By Eve Connell
Each month, people – thousands in the summer – flock to our neighborhood to join in what has become one of the most popular events in Portland: Last Thursday Art Walk on Alberta Street. The informal arts-related festival began with just a few businesses and artists in 1997, and has expanded to reach not only the entire stretch of businesses on Alberta (roughly 20 blocks), but entices street vendors, performers, and other organic attractions to participate as well. Galleries, studios, restaurants, and other art venues on Alberta Street open their doors for a celebratory evening of art, usually from 5 to 9:30 P.M. Street vendors and performers (and enthusiastic participant-observers), usually stay much later (again, primarily in the summer months).
People in our neighborhood seem to have a love-hate relationship with this event. Many look forward to the night of festivity and fun, while others dread trying to make it home on time to secure their street parking.
The positive elements of this event include some peaks in business, attention to the Alberta Arts District, a general focus on art, and a night of casual fun for all.
However, negative elements do exist, and are not limited to the obvious: lack of parking, excess trash and noise, and rowdy visitors to the neighborhood. More serious issues include safety (e.g., excessive and potentially dangerous traffic, public drunkenness) and event exclusivity (e.g., longtime neighborhood residents do not feel welcome to participate).
Some people took it upon themselves this summer to monitor the event on their own – one robust yet informal group even attempted unofficial street closure in June, which illustrates further that Last Thursday is reaching a tipping point.
Open discussion began a few weeks ago to address the issues that top the list of concerns. The City of Portland has been fabulously cooperative with business owners, street vendors, and the public. Because there’s nothing official about Last Thursday, the City could choose to shut it down, but they choose to cooperate with neighbors, business owners, vendors, and other participants. With swelling crowds this summer (July’s Last Thursday event brought over 8000 people — and 75+ open container warnings as well as eight tickets for the same offense), just how to proceed is being discussed with City officials from Sam Adams’ office, the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, the Police, Alberta Business Association, Art On Alberta, and concerned neighbors, both for and against the event.
Some ideas that have been proposed span closing Alberta Street to traffic, including rerouting buses; offering more public health facilities like porta-potties (there are currently only six used for this event), trashcans and recycling bins; issuing more citations for open container and pedestrian violations.
The most recent meetings held at the Acadian Ballroom in August with the stakeholders mentioned above have resulted in the creation of task-force committees to address the issues. The Last Thursday Steering Committee formed as an ongoing group with local government agencies playing a large part of the group, but who will phase out as strategic solutions are rolled out.
Three additional subcommittees (or workgroups) have also been formed: Communications, Street Closure Logistics, and Last Thursday Preservation Society. The Communications group will develop avenues of effective communication between the Steering Committee and the surrounding neighborhood. The Street Closure Logistics group will plan for the exact logistics of closing the street, such as obtaining barricades and arranging for their placement. The Last Thursday Preservation Society will be in charge of security planning and volunteer coordination.
For the upcoming Last Thursday Art Walks in August and September, the Last Thursday Preservation Society is recruiting thoughtful, committed volunteers to help staff the event, which will enforce official street closure. The group needs approximately 30 to 60 people to effectively help during these events, and there will be a volunteer training session on Monday, August 25, 2008 at 6:30 P.M. at the Acadian Ballroom, 1829 NE Alberta Street, to teach volunteers about roles and offer assignments. Volunteers will be asked to work August 28th and September 25th for approximately four hours or less. (The more volunteers, the shorter the shifts.)
Anyone eager to participate in creating a safe event for ALL neighbors and guests to our neighborhood are encouraged to email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional details on Last Thursday Art Walks, gallery maps, and vendor information, please see Art On Alberta.
The Last Thursday event offers the community a rare opportunity to interact with neighbors, business owners, artists, and performers. It certainly has the potential to be a successful and fun event for EVERYONE.