By Luke Griffin
This year’s street painting bonanza from June 3 – 12 will be the 16th annual Village Building Convergence put on by the City Repair Project. What started as a quirky idea in inner Southeast has turned into a city-wide movement and a source of pride, publicized around the world.
It is not simply about paint. Ours is a society in which individuals find themselves feeling increasingly isolated. We live in close proximity with people, but don’t know each other’s names. These street painting projects serve to bring neighbors together. Not only are these creative murals a thing of beauty that reflect the neighborhood’s spirit and add color to the dull asphalt of the concrete jungle – they are also a source of pride, notable landmarks, and symbols of unity and cooperation.
Last year, my block joined in the fun by creating the dragon on the corner of NE 32nd and Sumner avenues. Our community, led by art designer Taylor Nehrling, came together in planning sessions to discuss design and logistics. Soon, people who had merely waved to each other in passing were now breaking bread together.
After the initial stage, people went door-to-door, contacting everyone within the four affected blocks. In the week leading up to the big painting event, neighbors came out to clean the street, watch for traffic, and trace the design. It was truly a community project.
The weekend of the painting was sweltering and although there were likely a few sunburns, the lack of rain was perfect for painting. The worksite quickly became a festive two-day block party. Everyone helped as best they could. Kids played, adults shared food and drink, and everyone worked as a team. Even people from outside the core blocks stopped by to join in the merry work – the project acting as a magnet for the larger neighborhood.
“It was a perfect weekend of community building,” said Nehrling. “Everyone became a leader and worked together as a team to create something beautiful to claim where we live.”
Since the dragon’s painting, it has appeared on “Portlandia,” in European T.V. shows, and in numerous newspaper and Web articles. But most importantly is what it means to the people who got involved and who now take pride in their work. Though it may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, it is always good to add beauty to the world.
So if you are out and about at the beginning of June and you see some people painting a street, stop by, say “hello,” and pick up a brush.
*Special thanks to the Concordia Neighborhood Association and Mark Charlesworth for their generous financial support.
Luke Griffin is a native of Northeast Portland. A committed social and environmental activist, he has written for numerous publications, dedicated time fighting for civil rights in housing, served on the CNA board, and utilized world-bridging communication and management skills for the positive betterment of society. He is currently a freelance writer and is completing his Masters of Teaching at Concordia University. Reach Luke by emailing email@example.com.