Travel Portland’s big gamble on full-page print ads in national newspapers last week drew plenty of buzz on the tourism-promotion agency’s home turf, and not all of it was positive.
Less noticed: The accompanying video, which includes the text of the ad via voice-over narration, along with shots of some of Portland’s coolest—and pointedly diverse—tastemakers and creators, from rapper Daniyel to Han Oak’s Peter Cho to members of the Grammy-winning band Portugal. The Man.
Given the complicated reaction to the campaign—progressives dinged it for not directly calling out police brutality and the systemic racism baked into the city’s DNA, while the right scoffed that the cameras had somehow missed the tent encampments that cluster in some areas—we thought it was worth checking in with some of the artists, fashionistas, restauranteurs and creatives featured in the video, to see how the finished product had landed for them.
Not everyone contacted by Portland Monthly wanted to talk about their participation in the video. (For a full list of those featured, click here.) But among those who did, the reaction was mainly a hopeful one, mixed with pragmatism about what it will take to get all parts of the city moving forward.
Anis Mojgani, who is Oregon's Poet Laureate, says he’d worked with Travel Portland before, on a pop-up project in London, and got an email asking if he’d like to participate in the new campaign, which meant just a few minutes of shooting a video portrait at his studio on the grounds of the Zidell shipyard in South Portland.
“I really liked getting to watch the video, being reminded and introduced to a city that has more texture, color and stories than we sometimes remember or hold space for,” he said via email. “I love Portland, and while by no means do I view my city through rose-colored glasses of absolution, I think that much of the issues and challenges we have been facing recently and continue to face have been misread and mis-held by individuals, officials and media outlets. As long as that continues, the possibility of sustainable progress cannot become an actuality. So I was, and am, down with anything that seeks to both offer up a closer lens to what is happening in our town, as well as anything that also brushes off and holds up to the light some of that which is wondrous and beautiful about Portland.”
Justin Machus, who owns Machus, a design-focused men’s clothing store on lower E. Burnside Street, calls himself a “forever optimist,” including about the city, both where we’ve been, and where we’re headed.
“I totally understand the polarity of it as we are just as frustrated with some of the issues as everyone else,” Machus says. “But it’s no use being a downer about the city. This video is about the good things and the good things will prevail.”
Classically trained performer Lynnesha Crump, who has just wrapped up a residency with the Portland Opera, sings Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Spring Waters” to finish out the video, and posted on Facebook that she felt “blessed to have worked with Industry (the BIPOC-run ad agency behind the campaign) and Travel Portland on this amazing project.... I seriously couldn’t ask for a better way to end my residency in Portland.”
But Angel Medina, the owner of the Mexican-forward restaurant and café República and La Perlita in Portland’s Pearl District, said his feelings were not so straightforward—he had to sit with the video, and watch it several times to sort out his thinking.
His first reaction, Medina said, was pride in being part of the project, mixed with what he called a “strange nostalgia that I felt for no reason. I don’t want Portland to be what it is used to be. It’s evolving—Portland is a reflection of the times.”
Viewing it again on a second day, the video didn’t land as well for him, Medina said—he worried that he was there just to check a box—here a weirdo, there a hipster, a sprinkle of sports legends, a little bit of Black Lives Matter. But when he talked to his staff at República, a collaborative effort with cooks from all over Mexico, Medina says, they were proud of the project and proud of him, and he re-evaluated again.
The city needs to focus on the houseless, on police reform, on justice and equity issue, and also needs to attract residents and tourists alike back to businesses like his and the others featured in the video, Medina says.
“Of course we have to attract people—we need an economy,” Medina says. “People need to get the stigma out of their head, that we are a white city with such low diversity. We are building something here. I hope they can understand, this is how we change the perception of Portland. You want people to know something about us other than tents, or expensive apartments—this is the way to do it.”