PORTLAND – Matthew Bampton can never be sure what interesting things he’ll see walking along Congress Street these days.

On Saturday evening, though, the creativity of Portland’s Arts District literally overflowed.

“This city never ceases to amaze me,” Bampton said, watching dancers with the Portland Ballet spin and leap across one end of Portland Square while, on the other end, three statue-like models posed in white leotards and white faces for anyone with the urge to pick up a sketch pad and draw.

“What a place to live,” he said.

Several blocks of Congress Street were closed to traffic for a block party to celebrate the resurgence of the arts district. Kids and adults filled the street and sidewalks, although there was enough room to share the creative spirit, too, whether it was dancing, painting the sidewalk, banging drums or stacking colorful cardboard blocks, and then knocking them down.

The festival featured street theater, street music and street art — literally.

On Oak Street, for example, an industrial steam roller drove over 4-foot-by-4-foot block prints and pressed black ink onto bed-sheet-sized canvases. The artists with Pickwick Independent Press gently lifted each design off the surface of the street to a chorus of “oohs and ahhs” from the audience.

Across Congress Street from the ballet performances, Galen Richmond performed songs and sound effects using an assortment of salvaged and rewired electronic gadgets, from children’s toys to an old answering machine.

Other performers included “clapping music” by Portland Symphony Orchestra musicians and Latin dance music from Garotas Suecas of Brazil.

The block party was organized by Space Gallery, which sponsored a couple of much smaller outdoor parties several years ago.

“The arts district is a completely different place than it was five years ago,” said Ian Page, Space Gallery’s event coordinator.

Now, he said, “there are so many people to partner with. We pumped it up in a way we couldn’t have before.”

Ray Keith, a longtime Portlander, said the energy and the huge crowd on Saturday showed just how much Congress Street has come to life.

And, he said, it was nice the celebration took place after tourist season so it could be a real neighborhood block party.

“It’s like taking the city back again after everybody’s left,” he said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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