Rick Altergott
Three years ago, Julie moved from Maryland to Portland. She didn't know anyone here, but she did know Portland's reputation as a young, hip, artsy city. She wanted to be a painter. But three years later, that dream remains on the shelf as Julie (who asked that her real name not be used) serves coffee and lattes to earn her paychecks.

In the past few years, with traditional businesses like logging and manufacturing flagging, cities have desperately scrounged for new sources of jobs and money. Creative class, to the rescue. Coined by a young economic professor in Pittsburgh, Richard Florida, the term "creative class" seeks to formalize a phenomenon that has occurred willy-nilly since bohemians flocked to Vienna and grunge-rockers to Seattle. Under the theory, certain cities become hubs for creative types--that includes everyone from architects to writers. In turn, other young professionals like attorneys and doctors, wanting to be around an intellectually rich environment, will also flock to those cities.

But while these migrations have happened informally for centuries, Florida's theory encourages city governments to create plans, programs, and projects to attract "creative types" like bees to honey.

Although Portland has dozens of music clubs and bustling art walks, public funding for the arts here remains one of the lowest in the nation. (Several years ago, public art funding in Oregon was so miserly that it ranked 52nd in the nation, behind both American protectorates Guam and Puerto Rico.) It should come as no surprise then, that according to the creative class scale, Portland falls in the middle of the pack--leagues behind Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Austin.

Over the past year, the mayor's office has researched ways to jumpstart the city's "creative class." Hosting occasional pizza parties, Mayor Katz sponsored roundtable discussions with a handful of local artists. But many artists involved said they felt patronized and found the mayor pedantic, as they spent most of their time listening to her talk.

At the beginning of December, Katz announced the cumulative result of those meetings: Early next spring, city hall will award mini-grants to members of the city's "creative sector." Applicants must be between the ages of 24 and 35. All told, no one grant will amount to more than $750, and the total amount awarded will not exceed $10,000. The press release from the mayor's office called the grants "an important new tool to Portland's efforts to attract and retain artists." Meanwhile, the city renewed an $80,000 contract to an independent consultant company that is still researching whether or not to bring a major-league baseball team to town. (Those fees also include recommendations for PGE Park.)

(Applications are due by January 15; they may be obtained at www.portlandart. org or by calling 236-5200.)

Although the results may have fallen short of the hopes and expectations for more civic support, over the past month city council has pushed forward a hodgepodge of other ideas that could help bolster the city's "creative" economy.

On Wednesday, city council unanimously voted to help Portland Center Stage purchase and move into the abandoned Armory Building. The theater group has raised more than half of the $28 million necessary to convert the all-white, castle-like building into an arts complex. Under the plan approved by city council, the city promised to cover any debts remaining when the theater's $10.6 million private loan comes due in 2013.