Visitors to Portland, Oregon are sometimes astounded by the number of public art installations in the downtown area. Strolling through the central city, a person encounters a diversity of artworks on nearly every block.
Since 1980, the City of Portland and Multnomah County have required a percentage of the cost of new construction or major building renovation projects within their jurisdictions to be earmarked for purchase of permanent artworks. This program has resulted in hundreds of public art installations throughout the region.
The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), the agency that administers the “Percent for Art” program, publishes a Public Art Walking Tour Brochure. The brochure and map is a helpful guide to locating and identifying over one hundred public art installations throughout the central city. The brochure is available in printed form at visitor information locations and can be downloaded as a PDF file from the RACC website.
In March 2012, the Portland Mayor’s office and RACC announced the launch of a new iPhone app, Public Art PDX, which offers an online guide to Portland’s public art. The application, developed by Matt Blair of Elsewise Media in collaboration with RACC and the Office of Mayor Sam Adams, provides images, descriptions and locations to the various works. Users can even search for specific artworks by title or artist.
In 1978, prior to his two terms as Mayor of Portland (1985-1992), Bud Clark had photographer Michael Ryerson take a photograph of Clark in a raincoat “exposing himself” to a nude female statue in downtown Portland. The statue was one of Portland’s earlier pieces of public art. Ryerson borrowed money to print 500 posters of the image with the caption “expose yourself to art.”
When the initial print run sold out quickly, Ryerson began distributing the poster to a wider market and also printed the image on postcards, note cards and t-shirts. The photograph became a phenomenon and its tongue-in-cheek message served as a promotion for public art. The image has been sold worldwide and is still available today.
Enjoyable, thought-provoking and sometimes controversial, Portland’s public art collection offers something for everyone. These artworks add to Portland’s mystique and turn a walk through the city into an adventure.