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March 2008
Volume 3, Number 3

Art Beat Festival: Exposing Portland to Art

James Hill

Portland Community College (PCC) in Oregon loves to expose people to art and culture.

PCC, the largest institution of higher education in the state of Oregon, has many large community cultural events during the year. From an acclaimed African film festival and a Native American powwow to a day devoted to the Asian arts, PCC is dedicated to making that connection with the college and its community in a variety of ways. This belief is even part of its mission.

PCC art

But nothing is quite as big as PCC’s Art Beat festival, held every May at its four major campuses. It offers students and the community access to local, regional, and national artists, as well as an extensive collection of visual art, dance, music, theater, and literary events to help expose them to art. The best part of Art Beat is that it is free and open to the public. May 12-18, 2008, PCC celebrates the 21st year of the festival and is upping the ante by having legendary Oregon painter Harry Widman as its featured artist.

“Art Beat happily demonstrates the unity among PCC campuses and centers,” said Kristin Bryant, composition and literature instructor and Art Beat district committee member. “This is shown in part by the distribution of the featured art among the three campuses and, more recently, Southeast Center. The art itself belongs to all of PCC: its students, faculty, and staff, and, by extension, the community at large. Last year, we brought all of the work together for a revolving show featured for a month at each campus. Seeing all of these works together reminded us of how much Art Beat has brought to PCC as a whole.”

Art Beat Features Artists From All Walks of Life

Shine The selection of artists is always inclusive with the district and campus-based committees made up of staff and faculty. The members pick the artists who will populate the schedules for each campus, and the districtwide committee selects the featured artist and the showcase artwork. The featured artist is selected by a vote of the committee after everyone pitches candidates and their style of art. The process is the same for picking the artist’s featured work, which will grace the posters and brochures of that year’s Art Beat.

This year, the committee’s choice for featured artist is painter Harry Widman, who uses oil and watercolor. He is known for his Willamette Valley style, inspired by Paul Cézanne and based on color theory and interaction. The University of Oregon graduate has taught extension service classes in painting all over the state of Oregon. Widman was a teacher and later dean at the Museum Art School in Portland.

Each year, the Art Beat festival buys one piece out of the artist’s collection and installs it permanently at a particular campus. For Widman, his painting “Mother and Daughter” will be presented to District President Preston Pulliams on opening day, May 12, at the Southeast Center, where the college officially will dedicate the artwork and honor Widman. Afterward, the artist will give an artist’s talk about the piece and his style. His creative influence as an artist and art educator has been widely felt by a generation in the Pacific Northwest. In an illustrated lecture, Widman will talk about his creations—forms initially derived from nature, which are transformed through formal art processes into visionary images.

But Widman isn’t the only artist and his is not the only art form. Doug Smith, a Grammy-winning acoustic guitarist and winner of the prestigious Winfield International Fingerstyle Competition, will be performing at the 2008 festival. Art Beat will also welcome musical group Cana Son, playing material from such Cuban greats as Trio Matamoros, Guillermo Portabales, and Celina y Reutillo. PCC will feature author and internationally acclaimed ceramic artist Baba Wague, who will present a workshop on his art and his Malian culture.

The college may bring in outside artists, but it relies on its own faculty and students, too. For example, art instructor Gene Flores will discuss his printmaking works, which are typically humorous and insightful self-portraits. Also making an appearance will be the PCC Chamber Choir, which presents lively choral and ensemble pieces. Its performances, led by music instructor and two-time Grammy-nominated singer Julianne Johnson, pay tribute to gospel, jazz, theater, and pop.

How It All Began

Twenty-one years ago, then PCC President Dan Moriarty came together with faculty of the art, theater, and English programs at the Sylvania Campus to celebrate the arts and the coming of spring. During that time, Art Beat was only a one-campus event at the Sylvania Campus, PCC’s largest. That first year, Art Beat was small, but due to the response by the community, then campus president Alice Jacobson invited the college’s other two comprehensive campuses - Rock Creek and Cascade - to take part.

“I believe the best way to describe the vision and the mission is that the vision of Art Beat came out of Moriarty’s conversation with creative faculty about celebrating spring through all types of art,” said Doris Werkman, who served as Art Beat district chairwoman for 10 years. “The mission has evolved but I believe the overall mission and vision have remained rather pure to the beginnings.”

Art Beat Ties Into College’s Core Outcomes

In addition to celebrating the arts, the weeklong festival represents the college’s commitment to diversity. In 2007, Portland Community College received the National Equity Award from the Association of Community College Trustees for its efforts across many spectra of education, including its effort to increase cultural competency and enhance programming to better serve PCC’s diverse internal and external communities. Art Beat helps the college reach that goal and accomplish one of many core outcomes.

How does it do this? Art Beat is designed to serve as a learning tool for students as well as the public. Student groups and classes regularly take time out from a busy weekday to attend performances or artist workshops. From Brazilian dance, Japanese Taiko drumming, and stone carving to literary readings, the offerings at Art Beat are designed not only to entertain, but also to educate the community about the creation, context, and history of art. 

Art beat

At Art Beat, artwork is created and discussed. Workshops focusing on techniques and influences offer students and community members opportunities to learn how artists work by watching them in action, thus helping onlookers better understand the context of artistic creation. Hands-on demonstrations allow the audience to explore their artistic talent in activities such as the ever-popular community mural projects at each campus, or by creating their own individual works of art.

Art Beat: A Week of Events, a Lifetime of Learning

One of the goals in the mission statement of PCC’s board of directors is to serve the community, and the college is dedicated to facilitating growth and development of its district communities by accepting a leadership role and serving as a major educational resource to the community. Art Beat is an excellent example of this as it brings the local art scene to the public.

Art Beat not only teaches, the effects of it are felt long after it’s over. Each year, the featured artist donates a piece of artwork that is installed permanently at a predetermined campus. Last year, Mylan Rakich’s Shine, a three-dimensional metal sculpture, was placed at the college’s North Portland Cascade Campus. The sculpture was patterned after various architectural elements on the campus. Rakich, an assistant professor of sculpture at nearby Portland State University, used the festival to lead four workshops about his unique approach to art.

Mylan rakichThe 10-foot-high, black metal sculpture of long bars attached by rings is situated in the center of the campus, offering permanent proof of PCC’s dedication to culture and art. Everyday students walk past the sculpture on their way to and from class, passing a constant reminder of this commitment. 

“Art Beat typifies the college’s mission by exposing our students and community to different art forms and cultures,” said District President Preston Pulliams. “We want an agile learning environment that is responsive to the changing educational needs of our students and the communities we serve. Art Beat facilitates growth and development of our district communities by making PCC an educational resource to the community.

“But more to the point - Art Beat is always entertaining and fun,” he added. “And it would not exist without the efforts and passions of people throughout the college and community. We all work together to create this wonderful event.”

James Hill is Communications Specialist at Portland Community College, Oregon.

Photos were provided by Portland Community College.

Cynthia Wilson, Editor