Cultural Climate – February 2002 – Portland, Oregon Travel Guide …

Portland’s Hot Cultural Climate

When friends ask me what I like about Portland, I’m sure my response sounds very odd. I tell them I like Portland because it has “tons of culture”. They usually just stare at me blankly. “What does that mean?” they wonder. How do you define culture? And how can one city have more culture than another?

Portland’s culture is in fact very difficult to define. A visit to its Northwest would convince you that Portland is a town full of coffee-swilling yuppies. A trip to the Hawthorne district however, would leave you thinking that Portland is retro central. But go to the parks, and you’ll find backpacking nature nuts. And as for downtown? There you’ll encounter all three.

But the diversity extends far beyond this. Portland’s wide array of ethnicities adds even more cultural depth to the city. The calendar is always filled with cross-cultural events. People strive not only to preserve the practices of their ancestors, but also to celebrate those of their neighbors. With this attitude so pervasive in the city, it is no wonder the distinct identity of so many ethnicities are retained and celebrated. The United States may be a melting pot, but Portland evokes the image of a mosaic, an ethnic and cultural collage: one picture with separate parts visible. In fact, Portland’s culture can be defined only in terms of its diversity.

With such cultural diversity, Portland’s dynamic and thriving arts scene is no surprise. Portlanders love to hit the Opera, Playhouse or Museum. Performances on the Columbia River’s waterfront are weekly occurrences. Small artsy movie theaters fill the city; many courtyards and parks feature statues and pieces of abstract art. On the first Thursday of every month, every art gallery in town opens its doors and the streets teem with art lovers.

Of course, the art scene is by no means reserved for the affluent or even the talented. It encompasses every sketcher, street strummer, lounge singer, hack, wannabe, poet, dreamer, and aspirant out there. And Portland seems to breed them. All forms of artistic expression are not only tolerated, but encouraged. The tip jars of even lousy street singers always seem to be filled. Portland has an unwavering reverence for the arts.

Portland’s culture is tough to define, but there is one thing I’m sure of. Like I tell my friends… there’s tons of it!

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