5 Events You Can't Miss at This Year's Vanport Mosaic Festival

From a walking tour to watercolors to documentaries about Mulugeta Seraw and the 2017 MAX attack, here's what to catch at the fourth annual fest.

By Rebecca Jacobson and Fiona McCann May 22, 2019

Former Vanport residents flee the city.

Four years ago, the Vanport Mosaic Festival began as a four-day event memorializing what was once Oregon's second-largest city. Organizers sought to expand knowledge of Vanport—which most Portlanders know simply as a city wiped out by a flood in 1948—by highlighting stories from Vanport before its destruction.

Now, the fest has become a two-week affair, running May 21–June 5 with programming ranging from tours to documentary screenings to live performances. Where to begin? Here are a few of our picks.

Welcome Home to Vanport Tour

10:45 a.m.—1 p.m., Mon, May 27, $7–10
Susan Barthel, local Vanport historian and a former environmental program coordinator with the city of Portland, takes participants on a three-mile guided walk around the site of the one-time community. The tour takes in Force Lake, the Columbia Slough levee, Cottonwood Avenue, and Vanport area public art. Participants: bring water and "your imaginations."

Viewing times and dates vary, Cerimon House, FREE
The octogenarian Dutch-born, Oregon-based painter Henk Pander—one of the state's preeminent talents—combines recently painted, large-format watercolors about the Vanport Flood (some of which were on exhibit for last year's fest) with work on Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. The exhibit, titled Building Memories, focuses on the invisible histories of buildings and spaces, and the danger of forgetting them. At the opening on Friday, May 24, he's joined in conversation by City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.   

Through Darcelle's Eyes

10:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon, May 27, included in $5 pass
For a change of pace, pop on a virtual-reality headset for this 20-minute documentary about Portlander Darcelle XV, who at 88 is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest drag queen. The doc, made by Portland's 360 Labs, is an immersive dip into the highs and lows of life as Darcelle (a.k.a. Walter Cole): one minute you're greeted by applauding fans; in the next, rage-filled parade spectators sling insults at you. For more on the doc, check out our story from last fall.

Transforming Hate: Mulugeta Seraw's Story

7–8:30 p.m. Thu, May 30, Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, $5 suggested
In 1988, an Ethiopian student named Mulugeta Seraw was beaten to death by three white supremacists in Southeast Portland. This short documentary, co-produced by Mischa Webley and Laura Lo Forti (the latter is co-artistic director of the festival), takes a look at Seraw's life and death, and will be followed by a community panel discussion about responding to hate.

Divided States: The 2017 MAX Train Attack

7–8:30 p.m. Fri, May 31, Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, $5 suggested
A new documentary looks back on Portland's 2017 MAX train attack, in which a knife-wielding white nationalist killed two men and critically injured another after they came to the defense of two young women of color, one of whom was in a hijab. The event—a collaboration with the No Hate Zone, a local group working for racial equity—also features a discussion among teenagers about the power of storytelling, facilitated by writer and social justice advocate S. Renee Mitchell.

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