Lake Oswego is home to more than 39,000 residents and some of Oregon’s most striking pieces of public art. They’re part of an ongoing public arts program, Gallery Without Walls.
Gallery Without Walls was created in 1999 by the Arts Council of Lake Oswego, a nonprofit organization committed to bringing art to the city.
Executive Director Nicole Nathan believes public arts programs like Gallery Without Walls serve a larger role in establishing the identity of a small community and giving the public more accessibility to art.
“You don’t have to pay admission,” she said. “You don’t have to go to a building to be able to see the art work. It’s on the streets, you’re able to interact with it any time of day.”
The Selection Process
Each year the Arts Council selects 15 new pieces to be part of its rotating collection. The long and extensive selection process starts with artists from around the country submitting their proposals.
“Sometimes we have upward of 50 pieces that are submitted. Sometimes we have upward of 100,” Nathan said.
Every art piece must meet certain criteria, including weather resistance, public interactivity and movability.
“If it’s going to rust, is that part of the piece? If it’s glass, is it attached well? All of these different things we think about when we take those into the temporary collection,” Nathan said.
Once all the criteria are met and the council picks its new pieces, the artists are responsible for transporting their work to Lake Oswego and will work with the city to get it installed.
From there, the art will be on display for two years.
Access To Art
The pieces are displayed within a six-block radius, assuring plenty of downtown foot traffic.
That accessibility was a big reason why Benjamin Mefford, Gregory Fields and Jesse Taylor submitted their art to Gallery Without Walls last year.
Mefford appreciates Gallery Without Walls and programs like it because the smaller community gives artists more room to show their work.
“There’s so much happening in Portland that I think some of the artwork gets lost more easily,” he said.
Fields echoed the same sentiment about public arts programs and how they can boost the businesses of small towns.
“It gets art in front of people on a permanent basis and another positive side effect of that is that people will come to a town to see their art,” he said.
For Taylor, public art is a chance to connect with nature.
“Cities are a lot of grids and a lot of structure,” he said. “And a lot of that works for what a city does. But we need nature and art kind of clicks into that side of things.”
Importance To The Community
Since 1999, hundreds of pieces of art have been on display through Gallery Without Walls. In the three years she’s worked at the Arts Council, Nathan said she’s constantly surprised at how beloved the program is to the community.
She hopes that if Gallery Without Walls and other programs like it flourish, the public will start to appreciate that a small town like Lake Oswego could be a destination to view great pieces of art.
“You might like it, you might hate it, but it elicited something,” she said. “And you have this reaction to it and you’re thinking about it and I think that’s where we really have reached our goal.”