Arting up Alberta Street

"Keep it badder, PDX." Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.
“Keep it badder, PDX.” Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

For some Middle School reason, I think using the word “art” as a verb is hilarious. As in, “Don’t interrupt, I’m arting.”

One of my inexplicable Crystal diversions is that I like to catalogue wall art. Many cities have murals and many cities have spectacular graffiti, and I am crazy about it. I am even won over by 3-D wall art, like parts of airplanes or cars built to look like they are jutting out, mosaic tiles that lift from the wall, and religious icons set into walls. I am impressed with this living art:

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.
The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

Last week I talked a friend into driving me around to look for wall murals to photograph. This morning, Andrew at Have Bag, Will Travel posted wall art and it was the push I needed to get my photos out to you all.

There is a street in Portland called Alberta Street, that has been building its reputation for 100 years. From the 1920s, Alberta Street was known as a place where inexpensive housing could be found, as well as bus and streetcar service to transport workers into the city. This reputation attracted many immigrants, and it also became the site of a massive relocation in the aftermath of a devastating flood in 1948 that wiped out a large Black American community. In the 1950s and again in the 1970s, public works projects leveled impoverished areas close to the city center and forced the people to relocate. Many of them crammed into the Alberta neighborhoods.

The people in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.
The residents in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.
One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists' styles.
One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists’ styles.

Crowding and poverty resulted in unrest. I was not in the area during the 1980s and 90s, but the reputation north Portland garnered for itself decades ago is still spread as fact by well-meaning neighbors in other parts of the city, in their attempts to help me learn the area. It was famous for gangs, drugs, and violence. At the same time, the Alberta residents put their collective feet down and said, “No more!” Always leaning heavily on the arts, a concerted effort of neighborhood improvements began, and was ultimately successful.

Inspirational as well as attractive.
Inspirational as well as attractive.
This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast.
This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast, shown in a recent post.
The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.
The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.
A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.
A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

Today, as often happens in diverse neighborhoods all over this country, the hard work of community activists has paid off, and the wealthy weekend explorers from downtown have “discovered” Alberta. The street hosts organic groceries and free-range chicken, gourmet ice cream, and a 100% gluten-free bakery. The cultural diversity of the local entrepreneurs overlaid with new trendy shops draws an entirely new crowd and – I assume – new growing pains as property values soar and gentrification claws its way in.

The character, the activism, and the arts from the complicated and heroic history shine through on Alberta Street today. It is one of the best places in Portland to park your car, get out into the air and join the community.

{Credit to Alberta Main Street for the historical facts.}

{My collection of Portland wall art on Flickr.}

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.
We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.
Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.
Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.
We share the same sun.
We share the same sun.
I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can't tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked "on top" of the recycling bins.
I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can’t tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked “on top” of the recycling bins.
Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.
Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when spray-painted graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

17 thoughts on “Arting up Alberta Street

  1. I don’t think I have ever heard that verb before Crystal – so never had the giggles over it like you and Derrick – never too late to start! [I always was a late starter!]

    The street art is great! i think it is a global phenomenon now. I’ve seen examples of it from many different countries on just about all the continents now I think. I think it is part of the ‘people taking ownership of their communities’ movement that is slowly but surely making an impact for the better on our world. It’s grand isn’t it that we have this opportunity to see that we are part of such a huge and connected world 🙂

    1. I am glad to hear you say that it seems like a global phenomenon! I can only speak for what I’ve experienced, and your perspective from another country is helpful. I am glad that there is an element of the street culture that values artistry and community improvement.

      Speaking of connected world, I have to tell you that I had an unexpected delight a few days ago when I went to visit our lovely friend Marlene (we are lucky enough to live only 30 minutes apart). It was my first tour of Marlene’s beautiful home – oh you have no sense of how nice it is unless you are there. There, on the wall in the den was your painting! “Touch it! You have to touch it!” says Marlene. And we mutually admired your sense of colour, the joyful mood, and especially the texture of your original painting. *SO* much fun to feel our world get a little smaller.

      1. What a lovely piece of news, thank you so much for sharing this snippet! I am so happy to hear you visit our mutual friend 🙂 News of her lovely home is welcome too – I was sure it would be!! Speaking of which I am reminded to trust all your new home related news continues to develop at a good and steady pace?

  2. Another passion we share, Crystal. Murals are a powerful, in the moment type of art. “Keep your chin up” is clever. Another favorite, the impressionist rendition of the black man and his hat. Thanks for sharing. –Curt

    1. Yes! I’m glad you liked that one with the black man in a hat. In fact, I didn’t even take that photo the same day as the rest, but knew I had snapped it already, so I pulled it from the archive. Guess that was a good call.

      I remember a couple wall murals from your Burning Man series. It’s nice to be able to look at what other people post, and see where we have common interests.

  3. I was just yesterday enjoying a fellow blogger’s post about wall art. A couple times a year he posts about the art work in Philadelphia.
    Your post is great in that you reveal the old, the new, the refurbished, and you tell the history, too.
    So Crystal … how are the moving plans going?
    I’m hoping it’s all working out the way you want it to!!

  4. Thank you for your feedback. I found the history of the street so interesting. I could have written tons more about it.

    I am going to have to post about the new house, huh? I’m supposed to close in 10 days, and so far I think it’s all working out ok. The schedule is tight on the lender’s end because the appraisers are really really busy and having a hard time returning their reports quickly.

    I wanted to keep myself from getting too excited when things might not come together yet. You know, I get superstitious that way. Things still have the potential to fall apart, but the number of things still left to go wrong are shrinking, and I’m feeling bolder. I just got an email from Marlene at In Search of It All, asking about the house. And Pauline. Ok you guys! It’s time: I’ll post! 🙂

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