When Space Gallery hosted its first outdoor festival six years ago, Congress Street was a different place than it is today.

The spine of the peninsula, Congress had plenty of restaurants, nightclubs and galleries back then, but the Arts District lacked the pulse that it has today. In the years since that first festival, the city’s center of gravity has grown with more of everything — more good restaurants, vibrant nightclubs and a dizzying mix of galleries featuring everything from fine art to the latest irreverent offerings from art-school students.

Think of the creative enterprise that’s new on the street since then: Port City Music Hall, Empire Dine and Dance, One Longfellow Square, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, and a batch of diverse and healthy galleries, including the relocated Whitney Art Works, Gleason Fine Art, Sylvia Kania and many more.

And coming soon: A rejuvenated State Theater.

There are more restaurants and folks living in the lofts, resulting in higher density. It all adds up to abundant creative energy all the way around.

On Saturday, Space Gallery will lead an effort to unleash the energy of the Arts District and turn Congress Street into a buzzing Block Party.

“We decided we wanted to do something to focus on the entire block, from One Longfellow Square all the way down to Port City Music Hall,” said Ian Page, Space Gallery’s event coordinator.

The Block Party, an outdoor art and music festival, will run 6 to 9 p.m. The event will unfold art-walk style, with happenings spilling outdoors. There will be a giant streamroller press rolling down Oak Street, a smockshop installation in front of the museum that will stay open late, “clapping music” by Portland Symphony Orchestra musicians, street murals and Latin dancing.

The many clubs that populate Congress Street between those points will be open late with live bands and other activities.

Jessica Tomlinson, director of Public Relations at Maine College of Art and a Space board member, said it’s interesting to consider the changes on Congress since Space’s first outdoor party, called “Reclaiming Space” — and that it’s especially impressive that the creative burst happened during a recession.

The area from Longfellow to Monument square “has become a much more vital arts district than ever before. I would argue that our Arts District is more vibrant than ever,” she said. “If you look at how much Congress Street has changed in the last two years versus the last 10 years, the rate of pace and change of scale is huge.”

Page attributed the scope of Block Party to the collaborative effort required to pull it off. Dozens of organizations, both private enterprise and nonprofit, are involved.

Here’s some of what’s in store:

Installation artist Andrea Zittel will take over the front patio of the Portland Museum of Art for her new project, the Group Formerly Known as Smockshop. Tiprin Follet, Peggy Jo Pabustan and Karen Gelardi will create and sell their work during the festival.

The Zittel project runs all day, beginning at 10 a.m. As part of its participation, the museum will stay open until 9 p.m.

James Fangbone, Wally Warren and Abby Shahn will present a multimedia work, including Mason’s sculptures of cities and skyscrapers made from found objects, and music played on instruments also made from found objects.

Portland Symphony Orchestra percussionists Nancy Smith and Richard Kelly will perform Clapping Music by minimalist composer Steve Reich. Clapping Music uses two basic “blocks” of rhythm that slowly phase in and out of time together.

Pickwick Independent Press will print large woodblocks with a 6,000-pound steamroller on Oak Street from Free to Congress streets.

Space exhibition alums Matt Phillips and Meghan Brady have created a modular street mural, the components of which can be manipulated by people attending the festival. The mural is made with 20-plus cardboard boxes painted in bold, geometric patterns. Move them around and see what looks cool.

The Rev. Crank Sturgeon and Clog Wornago return to Space as part of the art-performance group Anti-Friend Hut. Anti-Friend Hut will distribute leaflets and free art during the party and then unfurl a live fable through the use of portable projections with giant transparency “loops” at Space at 9 p.m. 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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