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June 5th, 2002 Britta West | News Stories
 

The Fight at First Thursday

     
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But is it art?
If you head out to First Thursday this week, keep your eyes peeled for some unhappy street artists, miffed over the screening process for outdoor vendors.

The curbside creative types says it's being unfairly shut out of the monthly art show. The Urban Art Network, which runs the event, doesn't want to talk about it.

On the first Thursday of every month, galleries in Portland's artsy Pearl District launch their latest shows in a collective orgy of etching, painting, sculpture, cheese and crackers. Artists whose works are not on display in galleries are invited to peddle their wares in a designated area on Northwest 13th Avenue between Hoyt and Irving streets.

Last year, the Urban Art Network and the Portland Department of Transportation agreed to create an area for street artists after businesses complained about the number of vendors who set up their stands along the crowded sidewalks. Limiting the street artists to one particular block seemed to be the simple solution.

The Urban Art Network and PDOT designated not only where artists can set up, but also what should be sold. In issuing the permit, the city asked the Urban Art Network to submit criteria for acceptable items. Original handmade paintings, drawings, sculptures, collages and photography are OK. Clothing, accessories, crafts, furniture and manufactured goods are not.

City transportation spokeswoman Mary Volm says the rules are meant to exclude artists who are there "for pure profit," even though she admits all of the art displayed on the street is for sale.

"The street closure is meant to create an identity for the emerging art scene in the district," Volm says. "We don't want another Saturday Market down there."

The distinction, however, infuriates some street artists, such as Debbie Marvin, who paints lighthouse scenes on hand-picked rocks and seashells (above). She has displayed at First Thursday in the past, but last month she was kicked out of the street artists' block, along with at least two jewelers. "They told me it wasn't fine art," says Marvin.

The decision to let an artist in is often made on the spot by a single member of the Urban Art Network board. Michelle Kantor, who represents the group, initially declined to comment but later said that "crafts" are OK, but only when there's room--which means that sometimes artists like Marvin get shut out.

Marvin finds that frustrating. "When did they get to decide what qualifies as art?" she asks.

 
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