[Welcome to our "Say Nice Things About Portland" guide to the city! Did you know that this feature package is also in PRINT?? That's right, this is our first print product since the start of the pandemic, and we're psyched to produce a lot more. Find the "Say Nice Things" guide in over 500 locations around the city, and if you'd like to see more guides you can hold, please consider making a small contribution to the Mercury, please and thank you!—eds]
It’s completely fucking impossible to pick JUST five makers in Portland. When this city is shining its brightest, it’s because of something its residents made—be it actual art projects or just projects that bring us together. When people vent nostalgic about Portland, nine times out of ten they’re actually venting about something cool a Portland maker made happen. Some of those things are gone—Portland’s price-out problem is real—but makers gonna make, and these makers are maintaining.
1. Mike Bennett (painter)
If you live in Portland, you have seen something made by Mike Bennett. His colorful, painted plywood cutouts decorate our streets—from the viral standee of Homer Simpson receding into a bush, to the snail and sloth “Slow Down” signs that predated Portland’s “20 Is Plenty” campaign. Full disclosure, Bennett made 60 adorably bright burger cutouts for the Mercury’s Burger Week in 2019; it was one of his early forays into hiding his brilliant art in the city’s corners. During the pandemic, Bennett’s A to Zoo installation, in front of his house, became a destination, as Bennett added new animal creations for visitors to marvel at on the daily. His subsequent pop-ups—like the Crypto-Zoo he built in an abandoned bank in St Johns, and Dinolandia, a dinosaur-themed installation that spent four months in a former Banana Republic storefront downtown—were not only fun for youths and adults alike, they were themselves a sign of Portland’s regrowth from the tangles of corporate doom. Now, Bennet’s work has found a home at the North Portland Wonderwood Springs where he serves up coffee and ever-changing decor. The dude is forever a delight.
2. Fisk (design studio)
Love letter recognize love letter. In January 2020, Fisk founder Bijan Berahimi published a magazine called Joon, which he described as a love letter to Portland. Thumping in at 160 pages, Joon was a hefty, brightly-colored explosion of creativity, with articles about local cultural touchstones like Brown Printing, Kee’s #Loaded Kitchen, the fantastic flower sculptures of Manu Torres—just all the good stuff that was popping off or holding it down right then. It was a terrific example of all the worlds Berahimi draws together at Fisk. Founded in 2014, the first thing you’ll generally hear about the boutique design studio are their big name clients (Nike, Alicia Keys), but we see Berahimi and co. for the way they have their hands in so many cool Portland projects, for instance: the logo in the KaytrAminé “4Eva” video, Akdi’s marinade labels, and probably every Toro y Moi hoodie ever.
3. Veganizer PDX (pop-up food night)
Waz Wu makes restaurants vegan—that’s a threat. I’m kidding; it’s a joy. Her food-consulting brand Veganizer PDX partners with omnivore restaurants like Quaintrelle and Mestizo to host pop-up tasting events where the chefs make all-vegan prix fixe courses. There you’ll find foodies and vegans sitting elbow to elbow over delicious crafted dishes, and chefs getting curious about adding king oyster mushrooms to the main menu. Though the Veganizer idea began in New York with Kiki Adami, the Portland chapter Wu founded in 2017 continues to have staying power. Now it platforms Portland’s excellent vegan restaurants and chefs as much as it challenges the meat- and dairy-eating ones.
4. Pink Tiger Games (game design studio)
To some, the purpose of a game is healthy competition, while to others it’s a way to get to know people. Ami Baio’s line of Pink Tiger Games leans hard on the latter pursuit. Where some games will slyly open you up to someone’s tells or inspire interesting conversations, Baio’s 2018 game You Think You Know Me boldly challenged players to cut the crap and get to the good stuff, asking trivia questions about the friends they were playing against. Starting in 2021, Pink Tiger branched out into trivia games about superstitions with Rabbit Rabbit and cross-language vocabulary in Lost for Words. These games are Apples to Apples for people who are tender, which is honestly the hardest look of them all.
5. Carla Rossi / Anthony Hudson (drag clown, arts historian, writer, performer, host, etc)
If it weren’t for the time-consuming work of being Portland’s premier drag clown, Anthony Hudson might be better known as one of the foremost film authorities in our Rose City. Hudson’s plate is piled high with cinema-related projects, like the ongoing, semi-monthly Queer Horror screenings at the Hollywood Theatre and similarly-themed “horror through a queer lens” podcast Gaylords of Darkness. That work is perpetually outshined by Hudson’s persona of Carla Rossi, who might be a clown or who might be a stressed-out white lady arts historian (both?). Over the years, Hudson’s personas have formed a symbiosis, with Carla Rossi narrating portions of Hudson’s autobio one-clown show, Looking for Tiger Lily, which unpacked Hudson’s identity as a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and also a pop-culture nerd and also Carla Rossi. World on the street is Hudson has been turning that script into a novel, but you can still catch Carla at any number of local arts events.