Blog / 2015 / Old Portland, New Portland

November 17, 2015

Every year around this time, I take a moment to really think about the people in my life who inspire me, and I ask myself if I’ve done enough for them. This annual ritual started in November 2012, when the Portland street performer Kirk Reeves killed himself. On some level, I failed to show him how important he was to me, and I don’t want to make that mistake again.

This year, the usual mixture of guilt and good intentions has a new-found clarity. Now that I no longer live in Portland—where Kirk and I met, and where he died—I see that his passing was actually the end of an era. His death signaled the demise of the Portland of my youth, that magical place with affordable rent and good City planning that nurtured artists. In a tragically real way, Kirk was the canary in the coal mine.

painted portrait of Working Kirk Reeves of Portland, Oregon
Gwenn Seemel
The Note Is the Winding Path It Takes (Kirk Reeves)
2007
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 inches

Portland is still a great place. It’s changing, of course, and there’s a reason why I left, but, to some, it remains a sanctuary where rainbows and unicorns abound. I know artists who’ve moved there recently, and, relative to where they were, the City of Roses is paradise.

I worry about these artists, but I’m also glad they’re there and glad that some artists I’ve known for years are staying on in Portland. They’ll be the ones that will keep the place from becoming a money-grubbers’ poo pit. Because that’s what artists do: they are the heart of a city. They are the future-makers.

drawing of a unicorn
Gwenn Seemel
Unicorn
2015
marker on paper
9 x 6 inches

This year, I dedicate my affection and good thoughts to the people who are keeping Portland lovely, artists and non-artists alike. You’re brave and resourceful, and you deserve all the rainbows and unicorns the universe can provide. The old Portland may be dead, but you are going to make the new one something wonderful too.

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