Portland is known for its thriving creative community, which embraces mediums including painting, photography, ceramics, woodworking and jewelry making. For two weekends every October, visitors can witness more than 100 local artists’ creative processes during Portland Open Studios.
What Is Portland Open Studios?
Portland Open Studios was started in 1998 by Portland painter Kitty Wallis. The citywide event takes place in the personal studios of painters, photographers, printmakers, jewelry designers and other talented craftspeople. Attendees lead themselves on self-guided tours, visiting creative workspaces ranging from living rooms and converted sheds to shared industrial warehouses.
“Open Studios is like a glimpse into another secret world that exists right under our noses,” says artist Amy Ponteri. An acrylic painter and art therapist, Ponteri creates large-scale works at her studio in the Ford Building, a former Model T plant built in 1914. “[Artists] mostly do our work quietly, in isolation or around just a few other people,” she says. “This is an opportunity to throw open the windows, let the sun in, and show our work and our processes to others.”
Around 200 artists apply to participate in Open Studios each year. Typically 100 or so are chosen, with selections made by a blind jury composed of three arts professionals. (The jury members change each year.) The blind jury process — based solely on images of the artwork — produces a diverse selection of emerging and established artists.
As part of Open Studios, artists are encouraged to facilitate interactive experiences for guests. Rather than simply viewing artwork, attendees can converse with the artists, ask questions and observe their creativity in action.
“Artists like meeting the people and having a personal connection with them,” says Pat Kane, Open Studios communications chair. Kane describes the tours as less formal than visiting a gallery, with the artist/viewer interaction making art more accessible. “It’s an energetic experience,” she says. “The artists are glad to see people, talk to them and look them in the eye.”
Many artists who participate in Portland Open Studios enable guests to make art during their visit and walk away with a handmade memento. Additionally, many artists have work for sale during the tour (though Kane emphasizes that there is no pressure to buy). For those interested in purchasing art, meeting the artists behind the work can give chosen pieces more meaning.
As oil painter Dane Eisenbart points out, “Connecting with artists in their studios gives you the unique opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of their art and where it comes from.” Eisenbart is a member of North Portland’s Falcon Art Community, an underground studio collective that he likens to a “secret museum art dungeon.” During one Open Studios, Eisenbart demonstrated the techniques used to create his dreamlike paintings of animals, people and manmade objects.