Portland, a Working-Class Louisville Neighborhood, Meets Its New Arts Community

Louisville’s Portland neighborhood is a historically working-class community with a rich, long-reaching heritage.

In the past year, however, land developments have added a new element to the neighborhood—the arts. Those new features will be on full display Saturday during the Portland Arts and Heritage Fair, which will include a juried photography show sponsored by The Louisville Visual Arts Association, a craft show at the Tim Faulkner Gallery and short films at the Louisville Film Society’s new Portland location.

Gary Watrous has chaired planning for the fair, which is being hosted by Portland NOW, since January. He said he views the event as a way to express the intentions of The Portland Plan, a revitalization strategy for the neighborhood. The proposal was drafted in 2002 and ratified by the neighborhood council in 2008.

One part of the plan was reimaging the neighborhood through economic development, “and another part of the plan was that we be more receptive to artists, because we know artists are often key in rehabilitation and boosting of neighborhoods,” Watrous said.

“Artists are coming into the neighborhood and joining in, so that was sort of serendipity that it dovetailed with the ideals of the Portland Plan, so out of that came the idea for an event that celebrated art, as well as the heritage and history of the community.”

Mary Turner, a member of Portland NOW and a longtime volunteer at the Portland Museum, said the fair’s arts elements will be a way to introduce Portland’s heritage to people who may not otherwise spend time there.

“A lot of people have never ventured past Ninth Street, so that’s why we wanted to include the heritage part of the tour also,” she said.

Tim Faulkner and Margaret Archambault, owner and gallery director of the Tim Faulkner Gallery, relocated to the Portland neighborhood just as Portland NOW was in the fledgling stages of planning the fair. The committee reached out to the artists about becoming involved in the event, and they willingly obliged—because it would be a way to connect with neighbors.

“We’re not your typical ‘eat your cheese and move to the next piece’ place. We’re not the kind of place that makes you feel like you need to be pretentious to walk in; yet the work that is in here is a representation of each genre to the best that it can be,” Archambault said.

“So getting involved in this fair was a way to get more of the neighborhood to come in and feel comfortable about being able to come into a gallery and leave and be able to say, ‘Hey, I checked out an art gallery.’”

The gallery—which is known for attracting an eclectic crowd that, as Faulkner said, ranges “from very blue-collar to massively underground to members of the mayor’s office”—will host the craft booths during the fair. It’s a decision that Archambault feels will help bridge any intimidation that members of the community feel comes with being in a contemporary art space.

If Portland residents are reticent about the fair or the gallery, the craft booths “eliminate, instantly, that fear,” she said. The fair-goers can wander through the building, find, say, a drift wood sculpture, and meet artists.

“It’s going to change the concept of an art gallery. It doesn’t have to be a stuffy, pretentious place,” she said.

Earlier: Change Is Coming to Louisville’s Portland Neighborhood, Like It or Not

Another aspect of the Portland Arts and Heritage fair is the juried photography and 2-D art show that will be sponsored and judged by The Louisville Visual Arts Association.

Clare Gandenberger of LVAA, who is spearheading this portion of the fair, says that pieces were submitted by over 42 local and regional artists.The works will be displayed at the historic United States Marine Hospital located in the neighborhood.

“Many were from Louisville, but we also received several submissions from Anchorage, and Lexington. Crestwood, Frankfort, Danville, Elizabethtown, Westerville, Ohio, and New Orleans, La., were also represented. By my estimation of zip codes, two artists are from the Portland neighborhood,” she said.

The 89 pieces—artists were permitted to submit up to three works—are all based on The Ohio River, a topic important to the once thriving river port community. Gandenberger said she feels that this choice in theme will make the work incredibly poignant for members of the community.

“Each artist has skillfully created their interpretation of the river and thinks it will be a comfortable way for people to experience art in a friendly, local environment,” Gandenberger said. “Portland NOW has done a great job of reaching out and inviting community members to participate and attend. It is this welcoming atmosphere that I think will make the event and the art exhibit a huge success.”