Portland Walking Tours

A Detailed Look at the Abundance of Public Art in Portland, Oregon

August 31st, 2016

Expose yourself to art! Here in Portland that’s easy, because art is literally everywhere. Whether you are a creator, appreciator, or both, you can constantly feed your imagination by viewing original works in all shapes and sizes on the street, in parks, on buildings, and more! Furthermore, we have a fantastic program called Percent for Art that ensures that our lovely collection of public art is always growing. The program mandates that all high-priced city construction projects devote at least two percent of funding to public art. Everybody wins: the architects and engineers get their projects beautified, the artists (many of whom are local) gain recognition (and employment!) and the public gains easy access to art. And in a city so full of creative energy, we know that the inspiration from these pieces feeds right back into the creation of more art!

These artworks are permanent, so you can revisit your favorite statues, murals, and fountains while you discover new ones that find their way into the city. Directly downtown there is a concentration of statues along the Transit Mall (SW Fifth and Sixth avenues). Probably the best known of this collection is Kvinneakt, which is featured in the famous poster entitled “Expose Yourself to Art” with former Portland mayor Bud Clark.


In Pioneer Courthouse Square there is the really neat Weather Machine and also Allow Me which has been affectionately nicknamed “Umbrella Man.” It doesn’t matter that Portlanders do not tend to wear business suits or carry umbrellas, this statue has become iconic for our city, the affectionate recipient of sweater bombing during the holidays, and is the subject of many photo ops all year. In the Portland Art Museum courtyard you will also find an abundance of wonderful statues available to enjoy for free without museum admission.


While statues are undoubtedly the most plentiful form of art to enjoy, there are other forms of art that will intrigue. Mercurial Sky, a light installation integrated into the glass canopy at Director Park, is a great example of this. Come dusk, you will be treated to a varying display of digital videos that represent natural movements such as water or jellyfish which counteract the lack of nature in the urban park. Doesn’t that sound cool? If you’re looking for other examples of non-statues be sure to see the beautiful trompe l’oeil mural Oregon History painted on the outside of the Oregon Historical Society.

And when we say public art is everywhere, we don’t just mean downtown! The Pearl, Old Town/Chinatown, and the Lloyd and University districts have their fair share as well. Have you seen The Little Prince, the large copper crown turned on its side outside the Moda Center in the Rose Quarter? This statue was inspired by the famous book of the same name by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. How about The Knowledge, a colorful vinyl mural of a photograph of books on a blank wall on the Portland State University campus? You can find and identify all of the public artworks we’ve mentioned as well as so many more with the help of this wonderful detailed map. We also highly encourage you to take our Best of Portland walking tour which, while giving you a deep dive into all things that make Portland the very special city that it is, will also provide fascinating details and information about several of these downtown masterpieces.

Article by Natasha Kelly

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