After relocating to Portland from San Francisco, photographer Celeste Noche found herself feeling both professionally and culturally isolated as she attempted to navigate a network of predominantly white artists in which there were seemingly endless barriers to entry.
That all changed, she says, when “by complete happenstance I found this online community of POC creatives. The contrast between those experiences was baffling to me, that there could be so much talent and so many people actively sharing their resources and really promoting each other in a way that I didn’t see in other communities.”
In 2017, Noche started Portland in Color, an online portrait and Q&A series spotlighting local POC creatives that she says was both an outlet “for my own sanity and celebration” and a “palate cleanser, because a lot of my paid work was not shooting diverse people, it was all white people.”
“The series was a way to combat that narrative that there aren’t any non-white artists in town,” she explains. “I also think that as social consciousness and diversity is now trendy, you see a lot of token brown and Black people in things without any context about who they are... If you’re not giving any agency to those people, then it’s performative.” That’s why Noche thinks it’s especially important to give these artists space to explain their work in their own words.
Portland in Color’s team has expanded over the past year, with the addition of writer Emilly Prado (who, full disclosure, also contributes to the Mercury). Its vision has, too, thanks to partial funding from a Regional Arts and Culture Council grant: In January, Portland in Color debuted its new website, which serves as a database of 170 local POC artists and a journal with in-depth features highlighting specific individuals. Noche says Prado helps “bring depth to those stories—I’m more visual, so it’s great having her mirror them in writing.”
The only thing Portland-area POC creatives need to be added to the online database is a public-facing link to examples of their work. Right now, the project’s primary goal is getting money into the pockets of artists of color to sustain their livelihoods and “disrupting a pattern of free work.” “I think exposure should be seen as the byproduct of a job [rather than payment],” Noche says.
Going forward, she hopes Portland in Color can result in a “more equitable reach for job opportunities” and be a resource for “marginalized artists to be considered for jobs they might not have had the network for.”
The features also include artists’ Venmo accounts, so readers can support them directly.
In April, Portland in Color will host a panel and exhibition at Design Week Portland featuring artists from the database, with a mixer scheduled for May that will facilitate in-person meetings between artists and local editors and other industry professionals.
Portland in Color has feature stories for its journal funded through May, but the project otherwise relies on donations. In the future, Noche hopes companies that use the database as a job board will consider paying some sort of honorarium, “since it’s in their best interest.”