Monday, March 23, 2009

Wieden + Kennedy Sucks Eggs (For Free)

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?


Chris said...

Oh, heavens, all of Portland's "green" hype comes from the 70s, when (although still besotted with small-town cronyism) it was at the forefront of tearing up highways and instilling bus malls. Those days ended long ago -- the support for such things is less institutional, more grassroots. Although, you know, there are certain Portland-goggles being worn even when saying that -- compared to a lot of similarly sized cities, Portland isn't that bad.

(I'm not sure what the mayor's situation has to do with any of this, and I am rankled a bit at how you phrase it here: he may be under criminal investigation, and he even may have been, for the one time in his life, politically suicidal enough to have broken the law, but it's not as if he did anything wrong.

I hadn't heard about the other developments though -- bleh.)

Also, that description of the Pearl sums it up quite nicely!

Nada said...

So come move to NYC! [grin]

rodney k said...

Hi Chris,

Fair enough about the Mayor, which is partly why I didn't care to mention what he's under investigation for. However ridiculous and unseemly the investigation may be, it has changed the tone here. The Obama-like euphoria of having a young, energetic, and gay mayor in a city this size has curdled into a sulky waiting around to see if there'll be a recall. In the meantime, some are speculating that it's the dread "lack of political capital" that accounts for his caving in on the bridge and his willingness to push through the MLS soccer team on pretty much Paulson's terms. (Randy Leonard, who may well be gunning for Adams's spot in the event of a recall, is also making MLS "his" cause in a way that he might not if Adams were more firmly in the saddle right now.)

It's politics though, so I realize there are more than one side to things. Mine just seem to be losing lately is all. Plus all the shuttered office space downtown.

One upshot of yesterday though was to make me grateful for Spare Room's truly free, come-whenever-you-like anniversary event. Chris, might there be a "recall" to get you back to Portland post-graduation?

rodney k said...

Hi Nada,

I dunno--is it free? :)

Chris said...

I'd love to come back to Portland when I'm all done, but I just signed up and got accepted to another five years of this learning. I'll be visiting for a bit over the summer, though.