It's becoming increasingly clear this summer that Last Thursday—the notoriously free-spirited (sometimes out-of-control) arts festival that takes over NE Alberta once a month—is facing an uncomfortable reality:
If the nonpermitted event can't recruit more volunteers, and raise more cash to take care of security costs, the city might finally lose patience with the whole thing and do something drastic.
The cops this afternoon sent out a release detailing a series of fights that erupted toward the end of last night's event, including one in which a 5-year-old girl was flung to the ground with a bloody nose. The release mentions an increase in police staffing for the event after a few months of similar reports. Who should fund that extra security, especially as event organizers have resisted moves like attracting sponsors, has been a bone of contention between Mayor Sam Adams' office and the nonprofit Friends of Last Thursday.
On Thursday August 30, 2012, Portland Police officers responded to multiple fights along Northeast Alberta Street during the monthly "Last Thursday" event in the Vernon and Concordia neighborhoods.
The "Last Thursday" event runs from approximately Northeast 15th Avenue to 30th Avenue. Based on an increase in problems at the July "Last Thursday" event, staffing was increased from 21 officers to 32 officers along with three sergeants, and one lieutenant.
At approximately 8:15 p.m., the first of approximately 10 fights involving large groups of juveniles started along Northeast Alberta Street. During one of the fights, a 5-year-old girl was pushed to the ground by fleeing juveniles and suffered a bloody nose. Officers followed the juveniles then returned to speak to the child's parents but the child and her family had left the area.
An additional 14 officers and two sergeants were called to respond to the area to assist with crowd management.
While officers were re-opening Northeast Alberta Street to vehicular traffic, a crowd of juveniles began fighting at Northeast 21st Avenue and Alberta Street. Officers heard reports of a woman defending herself from a group of juveniles by using pepper spray, but neither the victim or suspects were identified.
Officers were able to arrest two juveniles for Disorderly Conduct.
I'd heard a similar recounting of last night's event from another source about an hour before the cops sent out theirs. And, as such, I'd already spoken with Friends of Last Thursday's volunteer coordinator, Bridget Bayer, about what's been going on.
One big problem? There aren't enough volunteers to properly manage the the sprawling festival without having to rely on cops. Bayer said, over the course of last night, 23 people showed up to help. But some came earlier and some came later and that maybe, over the whole festival, there were not many more than five people in place at one time.
"We need 100 volunteers to successfully pull this off as a community-led event," Bayer says. "We have seven hardcore volunteers who come to committee meetings and come to the night of event. Those are really our stalwarts. And that's it."
Bayer says the biggest problem is that a younger crowd, less interested in fattening neighborhood businesses and shopping among the street's arts vendors, shows up after dark. Like the way an amusement park or fair changes after the nighttime lights on the midway come on.
"Everything changes after it gets dark," she says. "They're having a good time. A great time, actually. But they're not part of an art festival. They're just enjoying the fact that they can be on a street that's closed. It's a different vibe."
Asked if the challenges this summer have led to a troubles with the mayor's office, Bayer says they hadn't. She said the office has stayed patient and helpful, offering advice on how to recruit more volunteers and maybe break even. Some diehard organizers worry, though, that going too legit will crush the spirit of what's supposed to be an irreverent happening.
Bayer says businesses are "stepping up" and making it more worthwhile for people to give up an evening to help run the event. Yesterday, she said, there was double the usual rations of coffee and doughnuts, and also some shaved ice and burritos.
"We want volunteers and we're getting more volunteers," she says. "There's some good perks."