With its artistic personality and abundant commercial wall space, Portland has cultivated a vibrant mural and street art scene. The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) and annual Forest for the Trees Northwest festival keep new murals coming. But the art isn’t there to simply look pretty; Portland’s diverse murals serve as an introduction to the city’s rich multicultural history as illustrated by some of the world’s most accomplished muralists.
Now is the Time, the Time is Now
Isaka Shamsud-Din, Paul Odighizuwa, Charlotte Lewis and Kathy Pennington, 1989
Find it: N.E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. & N.E. Shaver St.
What began as a neighborhood mural project designed to train and employ promising young artists became something more — a tool to educate the African American community about its history and instill a sense of pride in their heritage. This Northeast Portland mural is a call to action, featuring a large portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. surrounded by other notable faces, including Nelson and Winnie Mandela, South African playwright Selaelo Maredi and Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad.
The Musician’s Union
Joe Cotter, Baba Wagué Diakité, Hector Hernandez, Isaka Shamsud-Din, 2006
Find it: The Musician’s Union building at 325 N.E. 20th Ave.
The mural at the Portland Musician’s Union Local 99 illustrates, in stunning color, the unifying power of music. The collaboration between Cotter, Diakité, Hernandez and Shamsud-Din incorporates Asian, Latino and African influences to showcase the diversity of Portland’s musical heritage. Jazz, classical, bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop, reggae and rhythm & blues are all on full display — a testament to music as the universal language.
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Flowering Legacy of the Civil Rights Leaders
Hector Hernandez, 2008
Find it: 3111 S.E. 13th Ave.
Painter and anthropologist Hector Hernandez created this striking tribute to social activism in Southeast Portland. The mural depicts a Portland rose, and each petal features a portrait of one of history’s greatest civil rights leaders: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Chief Joseph, Cesar Chavez and Mahatma Ghandi. For Hernandez, whose influences include Mexican and Japanese art, flora and fauna are symbols of the struggle for wellness, health and social well-being.
Mt. Scott-Arleta Community Mural
Tiago DeJerk, 2009
Find it: 5501 S.E. 72nd Ave.
Brazilian-born Portlander Tiago DeJerk uses stencils to bring a D.I.Y. aesthetic to his compositions. DeJerk, a fixture of Portland’s bicycle activist community, is mostly known for bike-related art, but he shifted gears in 2009 to create the Mt. Scott-Arleta Community Mural. The mural highlights the diverse mix of cultures, lifestyles and pastimes of the neighborhood. You can see a gardener, a dog walker, a musician and yes, one BMX biker, all set against a vibrant graphic background. The mural was created to foster unity and improve the community as well as promote diversity.
Children and the Youth Bill of Rights
Jesus Kobe Garcia and Margaret Harburg, 2011
Find it: 5420 N. Interstate Ave.
Artists Jesus Kobe Garcia and Margaret Harburg teamed with students from five North Portland schools to design this mural, which honors the academic dreams and successes of young people as well as the history of African Americans and Native Americans. The mural is on display at Trillium Charter School and serves as a constant reminder of the vital role the youth play in shaping the future of their communities.
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Jaque Fragua and Spencer Keeton, 2015
Find it: 221 S.W. 6th Ave.
Since 2013, local nonprofit community arts group Forest For The Trees has invited artists from around the world to contribute to the artistic landscape of Portland during its annual mural-painting event. Fragua and Keeton’s collaboration from 2015 reads like a textile mixtape. The mural is a virtual quilt-work of cultures encountered and engaged with by the artists, who juxtaposed patterns appropriated from various sources, both traditional (African, Native American) and corporate (Nike), to dramatic effect.
Andrew Hem, 2015
Find it: 1302 S.E. Ankeny St.
The child of Cambodian immigrants, Los Angeles painter Andrew Hem blends the sensibilities of traditional illustration with graffiti and street art to create stunning works of urban fantasy. His 2015 mural on Southeast Ankeny Street depicts a boy wearing a hoodie in a treetop with a lounging tiger amidst a snowy landscape; the work is both warm and cool, dream and reality.