By CERVANTE POPE // The mayor of Austin, Tx just announced his plan to keep his city a music industry hub. With Portland ever changing and musicians being pushed out, is Portland doing all it can?
It would be difficult to turn a blind eye to the drastic changes Portland has seen over the last few years. Without a doubt, it’s happening in cities across the country, yet the rose tinted glasses Portland wears to brighten our glum skies have dulled, blocked out by the newly installed towering infrastructures. We’re taking it hard. Fellow weirdoes down in Austin are feeling the pain too, albeit closer to relief than us.
Late last month, Austin Mayor Steve Adler had his world rocked when a study came out revealing the loss of upwards of 1,200 music industry jobs over the last four years in his city. Austin, much like Portland, is obviously notorious for the vibrancy of its thriving musical and creative community. For the sake of context, what currently differs between our two cities is how this issue is being handled. Adler has proposed the “Austin Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus Resolution,” which intends to keep Austin’s music industry flourishing. The gritty details can be discussed later, as it’s not those details we should be calling into question here. The pertinent inquiry, as it stands, is Portland’s solution to the same problem.
Portland is equally thought of as a city driven by its musicians and artists - churning out what bit of brightness we can out of the sallow clouds that inspire us, lost adrift in a sea of gentrification.
To be fair, current mayor Charlie Hales isn’t entirely unaware of the cultural weight our music has on the appeal of its present and future residents, and tourists. Within the same year he designated two days devoted to music, January 20th, now being “Decemberists Day” and October 15th dubbed as “Hip-Hop Day” (though Don’t Shoot Portland blamed this on an attempt to rally for African American supporters). Hales ventured to Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville in supportive attendance of the second performance by the Oregon Symphony for some of our state’s prisoners. All of this is well and fine but has done little to nothing in preserving the creative sanctity of our city.
Exhibit A of Adler’s draft resolution focuses on Austin’s music sector, wherein he outlines rough plans benefitting the city's music, including implementing ways to increase revenue, number of jobs and salaries paid, preserving its venues and creating a musician safety net that centers around healthcare, housing and the other general needs of those keeping the industry alive.
Seattle has begun to tackle some musician-based issues in their city, by resolving the constant headache that is loading equipment in and out during performances. The “Priority Load Zone” program is in use at five venues in Seattle, allotting musicians a prioritized parking zone on performance nights. Signs at The Triple Door, The Crocodile, Showbox at the Market, The High Dive and Tula’s read “15 Minute/Load and Unload Only/ 4pm-7am Everyday/ Priority Musicians Loading & Unloading.” The city is encouraging other venues to hop on the bandwagon as well.
Looking at the problems musicians face in Austin and Seattle, we, in Portland, are only reminded of the ills performers and audiences deal with here on almost a nightly basis. A show at Kelly’s Olympian, Valentine’s or any other Downtown venue, can prove a difficult feat with full parking spaces, dramatically staggering drunk patrons, incessant rain and other distractions pulling attention away from the night’s goal of a show.
Why hasn’t Portland done anything so far to address the problems our music community is facing? Gentrification has been the hot buttered topic among longtime Portland dwellers and, more recently, transplants. Aside from creating a general housing and job crisis for minorities, it has also ousted the creative community. Though Mayor Hales will not run in the upcoming election, hope lies with mayoral candidates like Bim Ditson and Ted Wheeler.
Wheeler has outwardly spoken of his disapproval for gentrification and how he’s already asked Mayor Hales to leave the nomination of a new Portland Development Commission up to him - if he wins of course. While working more closely and communicating more with the PDC will undoubtedly be a step in the right direction in containing the gentrification fire, candidate Bim Ditson may have his eye more on the music prize, from a mayoral standpoint.
As a staple in the Portland music scene as well as the drummer of local Indie Rock band And And And, Ditson risks losing the community he personally helped build over the years, having more at stake in this realm than the other mayoral candidates.
Regardless of who ends up winning that top slot, a call to arms is needed. Portland was built on eclecticism and losing such a large facet of it risks alienating those who have sought and appreciated creative asylum out here.