to encompass every neighborhood in Portland. There are 96 artists in 96 studios participating. Two weekends in October people tour through studios and watch the artist at work.  

The program has been so influential that neighborhood associations and groups have now started ‘mushroom’ tours at other times of the year. The good news about this is that there is information about the arts throughout the year; the bad news is that there is some confusion as to what is officially the Open Studios Program, and what is not.

The Board (set up with 11 members, currently only 8 positions filled), starts working in November for the following October. The Board’s number one goal was to get people to the studios. They produce a calendar each year, which is the ‘tour guide”, and the ticket to the event. Bonnie definitely feels the extra time; money and paper needed for the calendar are worth it, because she sees the calendar all over town in offices all year long. They have printed 3000 copies in past years; this year they will be printing 3, 500. 

Printed on the calendar is all the information about each participating artist; their name, address, phone number, email and web page. This information cannot be easily obtained anywhere else. The Art Council will not give out this information, to maintain privacy, but then how does one make a sale?  

Proof of its usefulness is seen in the amount of emails from people trying to contact the artists. Bonnie believes a website is also a must for any art organization, or small business. LA Times wrote an article about this project after seeing their website. Just this morning, Bonnie received a draft of an article from the Travel and Leisure Mexico Magazine, quoting her from the calendar.  

During open studios, all artists are doing something, as people want to see the process, not just the finished work. There are no longer art programs in schools, so for many people, this is the only chance to learn about how art is made.  

Purchase of the calendar (or Tour Guide) admits two adults and any kids to two weekends of open studios. The names addresses and phone numbers of all the artists are included, and a fancy map to all the studios. In the past, the price was $12.00, but this year it was raised to $15.00. Bonnie considers it one of the best bargains in town.  

The event is juried, and even in the beginning would not take everybody. They have had to turn down 50 people. The organization was started by a pastel artist, and was mostly water colorists and pastel artists initially. Bonnie opened it up to more textile and craft artists, and her job is to go out and find those people. The board is now 25% artists and crafts people, and much more of a mixed breed. They are now ‘nonsectarian’ and accept any media.   They did not want to be a bunch of middle-aged white ladies, and are actively seeking ethnic artists. They have great support from the town’s ethnic newspapers, which helps with publicity and encouraging other artists to apply.  

Tori Ngugen got her BA in Business with a minor in Art History from the University of Oregon. She did an internship in France.  She co-authored a book with 3 partners, and teaches small business classes on DIY Lounge, teaching people how to create small, creative based businesses.  She organizes Crafty Wonderland on the 2nd Sunday of the month, at the Doug Fir, in a lounge under the bar. This is next to the Jupiter Hotel, which is known for the Affair at the Jupiter art extravaganza in September and October.  

For the past three years, Tori has run a business making handbags and accessories out of fabric.  A few years ago, a friend put together a dinner party of 5 people who make and sell things. They decided to meet regularly, and after 3 meetings, they realized that by pooling their energy and ideas they could promote themselves better as a group than individually. They wanted to share the things that they had learned the hard way, since there were a so few resources to learn about this type of business. They put together a website with a mini-business tutorial to help others.  

Through this website, they were contacted by Sasquatch Books and a book deal was hatched.  The Book gives instructions for 75 projects. The whole first section of the book deals with the philosophy why it is important to make things and support artists and craftspeople, and how art can be used to heal self and the world. The began having book parties, and at each party there is a table where people can make something to get in touch with the creative inner person, and have something to take home.  

Because of the lack of a venue in Portland for people who make things that don’t fit into regular galleries, they started Crafty Wonderland. They wanted it to run all year round, which meant an indoor venue.  They also wanted it to showcase fine arts as well as crafts. There are 40 ‘booths’ available each month, and the entries are juried to insure there is a broad range of crafts represented. There is also table where everyone can make something to take home.  


Namita began by asking: What kind of cultural contributions does your project add to Portland that may be different from other cultures?

Bonnie: Open Studios reaches people who aren’t normally exposed to art. They might think galleries are stuffy, and be intimidated. Portland has a large community of bicycle riders, who have money, and might spend it on art, but don’t normally  go to galleries.   The Open Studios program reaches out specifically to them with a raffle. If you ride your bike to 5 studios, you are can enter the raffle. The prize is a bike, hand-painted by one of eight artists chosen by the winner. The bike is donated, and the bike organizations do all the publicity.  

Jenny echoed Bonnie. Seeing art in nontraditional places gets people interested to go see art in the more traditional places. People, who might feel intimidated by a gallery or museum, enjoy being able to walk around McMenimans with a beer or glass of wine and study the art. Each site has a scrapbook, which shows the restoration process, and these are very popular.  

The next question was regarding the fee for the artists in the Open Studios program. 

$160.00. For this they get 5 calendars to give away), postcards and other publicity, and two workshops. One is specific to the open studio weekend (clean your place, empty the litter box, etc), and the second deals with general business things such as marketing, pricing and selling your work.     

To Tori: How do you keep in communication with the group and with the general public? 

Communication within the group is through face-to-face meetings whenever possible, and tons and tons of emails. When marketing the Crafty Wonderland there are monthly press releases, and postcards and posters distributed throughout town. The posters seem to be the most successful. They also use mailing lists from other events (such as Last Thursday) and word of mouth. “E-vites” and pdfs are sent to artists to participate, and they are adding a spot on the website so anyone can download a link to one’s own website.

Booth space costs $25 for a 4’ by 4’ space. They chose to keep booths smaller to accommodate more people. They have discovered that the event is more work than they originally anticipated, and they are going to raise the booth fees in September, before the Holidays. Approximately half of the income is spent on the venue. Doug Fir does send out email lists to 3000 people, and helps promote the event through their ads and posters.  

Greg (Art in the Pearl) sends postcards to 3000 people. They have a budget of $100,000. 20 – 25% is in kind donations and sponsorships. This year, a major sponsor is pulling out. This show is ranked 18th in the nation. (NOTE: not sure if this is in terms of budget, or revenue raised?) 

Jenny believes that the rain contributes to people buying art here in Portland. Portland has a very literate population, and tend to spend lots of time indoors, so they like art to decorate “their nests”.  

The next question was regarding tourism, and whether locals or tourists made most art purchases.

Namita answered that the Portland art scene is not consciously linked to tourism. People come to Portland for other reasons, but it would be interesting to look at the statistics regarding this.  

Bonnie volunteered that there is a whole organization, which is part of Portland Oregon Visitors Association (POVA) that addresses cultural tourism. An audience member suggested that immigration also creates a market for artists, with people buying houses and redecorating. Bonnie noted that 10% of the artists are new to the area as well.  

The next audience question was “Within each of your enterprises, what are you doing to avoid the complacency that comes with success, and to ensure continued success?”

Jenny replied that that was a good question, as she has noted that can be a danger in Portland, of getting too smug, and forgetting that we are a part of the nationwide movement. 

Greg said his art does not actually sell well in the state. He needs to go to the East Coast or San Francisco to show his art. His group is facing the problem of becoming so successful that it is harder to get publicity, especially from the news media.  

Bonnie, who is the publicity person for her organization, said the press is interesting. It is almost impossible to get into the Arts section of the Oregonian (the local and statewide paper). They are mentioned in the living section, or the neighborhood sections, but she actually prefers this, as it reaches a broader audience. 

One audience member volunteered that he was a journalist, and he got bored going back to the same event year after year. He said to attract that type of publicity, events or organizations should come up with a new hook, or go to a different section or different beat, to bring in someone fresh.  

Bonnie suggested sending hand made Valentine’s to the press.  


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