Vanport Mosaic’s flood of memories

ArtsWatch Weekly: A festival to remember, theater heats up, All Classical's leap forward, whither Europe, Chachalu steps up, more

MONDAY IS MEMORIAL DAY, a national remembering of soldiers who have died while on duty, and this is a week for other meaningful anniversaries, too. Tuesday marked a full year since George Floyd was murdered at the knee of a Minneapolis policeman, setting off national protests, accelerating a nationwide battle over race and cultural and political life, and reverberating through the presidential election and the failed Capitol takeover of January 6.

And Sunday will be the 73rd anniversary of the Vanport Flood, which on May 30, 1948, burst through a a 200-foot section of railroad berm just north of Portland on land where Delta Park and its surrounds now sit. Floodwaters from the Columbia River poured in, inundating the wartime city of Vanport, sweeping away its infrastructure, killing at least 15 people, and leaving 18,500 homeless. It was a sudden cultural reshaping with historic consequences. Built in 1942 to house workers at the Portland and Vancouver Kaiser shipyards and their families, Vanport had a population of 40,000 at its height, making it the second-largest city in Oregon at the time. It was also, for its few years, the most racially and ethnically diverse city in Oregon: Wartime workers came from all over, creating an instant city that looked and acted very differently from the Oregon of its time, and more like the multicultural nation that the United States is becoming in the 21st century.

A few of the faces of Vanport, Oregon’s most racially diverse city before floodwaters washed it away in 1948. Photo: City of Portland Archives

SIX YEARS AGO THE VANPORT MOSAIC FESTIVAL sprang into being, building on the memories of Vanport to expand upon its meanings in contemporary life. Created by Laura Lo Forti and Damaris Webb, it began as a Memorial Day Weekend event at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, with a historical display, play productions, and other events. It’s grown since into a citywide event lasting several weeks in various venues, including online. This year’s festival, which involves about 200 artists, activists, historians, collaborating groups, and others, began Wednesday and continues with both virtual and in-person events through June 30. 

“Martha Bakes”: An American story in black and white. Act II of Don Wilson Glenn’s new play about Martha Washington and her Black seamstress and confidante Ona Marie Judge, the nation’s first recorded runaway slave, will debut in a virtual reading June 4. Photo courtesy Vanport Mosaic. 

You can see the entire schedule here. And to whet your appetite, here are a few highlights:

  • Maxville: Past, Present, & Future. A free virtual event, 7-9 p.m. Thursday, May 27. From 1923 to 1933, this Eastern Oregon logging town attracted a large number of Black workers, who created a culture of their own. Gwendoline Trice, director of the Maxville Heritage Center, leads the presentation.
     
  • All Power to the People. Kent Ford, a co-founder of Portland’s Black Panthers in the 1960s, leads a walking tour of the Albina District, longtime historical center of Black Portland life. Monica Salazar took the tour for ArtsWatch last year and wrote what she discovered in her essay Reckoning, and walking, with Portland’s past.
     
  • An Albina Soul Walk. Musical luminary Calvin Walker and Paul Knauls, Sr. lead a free walk through Albina, concentrating on the district’s rich musical history, from gospel, blues, and jazz to soul, funk, disco, and electrified R&B. June 12.
     
  • Martha Bakes: A Biography of a Revolution That Never Happened. Don Wilson Glenn’s play-in-progress first saw public light in January’s Fertile Ground virtual festival of new works, when Adrienne Flag starred in its first act as Martha Washington, the nation’s first First Lady, loose in the kitchen. Now comes Act Two, also virtual, in which Victoria Alvarez-Chacon stars as Ona Marie Judge, Martha’s Black dresser, seamstress, confidante, and the nation’s first (recorded) runaway slave. Damaris Webb, Vanport Mosaic’s co-director, once again directs the virtual reading. 7-9 p.m. Friday, June 4.
     
  • We, the People Weekend. A free, live weekend of poetry, music, pop-up exhibits, vendors, and more in Portland’s North Park Blocks. June 25-27.


O EUROPE, HOW DO YOU FIT? RETHINKING MUSIC & ART


ICAN open house: celebrating kids and creativity. Photo courtesy All Classical Portland.

WHOSE CULTURE IS IT, ANYWAY? American culture is a messy and amalgamated thing. “Do I contradict myself?” Walt Whitman asked in Song of Myself. “Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Yet for generations the European branch of the nation’s heritage has ruled in cultural conversations, as if all others – even the cultures that were here for 10,000 years before the European arrival – were mere appendages; exceptions to the rule. Like the national culture itself, arts organizations have been wrestling with this perception, trying to find better ways of representing the people and cultures that actually live here. This week, our writers take a look at a couple of significant examples:

  • RADIO REJUVENATION. “Classical music radio: dated music for old people, written by dead white European males, out of step with a demographic growing younger and more diverse,” Brett Campbell begins – and then starts telling us the many ways in which All Classical Portland, the city’s globally streaming, 24-hour classical music station, is “blowing up that stereotype of contemporary cultural irrelevance.” Campbell delves into the goals and successes of ICAN – International Children’s Art Network – the station’s second network, designed to engage kids and teens in a variety of ways. He also looks at the station’s Youth Roving Reporters arts-journalism mentoring program, its artists-in-residence program that boosts contemporary and diverse music, and its ambitious Recording Inclusivity Initiative, which “aims to expand the recorded classical music canon by inviting selected contemporary composers to spend a week-long residency with All Classical Portland,” and then records their music, airs it on the station, and has it released on the major classical label Naxos Records. “I think All Classical Portland has seized the opportunity to influence the future,” president and CEO Suzanne Nance tells Campbell.
Among the European artworks afforded pride of place: Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “Girl with a Marmot” (1780). Oil on canvas. Museum purchase from the Bowles Estate with funds provided by Ella M. Hirsch, Helen Thurston Ayer, Caroline Ladd Pratt, and Museum Auction Funds. Image courtesy of the Portland Art Museum.

EUROPEAN ART AND THE BAGGAGE CLAIM. ArtsWatch visual arts editor Laurel Reed Pavic, who herself holds a Ph.D in European art history, considers the complex racial and cultural assumptions under which the Portland Art Museum and many others have built and centered their collections on European art. “I love European art,” she declares – and then wonders why it’s so often elevated over all others. “The Portland Art Museum was not founded with the goal of upholding white supremacy,” she writes. “The founders’ purpose was to establish a cultural institution befitting an American city of the time. An embrace of a European culture based on the Classical tradition was the norm in the United States, particularly in the early 20th century.” She adds: “If the art works were shown all together, on equal footing, with equal explanation, that would shift the narrative. There are plenty of themes that the museum’s collections could be grouped into: death, food, spirituality, animals (to name just a few possibilities). Hanging the collection this way would require cooperation and collaboration across departments, but it would more closely adhere to the goal of creating a ‘deeper understanding of our shared humanity.’ It would also more obviously dethrone white culture.” 



CHACHALU: MEETING THE PAST, EMBRACING THE FUTURE


Two canoes set out inside the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde’s Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center, in front of a panoramic wall image of the Willamette Valley. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

REIMAGINING THE MUSEUM WITH A NATIVE LENS. In the newest chapter in her ArtsWatch series Indigenous Resilience in Oregon, Steph Littlebird and photographer Joe Cantrell take readers inside the doors of the Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center, off of Highway 99 on the Grand Ronde Reservation, southwest of McMinnville. The opening of the expansive new museum building in 2014, Littlebird writes, was a significant step, giving the confederated tribes a place to tell the stories of their history and contemporary culture. The museum holds a lot of culturally important objects, and provides a home for repatriated objects, too: In 2018, in a year-long loan from the British Museum, it exhibited 16 objects that had come from tribes in the Grand Ronde confederation. They were objects, Littlebird writes, that “the Tribes had not seen in many generations, and many of the objects held lost techniques and patterns that Tribal members wanted to study and document. Through the studies of these objects, including baskets, beaver teeth dice, deer toe rattles, and dentalium purses, the tribe was able to rediscover basket weaving patterns that were lost through violent colonization.”

Even more significant than repatriation, museum curator Travis Stewart tells Littlebird, is the link that the works provide to contemporary tribal art and life. “We can get upset about those objects being in different places,” Stewart said. “But a lot of that is because the knowledge is gone, but if we have people that can make it now, that really takes a lot of that value away … “The only reason they would be important is if the people that created them didn’t exist anymore, and they do, they do exist. … the power that we allow those objects to have over us is also not helpful. It’s like labeling ourselves as extinct, it contributes to trauma, as opposed to just learning the value those objects had to begin with and carrying it on. Then it’s not gone.” 

Entrance to the Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center. Photo: Joe Cantrell.


NO-ROSE-PARADE BLUES? WELCOME TO POOCHES ON PARADE


“Benched,” 2014. Photo: K.B. Dixon

STREET SCENE: POOCHES ON PARADE. In Portland it’s Rose Festival time, and for the second year in a row the grand public bacchanalia, which has been a tradition since 1907, has been sharply curtailed because of coronavirus precautions. Yes, there’s a royal court of 15 rose princesses, as there has been since 1930 – but no dragon boat races or fun fair on the waterfront or fireworks or concerts or fleet week or marching bands & strutting horses in big parades until next year. (In an ordinary year, half a million people line the route to get in on the action at the Grand Floral Parade.) There will be a Rose Festival Art Show, June 3-23. And for the second straight year, a Porch Parade of decorated and tourable porches, yards, and gardens scattered around the city will brighten neighborhoods May 31-June 13: Last year, more than 400 homes put on the dog with officially sanctioned displays. It’s the Porch Parade, and the Covid cancellation of this year’s Rose City Classic Dog Show, that inspired photographer and writer K.B. Dixon to go through his photo files and assemble his homegrown Portland Pooch Parade. No official sanction necessary: Just a city of dog lovers, a lively street scene (remember those?), and a roving photographer with a keen eye for the moment. Dixon’s parade offers 15 scenes of urban canine-and-human connection – as grand a parade as we’re likely to see for another year.



THEATER: COMING YOUR WAY, LIVE AND ONSTAGE!


Lance Nuttman rehearses the role of Tim Tooney in “Novecento” on the Gallery Theater stage in McMinnville. Photo: Seth Renne, courtesy Gallery Theater

WHAT’S THAT PEEKING JUST AROUND THE CORNER? COULD IT BE REAL THEATER, LIVE AND ONSTAGE? It’s not as if Oregon were footloose and fancy-free again, cavorting about the countryside and the theater stages as if it were 2019. But with vaccination rates rising and infection rates dropping, the deep freeze is starting to thaw:

  • In a biggie, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced Thursday that it’ll move back into live production with Cheryl L. West’s Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a celebration of the 20th century civil- and voting-rights activist, July 1-Oct. 9 on the open-air Elizabethan stage. There’ll be concerts on the Elizabethan stage, too, and an indoor holiday special, It’s Christmas, Carol!, running Nov. 23-Jan. 2.
     
  • Portland’s Triangle Productions has just wrapped its second live-in-the-theater production, Clever Little Lies, and is about to open its third on June 3 – High Dive, a solo one-act comedy in which Lisamarie Harrison stars as a woman frozen atop a high diving board while memories flash past her.
     
  • Linestorm Playwrights and the company AsteroidB612 are rehearsing a new family-friendly play, Dan Kitrosser’s Hannah + the Healing Stone, that’ll have free outdoor performances June 19 and 20 in Portland’s Laurelhurst Park, with a promising cast that includes Barbie Wu, Heath Hyun Houghton, Jordan Siegel, Josie Seid, Kayla Hanson, and Susannah Mars.
     
  • Experience Theatre Project is deep into planning its Westside Shakespeare Festival, a jolly-looking concoction complete with sword fighting, a pillory of shame, Elizabethan drinking and feasting, a production of the amusing Bardic free-for-all The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) and more, coming mid-July to the Beaverton Library lawn and various wineries perhaps near you.

And in McMinnville, David Bates writes in Gallery Theater Steps Back on the Boards, the venerable Gallery Theater is getting back on the boards with its first live show since March 2020, Alessandro Baricco’s solo play Novocento, which blends quarantine, connection, and the nature of inspiration. “I am very aware of how utterly lucky I am to even have this opportunity,” the show’s star, Lance Nuttman, tells Bates. “To be able to return to the stage is what every single creative wants right now. The gravity of how important this return is to all of us is not lost on me for a moment.” The show opens Friday and runs through June 13.



MOVIES: A BOLD NEW VOICE, ‘CRUELLA’ & MORE


Arnaud Valois and writer/director/star Suzanne Lindon in “Spring Blossom.”

FILM WATCH WEEKLY: TEENAGE AUTEUR, CRUELLA DE VIL, TINY TIM, MORE! As Disney’s big-budget Cruella heralds an almost old-fashioned summer movie season, Marc Mohan makes a genuine find in the “delicate, barely-feature-length French drama” Spring Blossom and its young maker Suzanne Lindon, who wrote the script when she was 15 and directed and starred in it at 20. Also of note: Criterion’s retrospective on the films of director Josephine Decker (Madeline’s MadelineShirley). And, yes, there really is a new documentary on the ukulele-strumming 1960s pop phenomenon Tiny Tim, still remembered fondly or otherwise for tiptoeing through the tulips.



AROUND & ABOUT: ART NEWS FROM ALL OVER


Among the artworks in the touring exhibition “Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea”: Angel Rodriguez-Diaz, “The Protagonist of an Endless Story,” 1993, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum; museum purchase made possible by the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool and the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program, 1996. 1996.19, © Angel Rodriguez-Diaz.Scan from color transparency

“MANY WESTS: ARTISTS SHAPE AN AMERICAN IDEA.” Museums, art, and history have ever-evolving linked relationships, as Laurel Reed Pavic notes in her essay about European art and the Portland Art Museum, and Steph Littlebird writes in her exploration of the Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center (both essays linked above). Old stories of the settling of the American West, tied to the myth of Manifest Destiny, were incomplete at best and badly distorted at worst. The truth is that the West is a blend of many, often competing stories, and its multiplicity is reflected in this new traveling exhibition created from the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and four museums in the West, each of which will host it during its tour. The exhibition, which includes work by 48 artists, is considerably broadened from the simple story of pioneer expansion and settlement. As SAAM notes, it “showcases artworks by artists who are Black, white, women, men, LGBTQ+, Native American, Asian American and Latinx.” The collaborating museums, with exhibition dates in parentheses: Boise Art Museum, in Idaho (July 31, 2021-Feb. 13, 2022); Whatcom Museum, in Bellingham, Wash. (March 19-Aug. 21, 2022); Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon, in Eugene (Sept. 26-Dec. 31, 2022); Utah Museum of Fine Arts, in Salt Lake City (Feb. 4-June 11, 2023); and SAAM, in Washington, D.C. (July 28, 2023-Jan. 14, 2024). 


ANNA HALPRIN DIES AT 100. The great American choreographer and teacher, who continued to dance until she was 95, died on Monday at her home in Marin County, California. Her influence was enormous: Students such as Meredith Monk, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, and the partners Eiko and Koma helped redefine contemporary dance. As Jack Anderson notes in his obituary for The New York Times, the line between dance and life was thin for Halprin: “Life experience is the fuel for my dancing,” she once said, “and dance is the fuel for my life experience.”

LAWRENCE HALPRIN AT THE OREGON JEWISH MUSEUM. Anna Halprin was married to the great landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, who died in 2009, and whose series of open-space fountains, including the Ira Keller Forecourt Fountain, redefined downtown Portland. Begun in the city’s first wave of urban renewal in the 1960s, the fountain project also displaced a Jewish immigrant community. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education will reopen on June 23 with an exhibition devoted to Lawrence Halprin’s work and influence, and the show will be dedicated to Anna Halprin.


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About the author
Senior Editor

Bob Hicks has been writing about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki OhtsuJames B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Prologue, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series “Today I Am.”

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