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Amid crises, creating art to heal

Portland's former Creative Laureate Subashini Ganesan-Forbes leads a city drive to nurture art for a time of grieving and healing

In April of this year the City of Portland announced a six-month grieving and healing initiative titled “Community Healing Through Art.” Led by the city’s outgoing creative laureate, Subashini Ganesan-Forbes, the six-month initiative uses community engagement to drive public art projects to promote healing among Portland communities after the extraordinary health and cultural crises of 2020 and 2021.

With initial support from the offices of Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Carmen Rubio, the project has grown to a $200,000 initiative thanks to funding from the Oregon Community Foundation and the Miller Foundation. As part of the initiative, 13 grants were awarded to artists and organizations in Portland to create individual projects totaling $65,000. A full list of the grantees, whose projects range from a Black Arts Summer Showcase music festival to a Parkrose district youth film project to end gun violence, can be found here.

The first of these projects began this week, a Joint Collaborative Garland by the Independent Publishing Resource Center. Local poets will contribute first lines of poems that reflect on the grief and healing of the past year. The zine library will be open through September for community members to contribute to the installation.

Arts advocate Subashini Ganesan-Forbes. Photo: Intisar Abioto

Ganesan-Forbes was appointed Portland creative laureate in 2018, and was succeeded earlier this summer by the dual laureates Leila Haile and Joaquin Lopez. But she’s continuing with the healing initiative, which she’d begun before her term ended. We talked with her about the initiative’s projects and what they might do:

TJ Acena: What is the history of this project?

Subashini Ganesan-Forbes: From the beginning I made it clear that, yes, I’m leaving as creative laureate but it’s gonna take a lot of time to even think about what the concept of community healing could be. The first month was a lot of organizing, thinking and strategic work. I’m super grateful I was given a lot of freedom to create, build, and initiate a lot of collaborations.


Fighting the one-two punch

ArtsWatch Weekly: Amid twin crises, arts and social awareness mix and meld and come together

IT’S BEEN A WEEK TO PICK OURSELVES UP, DUST OURSELVES OFF, START ALL OVER AGAIN: The one-two punch of pandemic and racial injustice has kept the culture on the ropes even as some of the contenders take a premature victory lap. The United States has solidified its dubious distinction as the epicenter of the global coronavirus crisis: Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in the face of a rudderless national response is the closest thing we have to a national leader on the issue, warns that if Americans don’t get serious about the threat we could be facing 100,000 new cases a day. While the nation gradually and sometimes not so gradually reopens, the numbers of infections and deaths have spiked. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown has ordered that people wear masks in indoor public settings in every county, a directive that many, even those assigned to enforce the law, feel free to flout. 

The designer Milton Glaser’s final project. miltonglaser.com 

Culturally, in the past week the nation’s lost two towering figures. The great comedian Carl Reiner, who with the likes of Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks helped shape a stream of antic and sometimes subversively open American popular comedy, died at 98. And Milton Glaser, the graphic artist/designer/entrepreneur/American hybrid, died on his 91st birthday. Glaser’s touch was all over the culture, from book and album covers to concert posters to restaurant designs to the iconic “I (Heart) NY” logo that’s been copied by cities from here to the farther moons of Pluto, or so it sometimes seems. At the time of his death he was working on a new cultural connector to bridge the divides of troubled times: a distinctive image of the word “Together.”