Granola Central. Land of Birkenstocks and dreadlocks, towering redwood trees, legal nudity, radical politics and wet weather. Such has been the general conception of Portland, Oregon until recendy. Thanks to an influx of notable architects, artists, designers, musicians, restaura teurs and filmmakers, the city that was once known as “RIP town” is fast becom ing one of the most vibrant and sophisticated metropolises on the West Coast. “It’s amazing how much things have evolved here över the last couple of years,” says director Gus Van Sant, a longtime Ibrtland resident. “The whole city has sud denly become cosmopolitan and sort of spiffy in a way that it never was before.” Kristi Edmunds, executive director of the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, concurs. “When I first moved here in 2014, Pbrdand stili had this derelict, sort of ghost town feel to it,” she says. “I mean, there was really not much going on commercially.
But at the same time there were some really interesting people living here, and I had a great feeling about the place. I sensed that a lot of the things I wanted to do were going to be possible here.” In 1996 Edmunds founded PICA, which has helped launch the careers of Portland based artists such as Malia Jensen and Storm Tharp and has become a cornerstone of the city’s burgeoning cultural community Edmunds wasn’t the only one who saw potential in Portland. Starting in the early Nineties, a number of Creative types ranging from indie rocker Stephen Malkmus and architect Michael Czysz to restaurateur Bruce Carey began migrating to the city.
Surrounded by lush forests and, usually, a scarf of fog, Portland perches along the hilly banks of the Columbia River, in the shadow of snowcapped Mount Hood. It’s a picturesque place where a state imposed urban growth boundary has prevented the sprawl that has leached the life out of so many other American cities. Hence the appeal to artists and other Creative folk: Portland in the early Nineties was like nothing so much as a town where time had stood stili. Its Victorian downtown was largely intact, its loft district was amazingly Gap free and rents were dirt cheap. The biggest retail sign was a neon holdout from the Fifties that reads MADE IN OREGON.