Vacant Portland Storefronts Become Canvases for New History Exhibit

History Is Now, part of the sixth Vanport Mosaic Festival, tells Oregon’s history through the voices of its underrepresented and marginalized communities.

By Cami Hughes June 5, 2021

Throughout the month of June, the vacant store front windows of the North Park Blocks will be used to showcase 65 displays depicting Oregon’s true history through the voices of its underrepresented and marginalized communities.

“The vision is to tell the stories of lives and futures that have been stolen, or taken by systemic injustice,” says Karim Hassanein, who worked on the event, called History Is Now.

Hassanein, a designer from Design As Protest—a group of designers working to hold their industry accountable for the harms they’ve caused to Black communities— worked closely with Laura Lo Forti of Vanport Mosaic to put together the installations as part of the sixth  annual Vanport Mosaic Festival, partnering with a slew of other organizations across town, including The Immigrant Story, Oregon Historical Society, and Five Oaks Museum.

All month long, viewers walking by the store fronts can read the stories of various groups that built Portland and have typically been removed from the historical narrative. Each display consists of three by six feet boards and tells a different story of the various experiences faced by these communities—immigrants, Japanese Americans, and early Black Oregon residents—placing them all in conversation with each other.

Lo Forti explains the exhibit to be a “mosaic of many people, and many experiences” that come together to share the “stories of our communities and the stories of the people who contributed to our city.” She adds History Is Now is meant as an “invitation to intentionally join the we," of We the People, the phrase from the Preamble to the US Constitution which is the theme of the festival. Part of the purpose of the event, she says, was to create a meaningful place for all groups represented in the displays to meet each other in ways they might not have been able to if they hadn’t been a part of this exhibit.

In addition to the physical displays, there will be a live event at noon on June 6 intended for the various communities celebrated throughout the displays to come together, claim space, and meet with each other. Participants will use tactical protest signs—plastic protest signs with notches cut to be put together to build a structure—as a way to claim and build space, and bring awareness to specific examples of injustice.

History Is Now will be shown as a part of the sixth annual Vanport Mosaic Festival, which begins May 26 and runs to June 30.

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