Artists are often inspired by the workers that keep our economy buzzing, and September 20 – 23, you can view art inspired by local industry at the Portland Shipyard on Swan Island. During the four-day exhibit, the shipyard becomes a gallery for works created around the theme “Celebrating the Worker” at the 2nd Annual Industry and Art exhibition. Over 75 works, in various sizes and shapes, will be presented in a host of mediums including paintings, sculpture, photography, metal and wood.
Interestingly, the event was tangentially inspired by Fashion Week. Brenda Smola, owner of Tabula Rasa Studios and curator for the event says, “The idea came about fairly organically. I was working with Vigor (a local shipyard, industrial and marine services company) and Portland Fashion Week to paint a mural on the building that houses the fashion show (and now our gallery) two years ago. I was blown away by the immensity of the ships and barges, and by the culture of the yard.
“It did not take long for the idea to spark possibilities to create and show art there. I spoke to Alan Sprott (Vigor Industrial Vice President) about it and he merged the idea of industry and art as a way for the Working Waterfront Coalition (WWC) to kick off its public outreach and educational campaign. He asked me if I was interested in making this vision of art and industry come together and of course I said yes!”
As a fundraiser for the Working Waterfront Coalition, the event raises money for industrial job training programs and Willamette River habitat restoration surrounding the shipyard. Last year over $40,000 in art was sold and $25,000 was raised for the programs. Partnering with the Regional Arts and Culture Council, the exhibition put out a call to artists in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana for submissions on the theme. This year’s juried art exhibit contains works of art from 35 selected professional artists. To inspire the artists, including visiting artist Paton Miller, event sponsors Gunderson and Vigor Industrial hosted artists’ tours of the shipyards.
Through the art, presenting sponsors Gunderson, Vigor Industrial, the Port of Portland and KINK.FM, supporting sponsors K & L Gates and Schnitzer Steel, and other WWC members hope to increase awareness about the importance of the marine industries to the local economy. The manufacturing and trades at work on Swan Island represent a significant number of family wage jobs, and our region’s ability to provide trained workers for these positions is dwindling due to a lack of technical training available in area high schools.
Vigor Industrial, in partnership with community organizations such as Impact Northwest, Manufacturing 21 and area trade unions, is creating a vocational training program, scheduled to debut in the fall of 2013, for Portland’s Leadership and Entrepreneurship Public Charter High School. WWC members also provide training opportunities for those interested in industry careers. For example, Gunderson has an in-house welding training program, and Vigor, in partnership with Portland Community College, offers a welding program on Swan Island. Some funds raised from this year’s Industry and Art event will go to the PCC Scholarship Foundation, specifically targeted to students pursuing training in the trades.
The Celebrating the Worker exhibit includes art submitted by employees of the member companies of WWC. Employee artists are invited to submit a piece to show in the gallery. Worker submissions include welded sculptures, jewelry from scrap materials, paintings, drawings, photographs and more. Brenda says, “There is a close synergy between industry, skilled craftsmanship and art. … Art gives us the opportunity to highlight the significant contributions industrial workers make to our community and share the beauty of their craft.”
Take your family out to the shipyard, it’s a totally unique and cool experience for kids of all ages. Revel in art amidst the hum of our region’s vibrant waterfront industry. While you’re there, take a tour of the shipyard; you may be inspired to create something yourself, learn more about valuable career options for youth, celebrate the hard workers, help support an educational endeavor or go behind the scenes of a totally fascinating and under-the-radar local economic treasure.