If you come to this blog for “Poetry” or “Poetics,” please indulge a short rant about “Portland,” or at least the small corner of it represented yesterday by advertising juggernaut Wieden + Kennedy. If you don’t know Wieden + Kennedy (I didn’t till I moved here), it’s an ad agency, one of the half dozen or so big employers in a city that could badly use more.
This weekend, they decided to mark the seven-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan & Iraq with 24 continuous hours of mostly classical music at their Pearl District “atrium.” If you don’t know the Pearl, it’s sort of Portland’s attempt to look like a set for a TV show about working in a large U.S. metropolis.
As a political statement, the event ran about as deep as a Gandhi quote on a Starbucks cup. But as a civic gesture, it seemed good-natured enough at a time when Oregon’s unemployment rate tops 10%. We could use a little free anything right now, and Portland’s classical scene, with its yen for experiment and crossover, is a strong one worth supporting.
When we turned up a little after 5 PM on Sunday, we found about fifty people milling around the foyer, no musicians in sight. One of the persons working the event immediately offered us a giant-sized poster showing all the concerts W+K had lined up for the public for free, every hour on the hour, 7 PM Saturday to 7 PM Sunday. He explained, though, that this particular public standing in the office foyer couldn’t attend this particular hour—it was seated at capacity, and we’d have to wait till 6 to find out if enough people would leave to make room for us.
There was no announcement about seating capacity in either of the weeklies that carried news of the event, or on the event website, or printed on the posters. No suggestion that the concerts were first-come, first-serve, or that one should plan to arrive early because seating was limited. You might think that W+K got caught with its pants down, surprised by the size of the crowds that turned out. But I counted at least four on-duty staff, telling us where to line up and smoothly managing the overflow. Since I was there with a child, I couldn’t afford to wait 50 minutes in line with no guarantee of a seat at 6. So we left.
Normally this would be a minor annoyance. But with things as they are in Portland right now, with the mayor under criminal investigation, the 12-lane ungreen freeway bridge over the Columbia approved, and Major League Soccer coming to town on mostly public money at the call of Henry Merritt Paulson III, 35-year-old millionaire son of W.’s former Treasury Secretary, the W+K “free but not for everyone actually here” stunt symbolically galls. How much of what Portland promises—free, green, grassroots, or growing—does it really deliver? What’s the truth behind the ads?
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