Grab a Bike, Download the App, and Hit the Trail
Who knew that famous and eclectic artists, sculptors, photographers and muralists have their work splashed, sprayed and mounted all over the city, accessible any time and totally free? Rather than just hoping you’ll catch of glimpse of these masterpieces tucked into the alleyways, highways and byways of Portland, download the free Public Art PDX app on your smartphone.
More than 400 public works of art in the metro area pop up on this art app, which then maps out a bike trail for you based on GPS coordinates. Opt for a drive-by route if you must, but there’s just something about cycling that gets the creative juices going. So skip the traffic and parking tickets, and get face-to-face with these unexpected cultural icons hiding in plain sight.
The 1800 pieces of public art in the official collection by the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) have emerged over a span of 30 years, but the app narrows it down to 400 of the most significant or easily accessible ones. The pieces appear in places like parks, fire stations, streetscapes, private buildings and libraries – but keep an eye out for informal art on café walls or abandoned buildings as well.
Historic, Cultural and Pop-Art Treasures
Examples of what you’ll find include a collection of six paintings inside City Hall, by artist Roll Hardy, commissioned to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Visual Chronicle of Portland. Another is a steel angle iron sculpture measuring 80×80 feet, depicting the form of buildings demolished as part of 1950’s highway construction along Grand Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, including a cast-iron foundry and warehouse. The theme is exploring the “lost civic fabric” and imagining an alternate reading of history.
Public art murals on the Portland trail are elaborate, such as an eye-popping cultural depiction of Cuba’s history, people, dance, music and architecture. It covers 1850 square feet of space on the east wall of Pambiche restaurant, in the Apambichao Building, which itself mimics the architecture of central Havana. The main mural on the east wall, painted by artists Emily Beeks and Rachel Oleson using acrylic and plaster, covers 1850 square feet .
The neighborhood is home to many Cuban-born families, so stay awhile to enjoy some Cuban coffee, music and cuisine. It’s basically a mixture of Spanish, African and Caribbean foods, with specialties made from root vegetables, plantains, spicy stews and rum. If you make it over there early enough, don’t miss the “Desayuno Cubana,” a Cuban breakfast with palomilla steak or Havana ham and fufu, a yellow plantain mash.
As you enter each neighborhood and spot the art treasures along your route, just tap on the app to view hi-rez images, details about the art, and artist statements. You’ll even know who funded it and what social statement it’s making (if any). Sometimes it’s just for fun – and why not? As the saying goes: Art needs no justification. In Portland, it just needs a little app assistance and a big heart for creativity.
Alternate Modes of Motion
If you’re not fond of pedal power, lace up your sneakers and hoof it along one or more of the art paths. A printable walking map is available from RACC, sectioned into neighborhoods with walkable collections of public art, including the Pearl District, Downtown, China Town, Lloyd District/Central Eastside, the University District and more.
Interesting Fact: The Regional Arts & Culture Council in Portland accepts applications for community mural funding through its Public Art Murals Program. Apply by the first Wednesday of every month.