As the city’s Art Museum opened in the late 1970s, it was the world’s first to feature paintings from all corners of the globe.
Its galleries and exhibition spaces also included a gallery of contemporary art, a space for contemporary art artists, and a new theater.
But after the opening, Portland’s Art Institute of Portland (PIAP) had a hard time finding artists to perform on the big screen, and the museum never saw much of an influx of new visitors.
But a few years ago, PIAP and the city were working together on a new project: a gallery that would showcase Portland artists’ work and allow visitors to experience their work for the first time.
“We decided to build this gallery in a museum setting, in an art museum setting,” says Art Institute President and CEO Susan Miller.
“The idea was to have people see the work of artists in a way they hadn’t seen before.”
The idea was the first such project in the Portland area, and it was a success: The Portland Art Museum is now home to over 100 artists, including an exhibit by artist Andrew Smith, who has won multiple ArtPrizes, including a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts grant.
The gallery, which is being called the Portland Art Gallery of the Pacific Northwest, opened in 2019.
But while it’s the first exhibit to feature Portland artists, the exhibit is also about a broader theme.
The artworks in the gallery are meant to serve as a “portrait of Portland,” Miller says.
“What we’re really doing is trying to connect with people who are really familiar with Portland, who know how to experience the city and how to see what it looks like from the inside.”
The exhibit is the first major piece of the Portland art collection to be exhibited in a large museum setting.
“I think that’s the idea behind the whole project, and how we approached the exhibition,” Miller explains.
“There’s been so much change in Portland over the past few decades, and we wanted to create an experience that is as accessible as possible for people who have never experienced Portland.”
For more than five decades, the Art Institute has been committed to making the Portland experience accessible.
That means getting creative when it comes to showing works that have no history in the city, says Director of the Center for Art and the Arts Chris Wilson.
“In the early days, when Portland was just a city in the middle of the country, we would show art from Europe,” Wilson says.
And, as the city became more urbanized, he says, “The art community started to become more and more international.”
Wilson says the new gallery has more of an international feel, with an international focus.
“Portland’s an international city, and that means that we want to make sure that we’re using the art of the city,” he says.
The new exhibition, which was unveiled this week, focuses on some of the work from artists in the Northwest region.
The show includes works by local artists, from artists who grew up in Portland and who have worked in Portland, like local artist and curator Elizabeth Mowrey.
Mowey says she came to the city in 2003 to work in Portland but also began to experience it as a cultural center.
She says she was drawn to the local artists who are able to do so many things with so little time.
The exhibition, Wilson says, is about creating a space where people can come to experience these artists for the very first time, “and then really experience the work for themselves.”
For example, Mowney says she sees in the exhibition “that Portland’s art scene is a place of great diversity, a place where people of all backgrounds and different backgrounds come together.”
“This is the kind of exhibition where you can feel the diversity of Portland as a whole, but in this exhibition you can experience it in a new way, a way that’s not just about the work itself,” Wilson adds.
“You can feel it in the way people react to it.”
“The Art Institute’s goal is to make this exhibition as accessible and as inclusive as possible, and in that spirit, we’re offering a lot of things that are curated by artists from around the world,” Wilson explains.
The exhibit opens on Friday, May 12, and runs through June 20.
To find out more about the exhibit and to see more of the artists featured in the exhibit, visit the Portland Arts & Culture Museum website.