For the past two years, art lovers, collectors, and creators swarmed around Portland in the August heat for the city’s newest visual arts festival. Travel mags praise it, attendees applaud it. Converge45 even manages to turn the eyes of national and international art collectors toward Stumptown. So how come so many Portlanders haven’t heard of it? Read on to find out what you’re missing and what to see this year.
What is it? An annual visual arts festival built around contemporary art that runs August 9–12. “Converge45 is a convener of the arts at the 45th parallel,” explains Elizabeth Leach, chair of the festival’s board. “By inviting people who live here and people from outside to come to Portland to look at the art, we’re drawing attention to the arts and our culture, and hopefully strengthening it.”
Who are the players? Last year, nine venues participated, drawing hundreds to exhibits and events featuring Laurie Anderson, Tannaz Farsi, Jennifer Steinkamp, and Catherine Opie among dozens of contemporary artists. This year, PNCA, Centennial Mills, PICA, Blue Sky, the Portland Art Museum and 11 more local galleries will be involved.
What can we expect? Exhibits from the likes of neo-conceptualist Jenny Holzer, an international art fair in collaboration with the King School Museum of Contemporary Art, a fine-arts-books presentation by Radius Books, an artists’ garden party, and a performance from acclaimed Alabama artist Lonnie Holley, among other events.
How is it curated? Since its inception, the festival’s guest curator has been artist, curator, and one-time Portlander Kristy Edmunds, who back in the day started PICA and its annual TBA Festival. Her successor—Converge45 looks for two- to three-year commitments from its guest curators—will be announced at the festival’s opening reception at PNCA on August 9.
This year’s highlight? Our money's on habitus, a giant installation by Ohio artist Ann Hamilton at the soon-to-be-demolished Centennial Mills building, which plays with themes of shelter and social connectivity through fabric hangings set spinning by bell rope pulleys.
Why does Portland need a visual art festival anyway? “This is an incredibly walkable city full of art, full of culture, full of life,” says Leach. “And the thought culture in this city is remarkable. I think it’s an important moment to recognize the organizations supporting that—the galleries and nonprofits. They’re heavy lifting at a tough time. Our mission is to bring more contemporary art to the table and to people’s attention, and to highlight what’s going on here. Because it’s amazing.”