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Portland City Guide

Portland Arts & Culture

©2006 Portland Art Museum/Matthew Caslin TV sets, clocks, lightbulbs, a VCR, electrical hardware, and a rolling cart make up one of the numerous modern and contemporary art exhibits on display at the Portland Art Museum.

Portland has a symphony, an opera, a ballet, chamber music organizations, a baroque music organization, and multiple music clubs, theaters, and galleries. You'll find that there are the "proper" cultural venues, such as the Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society, those venerable institutions that make up Portland's Cultural District, which borders the South Park Blocks.

Then there's the more spontaneous art and culture -- the street fairs, the jazz jams, the performance art, the art that seems to pop up in Portland neighborhoods far from the city center. You'll find formal and informal showings of art at First Thursday, the monthly art walk held in downtown and Pearl District galleries, and at Last Thursday, which is a more low-key art walk on Northeast Alberta Street.


Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Portland

The Portland Art Museum (1219 SW Park Ave) has recently undergone an expansion from its historic 1932 Belluschi Building to include the Mark Building, a complete renovation of the former Masonic Temple next door. The Mark Building features the Center for Modern and Contemporary Art and has an underground gallery/tunnel linking it to the main building, with its Center for Native American Art, Center for Northwest Art, and the outdoor sculpture garden.

Portland's First Thursday art walk is a big celebration that spreads out across the west side of town, including downtown art galleries, the Portland Art Museum (1219 SW Park Ave), and the many galleries of the Pearl District. Shops and restaurants along the way stay open late on the first Thursday of the month, too, so they can get in on all the fun.

To see which artists and works are being featured at galleries for First Thursday and what galleries' evening hours will be, check The Oregonian's A&E section that comes out the Friday before. (The Oregonian is the city's large daily newspaper.)

Most galleries offer free wine and cheese, although a few charge for refreshments. A few galleries, such as Lawrence Gallery (903 NW Davis St) and Yoshida's Fine Art Gallery (206 NW 10th Ave), take drink orders from patrons at their full wine bars.

In the Pearl District there are First Thursday summer concerts in Jamison Square (NW 11th Ave and Johnson St), as well as the regular Thursday Portland Farmers Market at the Ecotrust Building (NW 10th Ave between Irving and Johnson sts). There's also a lively street fair on Northwest 13th Avenue between Hoyt and Kearney streets, with artists of all sorts and musicians playing solo or with groups.

The Bob and Diana Gerding Theater in the Historic Portland Armory (128 NW 11th Ave) is an 1889 castlelike building originally created to house units of the Oregon National Guard. It reopened in fall 2006 as a state-of-the-art performance hall, following sustainable "green-building" design.

The Last Thursday Art Walk on Northeast Alberta Street extends east for 26 blocks from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Art galleries of all sorts offer displays and restaurants and boutiques get involved, while street musicians, performers, and fire dancers entertain the crowds.

Parks, fountains, and squares are many of the highlights of Portland's architecture and landmarks. The next section will offer suggestions on which ones should top your must-see list.