SEVENTY YEARS AGO ON MAY 30 FLOODWATERS SWEPT IN from the Columbia River and burst through a 200-foot section of dike just north of Portland, inundating the city of Vanport, killing 15 people and wiping the city off the face of the Earth. Vanport was Oregon’s second-largest city at the time, with a population of 40,000 at its wartime peak before falling off after the end of World War II.
Vanport was an “instant city” created primarily to house workers in the Kaiser shipyards and their families. It was for a time the most racially integrated city in the state, with a large African American population and many Asian Americans, too. Many white workers moved out after the war; black workers and their families largely stayed because of exclusionary housing practices in neighborhoods across Portland. The memory of Vanport remains strong in the city’s African American community.
This year’s Vanport Mosaic Festival began Wednesday and continues through Memorial Day at venues across the city, from the Expo Center to City Hall to the New Columbia housing project and more. It includes music, art, theater, and historical presentations, including the rise of a vibrant black neighborhood in Albina and the waves of urban renewal and gentrification that weakened it. One of the most fascinating things about Vanport Mosaic is the way that it connects the historic catastrophe of Vanport’s destruction to history, politics, and culture beyond the flood.
Vanport Mosaic: story comes home, Bobby Bermea’s account of the history of Vanport, the Mosaic, and this year’s events, is an excellent guide to what it’s all about. Check it out, and make your plans. And check the North Portland Library’s new online collection Our Story: Portland Through an African American Lens, below:
DanceWatch Weekly: Simoneau says
OREGON BALLET THEATRE IS CLOSING ITS SEASON in the intimate BodyVox Dance Center with a show called, appropriately, Closer, with choreography by several company dancers, OBT rehearsal director Lisa Kipp, and the return of Helen Simoneau’s Departures, which OBT commissioned for last year’s Choreography XX project. In her new DanceWatch Weekly, Jamuna Chiarini also brings back her Q&A interview with Simoneau, a talk that dives into the process of creating a new work. Also on tap (literally) this week: the Portland Tap Dance Festival Faculty Showcase, at St. Mary’s Academy.
DramaWatch Weekly: Left Hook
THEATER IS A BIG PART OF THE VANPORT MOSAIC, and in his new DramaWatch Weekly Marty Hughley climbs into the conversational ring with Damaris Webb, a co-director of the Mosaic who is also director of Rich Rubin’s play Left Hook, set in a black-owned boxing club, which opens tonight at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center and is a part of this year’s Mosaic. Hughley sets it up: “Extending the story of the repeated displacement faced by Portland’s black community, Left Hook is set in the 1970s, as urban renewal roils the Albina neighborhood that had absorbed the black Vanport diaspora a quarter century earlier.” And Webb reveals that she, too, “knows a little about the sweet science, having done some Golden Gloves boxing herself during the years she spent as an actor in New York. (She got into it while working on a devised group show about superheroes, she says.)” Also: this week’s stage openings, closings, and more.
MusicWatch Weekly: Maxville to Vanport
VANPORT MOSAIC MEANS MUSIC, TOO – in particular, Saturday’s concert From Maxville to Vanport: A Celebration of Portland’s Black History, at the Alberta Rose Theatre. As Brett Campbell explains in his new MusicWatch Weekly, it’s “the final performance of Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s concert of original songs and film shorts inspired by the stories of the multicultural populations of Oregon’s lost, short-lived predominantly African American communities … after last month’s shows in La Grande, Enterprise, and Baker City.” (Maxville was a largely African American community built in 1923 in Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa County.) “So much of what ails America and Oregon has roots in our history,” Campbell notes. “So much could be prevented or at least healed if we knew and listened to the lessons history teaches.” MusicWatch has lots more, too, from the great Iranian kemancheh virtuoso and composer Kayhan Kalhor (a founding member of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble) in Corvallis to some bossa nova at the Jack London Revue.
Painterly days, magenta nights
PAUL MAZIAR DIVES DEEP INTO THE PAINTED DREAMS of the New York artist Katherine Bradford, whose show Magenta Nights is at Adams and Ollman gallery in Portland. “In a 2016 interview with Jennifer Samet,” Maziar notes, “Bradford said, ‘what interests me the most is the language of painting—how people are able to say things using paint.’ She then refers to a vernacular forever common to both poets and painters: the sea, the sky and clouds. Having seen two of her exhibitions in person, both at Adams & Ollman, I’ve asked myself, what is it then, that Bradford is saying with her pictures? She’s telling me about revelry, buoyancy, fun—all perhaps contingent upon meditation and reflection. And then there’s the mysterious depth of the night that Bradford summons, that and the deep sea, the human mind. It’s all exciting, beyond sense, mystical, and yet utterly clear, approachable.”
Toxic masculinity in high office
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