The Peoples Art of Portland is not your typical art gallery. You won’t find imposing white walls, a pretentious vibe or eye-popping prices. Instead, you’ll find a colorful, casual and friendly place on the top floor of a shopping mall.
“I think that people aren’t scared to walk in here and I think that’s the major thing,” says curator Chris Haberman. “There’s a stigma attached to galleries that you have to have an art degree to collect art.”
Haberman at first balked at the idea of opening an art gallery in the Pioneer Place Mall in downtown Portland, but now he sees the advantages. He estimates the gallery receives 50 to 100 visitors a day from all over the world.
“All walks of life walk come into a mall and that’s what’s really great. Having a cultural element in a mall is really kind of genius,” says Haberman.
The Peoples Art Gallery shows the works of local artists from the ages of 4 to 80, from internationally known to new, self-taught street artists. Haberman says that about 3,000 local artists have exhibited their work since the gallery opened two and a half years ago. The Peoples Art is willing to take a chance on new talent and coach artists on how to prepare, label, price and market their work. The gallery’s mission is to encourage young artists, who sometimes face many closed doors.
“There’s a lot of rejection in the art world. They may stop making art entirely,” says Haberman, an artist himself. “We’re trying to have a creative hub that more encourages, than discourages. People will work hard when you give them an opportunity.”
The owner of Pioneer Place, GGP, offers Haberman unleased retail space at a greatly reduced rent. The Peoples Art passes along the savings to local artists by charging them a lower commission: 30 percent instead of the industry standard 50 percent. The lower commission enables the artists to charge less for their artwork. As a result, the lower prices make art accessible to people on lean budgets.
“Lower middle class is our target. Just regular folks. I want construction workers to walk in here and buy art,” says Haberman. “I want to open people up to buying art.”
The Peoples Art of Portland is living up to its name.
“This is not a money-making venture for us. It’s a community venture.”