Blog / 2018 / Community Is at the Core of Everything We Do.

September 2, 2018

This piece of public art was created for the Make Room organization in August. It will be installed with ten other pieces in DC this month, with a press conference in Freedom Plaza to kick off the exhibition on September 13th at 10:30 AM.

What: The Doors of Make Room, public art exhibition
Where: various locations throughout DC
When: September 13th through 28th

a painting of developers and power players in Portland, Oregon hanging over the neighborhood they are destroying
Gwenn Seemel
Dirty Hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ Legacy)
acrylic on a fiberglass door
78 x 35 inches

The focal point of this composition is the two enormous piles of dirt that loomed over my building’s playground in 2014 and 2015. They were there for more than six months without any coverings or other dust mitigation tactics. They remained until my partner and I started asking about them, and then one of them was left there for an additional seven weeks while we asked more questions. It was only after a whole lot of effort from us that the toxic dirt was removed.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, Bob Ball, Joel Andersen, Nancy Hales, Tiffany Sweitzer, Doug Shapiro, Kevin Parrett, David Sweet, Paul Van Orden, Kathy Couch, Homer Williams, Dike Dame, Mark Bruun
detail of Dirty Hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ Legacy)

The people who allowed these piles to pollute the neighborhood and who made it so that there were always at least five active construction projects in a three-block radius for years are portrayed in this piece in a sun made of money that hangs over the community. The then-Mayor Charlie Hales is at the center, on a coin that reads “in money we trust.” Beginning with the man directly above him and going clockwise, the Portland power players are as follows:

  • Bob Ball is a developer and the owner of a number of companies. He is also the Commander of the Portland Police Reserve Unit, a role which seems important since the police hesitated to ask people working on Ball’s project to follow the City’s noise ordinance and not make noise on Sundays.
  • When we met Joel Andersen of Andersen Construction at City Hall during a hearing to ask Hales to limit the construction noise to the six days a week outlined in City ordinance, he seemed content to have his company working all the time, stealing the respite of Sundays from Pearl residents and even taking extra hours on other days.
  • Nancy Hales is the wife of Charlie and, while First Lady of Portland, she was also the director of Portland State University’s First Stop Portland, a program which is intended to promote Portland’s development projects to the world and which was founded by Dike Dame.
  • Tiffany Sweitzer is a developer and the President of Hoyt Street Properties as well as the poster child of sustainable development in Portland and globally as well.
  • As Vice President of Construction for Hoyt Street Properties back in 2014, Doug Shapiro managed the day-to-day operations of construction, which included remediation of contamination. At one meeting at City Hall, he complained that removing the piles of contaminated dirt was really expensive because the dirt had to be trucked to a special dump.
  • Kevin Parrett is the Manager of the Cleanup and Tanks Section of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and he is empowered to compel the construction companies to comply with laws. When we asked for records of his visits to the toxic dirt piles to supervise the way the material was being handled, he told us we would have to do a records request, which would cost a hundred and some dollars. We made the request, sorted through several boxes of paperwork, and learned that the DEQ didn't keep official records of site visits.
  • David Sweet was the Chair of the Noise Review Board, which decides how much additional impact a construction project can have on a neighborhood, and, in our experience, he always seemed ready to give construction extra work hours even when private citizens pointed out that the noise pollution had gone beyond what was livable.
  • Paul Van Orden is the City of Portland’s one Noise Control Officer and, according to City Hall, he was the only person who could enforce noise ordinance despite the fact that the City's code clearly empowered police officers to do so as well.
  • Office of Neighborhood Involvement bureaucrat Kathy Couch used to write the minutes for Noise Review Board meetings, creating a subjective document of the proceedings. Her version of events was often critical of private citizens, and it was the official record.
  • Homer Williams is a developer and the Chairman of Williams & Dame Development. Hoyt Street Properties, a Williams & Dame partner company, is run by his stepdaughter, Tiffany Sweitzer.
  • President of Williams & Dame Development Dike Dame serves on the board of Portland State University’s First Stop Portland, which he founded.
  • Mark Bruun is the President of Lorentz Bruun Construction and, during our tenure in the north Pearl, his company regularly violated the City’s noise ordinance.

Before deciding to include these people in this painting, my partner and I spoke with many of them directly in 2013, 2014, and 2015. We asked them to proceed with their projects in a way that didn’t harm the community unduly, but they dismissed us as NIMBYs. Worse still, they saw us NIMBYs who live in affordable housing and should therefore be grateful enough to put up with anything they wanted to do to us.


October 1, 2018

This video shows the doors installed throughout Washington!

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


To receive an email every time I publish a new article or video, sign up for my special mailing list.


If you enjoyed this post, Ko-fi allows you to donate. Every dollar you give is worth a bajillion to me!