Oregon ArtsWatch


Michael A. Gibbons, 1943-2020

The longtime Oregon artist, who helped spark the creation of Toledo's arts colony, has a show at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg

Longtime Oregon artist Michael A. Gibbons died July 2 at his home in Toledo, from complications following a stroke in 2016. He was 76. Born in Portland, he moved to the Oregon Coast when he was 25 and was instrumental in the establishment of Toledo as something of an artists’ colony, with several studios and galleries and the annual Labor Day Art Walk.

According to his online obituary, Gibbons was inspired as an art student by the landscape paintings of the 19th century French artist Corot. “I had to paint things that struck people like that,” the obituary quotes him as saying in a 2014 newspaper interview. “I saw dawn, that silvery morning light and soft colors. They weren’t garish. It was like looking at a prayer.”

Michael A. Gibbons and his wife, Judith “Judy” Mortenson, in an undated photo via Bateman Funeral Home.


Resourcefulness and resilience: Local thesis shows in a global pandemic

Graduating art students pivot from in-person thesis shows to an array of virtual offerings


There is a lot going on in the world right now, and in the midst of it, a newly minted class of fine art and craft students is setting out into the world. The timing couldn’t be better – we need their hope, creativity, resiliency, and ingenuity now more than ever. Equally, the timing couldn’t be worse – nearly all of their final in-person thesis shows were cancelled because of Covid-19 related closures. But art and artists are attuned to change, and as the pandemic forced colleges and universities across the Portland Metro area to close their campuses, their art departments moved swiftly to adjust expectations and find meaningful ways to culminate their degree programs. 

“Our role was to be responsive to the moment and work with the circumstances and not despite them,” said Jess Perlitz, who teaches sculpture at Lewis & Clark College and is the co-chair of its Department of Art. “Something about the arts is to be prepared and resourceful and resilient. We got to model that.”

For many schools, delaying or postponing the thesis exhibition wasn’t an option. Students left as campuses closed in mid-March, and because they were graduating, any plans to return were uncertain. As a result, institutions pivoted to thinking of the final exhibitions as virtual, building new online galleries or substantially enhancing existing web pages. 


Resonating: Arts groups respond to race crisis

In an open letter organized by Resonance Ensemble, more than 1,000 individuals and 100 groups lend voice to demands for racial justice

EDITORS’ NOTE: Since the slaying in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an African American man, by a white police officer on May 25 protests have sprung up across the nation, including Portland and many other towns and cities in Oregon. Portland artists and cultural groups have responded strongly, raising their voices against racial injustice and inequity. In Portland, more than 1,000 individuals and 100 cultural organizations have put their signatures to the open letter below, organized by the choral group Resonance Ensemble and addressed to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and other state and local officials. Most but not all of the signatories are from Portland’s musical community.


Tributes to George Floyd outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died after a police officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Photo: Vasanthtcs / Wikimedia Commons

An Open Letter from Resonance Ensemble and the Portland Arts Community

Dear Governor Brown, Mayor Wheeler, and state and local government officials:

Millions of people have taken to the streets around the country to protest the killing of George Floyd by a police officer who pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds as he lay pinned on the ground in handcuffs. Mr. Floyd’s pleas for help — repeating that he couldn’t breathe — were ignored.


Will Portland protect its ‘Big 5’?

The city's precarious arts funding structure and "small is better" ethos imperil the major arts groups, Portland Opera's former leader says


It was difficult to read a recent Willamette Week article (May 21) about Portland Opera canceling its fall season. I love the company. I’m very grateful for the 16 years I served as General Director and I wish to see it thrive. The article was also difficult to read because of significant inaccuracies. To write that the company has suffered from “years of substantial deficit” is simply not true. This can be verified by examining the financial documents on the company website.

But I’m not writing today to correct faulty characterizations of what has occurred in the past. Instead, I’ve been thinking about Portland, its arts organizations, and our future together. This time of quarantine provides an opportunity to take a “big picture” look at Portland’s arts community and what may lie ahead, post-pandemic.

First, let’s look back at the economic support conditions prior to the pandemic. The subscription model, which has been the life-blood of so many arts organizations, was already faltering and on life support. Consumers simply are not purchasing season subscriptions as they once did. There are a number of reasons why this has happened. Michael Kaiser, who has led many nonprofits and is known as the Turnaround King, has written extensively on the subject. There’s general agreement that the subscription model may improve somewhat in the years ahead, but it’s not coming back anywhere near where it was 20 years ago.

Christopher Mattaliano. Photo: Portland Opera

A number of Portland foundations that previously provided dependable, annual operating support have changed their focus and funding priorities. This often happens over time, particularly with a change of foundation leadership. Arts organizations have had to adjust quickly, as foundations have either reduced their support or no longer support the city’s arts organizations at all.


Fortepianos and a Misty Lake in the Moonlight

Historically, a keyboard isn't just a keyboard. How you hear Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata can depend on the instrument it's played on.


When Baroque or earlier music is performed, the question of whether to use period instruments often is at the forefront of the interpretive conception. Organizations like the Oregon Bach Festival and Portland Baroque Orchestra must answer this question for every performance. With keyboard repertoire or keyboard parts of a chamber or orchestral work, this might be a decision of whether to use a piano or a harpsichord. The two instruments have such different sound, however, that asking which is preferred is not unlike asking whether a piece should be played on violin or flute. Thus, while pianists playing solo may choose to play on the piano music that was composed for harpsichord, Baroque and early music ensembles generally will use a harpsichord or organ for keyboard parts to satisfy aesthetic preferences and maintain historical integrity.

During the Classical era, fortepianos (early versions of the piano) began supplanting harpsichords and organs as the keyboard instrument of choice for secular keyboard music. While the earliest keyboard compositions of Haydn were written for the harpsichord, the fortepiano had supplanted the harpsichord by the time of Beethoven and Schubert. Today, keyboard music of the Classical era generally is performed on a modern piano, but the decision of whether to use a period piano (fortepiano) or modern piano can be interesting.

Fortepianist Tom Beghin, in a screen shot from the video below, demonstrating Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” From a demonstration at the Orpheus Institute, Ghent, Belgium, March 3, 2015.


A chance encounter and a flood of memories

A conversation on a train takes a writer on a ride into Portland racial history and one woman's life of beauty, elegance, and endurance


Oregon, and Portland, its biggest city, are not very diverse. Many white people may not even begin to think about, let alone understand, the inequalities faced by the city’s black and brown citizens. Many people who live here in Portland have never had to directly, physically, emotionally, interact with people of color. As the city becomes more popular and housing prices rise, Portland’s tiny African American population (at 6.3 percent, Portlands Black population is still more than three times the state figure of 1.9 percent) is being displaced to far-flung fringes of the city, leading to even less diversity in the city’s core.

The Vanport Mosaic 2020 Virtual Festival, which commemorates the 1948 flood and celebrates Vanport’s historical connection to the drive in Portland to “amplify, honor, present, and preserve the silenced histories that surround us in order to understand our present, and create a future where we all belong,” continues through Saturday, May 30.
See the schedule of online events here.

From its very beginning, Oregon was an inhospitable place for Black people. In 1844, the provisional government of the territory passed a law banning slavery, and at the same time required any African American in Oregon to leave the territory. Any Black person remaining would be flogged publicly every six months until he left. Five years later, another law was passed that forbade free African Americans from entering Oregon.

As Cora Smith was growing up, Portland’s African American culture centered on the city’s Albina district. Above, children helping with the Albina Neighborhood Improvement Project, 1962. Photo: City of Portland (OR) Archives, A2010-003


Portland’s variety and vitality, in print

Bijan Berahimi's latest project, Joon, is a multi-disciplinary arts magazine that celebrates all the city has to offer from food carts to funeral homes


JOON, a colloquial term of endearment in Farsi, is the name of Portland’s newest arts and culture magazine. The magazine is the brainchild of Bijan Berahimi, owner of FISK, a local design studio, gallery, and publisher. Born of a collaboration with Brown Printing, Inc, JOON’s first issue is now available exclusively in print through stockists in Portland, Los Angeles, New York City, and Tokyo, as well as FISK’s online store. The 160-page, polychrome tome is the product of six years of conversations with different members of Portland’s creative community. Combining the radically inclusive content of a zine with the aesthetic appeal of a high-quality, glossy print magazine, JOON is unique, personal, non-conformist, and beautifully executed. Luiza Lukova and Sebastian Zinn sat down with Berahimi to discuss the eclectic group of creative individuals and institutions involved in JOON’s publication, as well as his idiosyncratic approach to print media as an art form in itself.

Stack of JOON magazine. Image courtesy of FISK.

A calculated reaction to the scarcity of platforms for in-depth arts coverage in the Pacific Northwest, JOON emphasizes the sundry manifestations of culture which distinguish a community like Portland’s. The magazine is a manifestation of Berahimi’s personal ethos and professional values. With it, he uses his own brand and first-rate skills as a graphic designer to spotlight artists from very diverse backgrounds who have enriched this city through their distinctive creative practices and sui generis aesthetics.