Head of Alberta district’s Last Thursday festival talks art, business and safety

By Paul Marshall (OPB)
Aug. 24, 2022 10:50 p.m. Updated: Aug. 25, 2022 1:53 a.m.

OPB’s Paul Marshall sat down with Alberta Main Street’s Devon Horace as the Northeast Portland festival makes its comeback after pandemic

For over 20 years Alberta Street’s Last Thursday street festival has brought together artists, small businesses and vendors to share their work with the community in Northeast Portland.

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But the event also faced complaints from neighbors for years. And it has always played a complex role in the neighborhood’s ongoing gentrification.

In years past, city officials had increased police presence at Last Thursdays because of shootings and confrontations with law enforcement.

After a pause during the pandemic, Last Thursdays are back. The last one of the summer is this Thursday, Aug. 25.

OPBs Paul Marshall sat down to talk with Alberta Main Street’s Board Chair and President Devon Horace.

In this handout photo from festival organizers, people attend an Alberta Street Last Thursday event.

In this handout photo from festival organizers, people attend an Alberta Street Last Thursday event.

Danya Feltzin / Courtesy of Alberta Main Street Board

Paul Marshall: What is the vision for Last Thursday?

Devon Horace: To simply bring all of small businesses and creators and artists together for an opportunity to share their work on Alberta Street with the community and hopefully make some money off of their work throughout the community.

Marshall: When you decided to restart Last Thursday, it was during a pandemic, but also with a history of disruption for residents in Portland’s Alberta neighborhood. How did you think about reopening this time around?

Horace: Being in consideration of what the community had to say and COVID concerns, we opened it back up and I said we have to do this differently and we have to be more organized.

When you talk to a few legacy members of Last Thursday, they had the attitude that this is like Burning Man and that everyone should express themselves and be artsy.

That can lead to a bit of disruption. Our team [this year] would like to bring more of an organized approach to Last Thursday. We still want to keep it local and we still want to keep the artists and the creators feeling comfortable and sharing their works with the community. We really take it serious, making sure everyone is safe and making sure that it is more organized

Marshall: You’re the first Black person to lead Last Thursday. Do you think that led you to approach it differently?

Horace: Yes, because I do know the community. I do know that legacy members of Last Thursday are looking at me and looking at my team to see what they’re going to do. I’m young and I’m a Black man here in Portland, Oregon, and I take pride in that. I want to execute properly.

I want to make sure that I am doing the right thing, not only to myself and for my team but also for my community because I am a part of this community.

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It’s a big honor for me not only to represent the Black community, but also my community as a whole and be able to say: ‘How am I showing up? And how am I making it better?’

Marshall: Alberta Street has witnessed a lot of gentrification over the years. How do you work to address the impact from those changes?

Horace: Gentrification, this is how I look at it — it’s going to happen.

As developers and cities and areas grow, it’s bringing in these dollars and it’s bringing in these businesses and bigger businesses. It also funnels a wave of funds into the community and there are pros and cons to that. As an investor myself, I always look at things as a win-win scenario.

But also: How are we creating affordable housing or affordable leases for buildings for storefronts, programs and initiatives?

How is the city helping fund certain things to help lower income and minority, people and businesses to be able to also benefit through gentrification?

I’m hoping that not only myself, but also Alberta Main Street as a collective, we are able to provide that through partnerships with the cities, GC’s (general contractors) and other developers on the street — to partner with them and say: ‘How can we make this more equitable? How can we make this more equal to everyone and not just think about profits and growing that area?

Marshall: Staying on the theme of partnerships, how do you balance the support for your businesses of color with the white residents in the area?

Horace: We have been able to see a wave of Black-owned businesses as well as Latinx and and people of color businesses come to Alberta Street. Some of our white patrons have been supportive of it because we are a community.

They come out, they want to eat, they want to enjoy different music, different cultures. They want to support local artists.

I can’t speak to every other district or community but from what I’ve seen, being the board chairman, I see a lot of support from our white counterparts. Others are also showing support and saying: ‘This is a Black-owned business, this is a Punjabi-owned business or a Latinx or Chinese.’ They’re also thinking: ‘Let’s explore it. Let’s help and how do we spread this message?’

I love seeing people sharing these things on Instagram and Facebook forums and also bringing their whole family and team to some of these businesses.

I think it’s a beautiful thing. But, the more that happens, I feel like the more we have to bring that visibility and access to Black businesses as well as people of color and minority owned businesses, to be able to benefit from that.

Marshall: How would you describe Alberta Street itself and your relationship to it?

Horace: When you actually look at the different businesses on Alberta Street, all the way from MLK to 33rd, it is an influx and it is a variation of different businesses and different cultures.

One guy asked me where can I get Chinese food? I’m like: ‘Right there!’ He was also looking for some kind of Mexican cuisine or some Latin food or Mediterranean food. I’m able to point out where these businesses are all on the strip of Alberta Street and I’m very proud to say that.

Since I’ve been living here, Northeast Portland has been home. But what I love most about Alberta Street is that it’s so diverse. When you actually come on the street and experience the street is very vibrant, artsy. It is very supportive to the community.


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