In the days following the election, I spoke to a lot of people in the art community who said they didn't feel like their work mattered anymore—artists were rethinking their practices, curators imagined going off to work with underprivileged kids. Everyone was adrift.
In the months since, it seems that artists, gallery owners and exhibition managers have come to the conclusion they don't have to make radical changes in their lives to make a difference, that they can devote themselves to activism within the world they already inhabit. Looking at the calendar of openings, it's pretty remarkable how the Portland visual arts scene has rallied.
Last week, I went to a silent auction at One Grand Gallery, where photographs, paintings and prints donated by artists covered the walls. All proceeds from the auction are being donated to the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock in North Dakota.
Recently, Pamela Morris, exhibition coordinator at Oranj Studio, was approached by Petra Sairanen, the painter whose art Morris is showing this month. Sairanen said she wanted to donate 50 percent of everything she sold Jan. 20 (Inauguration Day) to the ACLU, and asked if the gallery would do the same.
"Petra is a renter in Portland, and a single mother," Morris said of the gesture. "It blows me away that she's wanting to do this." The gallery enthusiastically agreed to match Sairanen's donation.
Brett Binford, co-founder of Eutectic Gallery, was inspired by a Nasty Women charity exhibition to benefit Planned Parenthood that a colleague was organizing in New York, and decided to create a Portland offshoot. He and Eutectic's director, Mariel Pitti, chose to forgo their normal programming, which is to show ceramic artists exclusively, to include artists working in all media. Their Nasty Women group show begins Feb. 3.
Most arts organizations in Portland are struggling to make ends meet, so giving proceeds to charity can be a bigger sacrifice than it might appear. Binford and Pitti explained how to make it work financially.
"We often give collectors a discount," Binford says. "When we did the financial math on it, we realized that collectors won't ask for a discount when the money is going somewhere. So it ends up being a more well-rounded ecosystem."
Eutectic is trying a new model by asking artists what they are able donate from the sale of each piece, and then matching it.
I'm proud of the way artists and art institutions are responding to the realities of the new administration. They remind us that every gesture of care for one another is an important one, no matter the size of the check.
The Heartbreaking Necessity of Lying about Reality, and the Heartbreaking Impossibility of Lying About It is at Oranj Studio, 0726 SW Gaines St., 503-719-5338, through March 31. Nasty Women is at Eutectic Gallery, 1930 NE Oregon St., 503-974-6518, Feb. 3–24.