The Books, Albums, and Moments that Defined Portland Culture in 2015

A look back at a year full of romantic proposals, laughs, and big-budget productions

By Fiona McCann November 23, 2015 Published in the December 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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1. The year’s BIG theatrical moment came courtesy of Alia Attallah, playing Leila in Portland Center Stage’s January production of Yussef El Guindi’s Threesome. When she stripped off her abaya and stood naked and confrontational before us, it was a table-turning moment of transfixion. 

The stage went black, but the image (and its import as a rejection of cross-cultural chauvinism) remained in retina-burning clarity.

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Image: Owen Carey

2. Ambitious in scope and expensively mounted, the sizzling new musical Cuba Libre—which got its world premiere in Portland this fall—marks Artists Rep’s bid for Broadway. A Grammy-nominated band onstage for the whole performance made for a hip-shaking take
on the immigrant experience.

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Image: Lifetime

3. Portlander (and one-time producer with The Bachelor) Sarah Gertrude Shapiro’s surprise summer hit on Lifetime—UNREAL—is a dark comedy about the Machiavellian world of reality-TV production.

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Image: Brigitte Sire

4.  Critics and fans embraced Sleater-Kinney’s kick-ass comeback album No Cities to Love like a penitent lover back to make amends. Then came the rapturously received national tour, including a Crystal Ballroom you-had-to-be-there homecomapalooza. Portland’s punk legends rock on. 

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Image: Rick Bartow

5. Two local Native American artists hit the spotlight this year. The Rick Bartow retrospective in Eugene showcased—through more than 120 pieces—the Oregon-born 68-year-old’s evocative, often autobiographical work. 

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Meanwhile, Portland’s Wendy Red Star, 34, showed her vividly colored, political pieces at the Met in New York as well as in 15 separate 2015 exhibitions.

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6. In the year following Ursula K. Le Guins National Book Awards smackdown, Portland’s unofficial literary laureate showed no signs of slowing down. The 86-year-old sci-fi pathbreaker called out fellow authors (Kazuo Ishiguro was one target), defended the new Harper Lee novel, and made several public appearances. She also fit in a series of interviews to promote her new edition of Steering the Craft.

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7. Northwest Dance Project’s springy Lilliputian Ching Ching Wong (she’s four feet 11 inches) has won fans locally for her spirited, rubber-band-snap-style performances. Now she’s garnering national recognition, too, taking home a 2015 Princess Grace Award for Dance, an honor bestowed on only six dancers in the country.

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8. Stumptown Improv Festival, Portland’s scrappy young comedy event is amassing fans apace. The 2015 fest upped the ante with a hearty mix of local, national, and international comedic talent—tear-streamingly fun times.

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Image: PNCA

9. Washington High School found a new lease on life as the 830-seat music and theater venue Revolution Hall—with a rooftop deck for summer concerts. Meanwhile, PNCA opened the doors of its new headquarters this year: the expanded, remodeled, and utterly transformed 511 Building on NW Broadway, complete with lofty, light-filled gallery. 

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10. “Portlandia, you are a real angel of a city ... Michael Sage Ricci, will you marry me?” —Author Tom Spanbauer (right), at April’s Oregon Book Awards ceremony, where he proposed to his longtime partner



  • Undermajor-domo Minor Patrick deWitt
  • The Spy’s Son - Bryan Denson
  • Biophilia Christopher Marley
  • Home Carson Ellis
  • Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas - David Banis and Hunter Shobe
  • The Oregon Trail Rinker Buck
  • Turtleface and Beyond Arthur Bradford
  • Olympia Provisions - Elias Cairo and Meredith Erickson

2015 playlist

  • Summer Cannibals “Something New”
  • Divers - “Hello Hello”
  • Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Multi-Love”
  • Dame DOLLA “Wish I Could Tell You”
  • RAC“Back of the Car”
  • Ural Thomas and the Pain “I’ll Do It for You”
  • Corrina Repp - “Woods”
  • Pure Bathing Culture - “Singer”
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