It’s great that the National Endowment for the Arts is funding an art project for Congress Square Park. This presents Portland with an opportunity to show how public art can reflect the values and history of all the people of Portland. While other cities confront the question of removing divisive monuments, we could use this opportunity to redefine our public space to celebrate diversity.

Perhaps this could be tied to the long-running effort to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and recognize the presence and role of African-Americans in Portland.

The space – next to a prominent hotel, which, since it was built, has employed immigrants to do the work for the people who stay there – could also have an image/art that reflected those workers and their history. First, the Irish women in the 1920s, who, yes, came here via family-based chain migration, cleaned the rooms and did the laundry; now the new immigrants, many women and some men from Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Portland’s public art in recent years has tended toward the safety of abstraction and avoided historical commemoration. This is a good moment for change. There is more to Portland’s history than Longfellow and lobsters.

Eileen Eagan


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