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Resident-Employed Photography (REP) in St. Johns

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In winter 2018, forty-three residents of the St. Johns neighborhood in North Portland participated in this project as part of my masters thesis. They were given single-use cameras and asked to choose twelve things they love most about living in St. Johns, and photograph each one. They also wrote a paragraph explaining each of their selections. That summer I selected over 80 images for an exhibition at Cathedral Park Place. The entire set can be seen here, and the thesis document can be downloaded here

The People's Park, St. Johns 

Applying what I learned through the REP project, other research, and an abundance of time spent socially in the neighborhood, I organized a group of community volunteers to create a park in the vacant lot adjacent to the plaza downtown. The owner allowed us to use the space for several months leading up to the time when they break ground on the mixed-use development that will occupy the lot. It had been a year and a half since the previous building was demolished, and during that time it had been surrounded by a chainlink fence and filled with weeds, broken glass and graffiti. The volunteers were a mix of people who joined the Facebook group I created and people I already knew.

 

Together we cleared the lot, took down the fence, crowd-sourced plants, tires for planters, scrap wood, paint and other materials. Ace Hardware and Metro donated paint and Linnton Feed & Seed across the river donated twenty hay bales, while a several artists donated pieces, the neighborhood 'yard bombers' made acrylic flowers and vines to adorn the fence, and we constructed a shade structure out of donated shade sails. We covered most of the ground with wood chips, and made picnic tables with scrap wood and donated funds, while the Fixin' To bar donated four more tables. We also crowdfunded the creation of a giant mural to cover the western wall bordering the space. For the opening party we had a mariachi group, several local performers, a community art project to decorate the back fence, and a screening of The Muppet Movie (1978). Over the next few months we also screened Salt of The Earth (1954), Black Panther (2018) and Beetlejuice (1988). The space also hosted screenings by the Portland Unknown Film Festival and several other community organizations.

 

Our activities expanded into the plaza as well, as we brightened some of the concrete planters with fresh paint and gold detail, adorned the trees with flags made from donated material, and local photographer Bobby Abrahamson created an installation of almost 500 images from his North Portland Polaroids series. Over the summer the project unfolded in a spontaneous, organic way, powered by the incredible love St. Johnsians have for their public community spaces. It was with a heavy heart that we dismantled it in early November in advance of the development project moving forward.