This is refreshing—instead of praising our coffee or our quirks, a Wall Street Journal article takes a fairly in-depth look at the local visual art scene, noting our abundance of "alternative spaces" as well as a conflicted attitude toward the commercial aspects of the visual art world. (As the writer puts it, "artsies in Portland seldom utter the word 'gallery' without preceding it with "commercial"—reminiscent of the way people in Southern California used to say 'snow skiing.'") The article's headline poses a question ("Our Next Art Capital: Portland?") that the piece doesn't quite answer, but it's nonetheless a worthwhile read:
In what U.S. city might you find an "alternative" art exhibition space on a 200-ton, 135-foot decommissioned crabbing ship? Or another in an industrial area, founded and run by an undergraduate from a small liberal-arts college? Where else, for that matter, would a mayoral candidates' forum take place at an art school, moderated by the graduate design program's chairman? Naturally, it would have to be where practically everybody rides a bicycle, a place touted as the country's "capital of conscience." If you answered Portland, Ore., you probably own more than one plaid shirt. But Portland isn't all ecology and "community" (a word I heard many times during my recent visit). It has a history as a tough logging town and still has one of the largest per-capita concentrations of strip clubs in the country.
This residual roughness and collective spirit is reflected in Portland's ever-growing art scene, characterized by a plethora of "alternative spaces." Just what is an alternative space? Philosophically, they're less about art's being—art objects displayed and for sale—than they are about artists becoming—creating circumstances free from market pressures and the need to hobnob with the rich (who are, after all, the only people able to buy even modestly priced art with any regularity).