Five Young Portland Artists on the Verge

From a St. Johns rapper to a preteen actor, these are the rising stars to watch.

By Fiona McCann March 25, 2016 Published in the April 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

The Voice of North Portland

Vinnie Dewayne, musician, 25

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Born and raised in St. Johns, Vinnie Dewayne mines his personal experience in acclaimed new record The St. Johns Scholar, a nickname he earned when he left on a full-ride scholarship to study at Columbia College Chicago. He raps about the inanities of social media as fluidly as he does about violence, poverty, racism, and incarceration, his observations rooted in the neighborhood he grew up in, where he says he now sometimes feels like an outsider. “I was always trying to create a sound for St. Johns,” he says. His lyrics are directly connected to his Portland experience. “Oh, you didn’t expect me to get a full ride / But if I went to Lincoln High it wouldn’t have been a surprise.”

The Fresh Face of the Local Stage

Agatha Olson, actor, 12

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Image: Owen Carey

It started as a last-minute request: a young actor dropped out of Third Rail’s 2011 production of The Pain and the Itch. A family friend recommended Agatha Olson. That was four years ago, and the Metropolitan Learning Center student has since transfixed Portland audiences with astoundingly mature performances, most recently as the young deaf and blind Helen Keller in Artists Rep’s The Miracle Worker. “One night a chair broke, and I couldn’t just turn,” she recalls, of the challenges of playing a deaf and blind person. “That was hard. But I was super happy that I didn’t turn my head!”

The Hilarious Truth Teller

Curtis Cook, comedian, 25

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Image: Curtis Cook

Ohio-born Curtis Cook may be the only person in town who can call out a room full of Portlanders for their collective whiteness, and then get them to laugh at it. Smart and politically sharp, this six-foot-seven-inch monologist, who cohosts a weekly comedy show—Earthquake Hurricane with Alex Falcone, Bri Pruett, and Anthony Lopez—has been featured on the Daily Vice. A Helium regular, he’s also often delivering his trademark protracted setups with deadpan denouements on the road. “Portland has, I think, made me better at toeing the line,” he says of the comic lessons learned here, pointing to how this town’s audiences may espouse liberal ideals on hot-button issues like race and gentrification, but “I can also see the cutoff point where people are no longer willing to engage with you.”

The Conceptual Creator

Rebecca Peel, visual artist, 25

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Image: Rebecca Peel

When her work was selected by guest curator Michelle Grabner for the 2016 Portland Biennial, Rebecca Peel was “a little bit surprised”—she hadn’t even applied. But she found herself on a list of artists intended to define

Oregon’s contemporary art right now. Her response, she says, is to “challenge the format,” in a way that will specifically engage with her chosen exhibit space. Her focus to date has been on highly conceptual, sculptural pieces, often containing both physical and digital components, usually with found materials—think electrical cords and shopping bags.

The Scene Connector

Stacey Tran, poet, 24

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Image: Stacey Tran

Poet, performer, curator, editor, and organizer, Stacey Tran defies easy  categorization. Editor for poetry publisher Poor Claudia, she was also the brains behind this winter’s innovative and packed-out Holding Space night at Holocene, a “social engagement” for artists of color. She then performed in Linda Austin Dance’s Cabaret Boris & Natasha, incorporating moments from her bilingual childhood. (Her mother is Vietnamese.) And she’s still writing poetry, dense with the kind of nuanced, striking imagery found in lines such as “just think of how a mountain would show feelings / the green light like a whisper, a rope.”

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