The first time SPACE Gallery closed off a chunk of Congress Street, in 2005, they filled it with sod grass and turned it into an urban lawn. The second, a year later, inflated plastic structures dotted the Arts District. This Saturday — in theme, in spirit, and in execution — they do it again by throwing a good old fashioned Block Party.
MOVING DAY Make your own street mural with Meghan Brady and Matt Phillips’s painted boxes.
The sprawling, free event runs from 6-9 pm, but Congress Street will be abuzz throughout afternoon and night with pre- and post-parties at various music and art venues, while SPACE acts, as events programmer Ian Paige put it last week, "as the instigator of [this] energy."
Block Party began with two concepts. The first was "running with the idea of 'block' as a very loose parameter . . . and seeing what ideas came back," Paige says. The second, says executive director Nat May, was to celebrate the "new cohesive feeling to the Arts District that wasn't there" a few years ago. Paige amended, "What made this a reality . . . is that the Arts District has become the Arts District," an undeniable hub of creativity and activity.
Most impressively, the event — which, among many other things, will feature: temporary installations involving a shipping container and a steamroller, and the Brazilian Tropicalia band Garotas Suecas right on Congress Street at 7 pm — is a low-budget endeavor. Grants and co-productions are taking care of most fees. May notes, "In a certain way, it's a little ridiculous to try to create an event like this without a big budget . . . but the lack of expectations has freed us, and allowed it to be more open and artist-driven."
Indeed, the artists invited to participate have been given relatively free reign to create whatever they like under the Block Party theme, and the results — whether scrappy or ambitious — sound awesome. Here are some highlights:
At 6 pm, the PORTLAND SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA will give a street performance of Steve Reich's 1972 piece "Clapping Music." PSO percussionists Nancy Smith and Richard Kelly will lead the performance, comprised entirely of rhythms made by hands, with audience help.
PICKWICK INDEPENDENT PRESS, the printmaking collective housed in the Artist Studio building, will roll out steamroller-pressed prints (the three-ton rig was funded by a Kickstarter project) designed by its members and other local artists on Oak Street, in sizes of four-by-four and four-by-eight feet.
New York-based artist ANDREA ZITTEL will debut her latest project at the Portland Museum of Art. The Group Formerly Known as Smockshop (named after a project of Zittel's May notes is a great chance for Portland residents to see work that's causing a stir in the larger art world) will sell prints, home accessories, and garments all shaped like blocks that are nonetheless functional. It'll be housed in a shipping container.
Local artists COLIN SULLIVAN-STEVENS, NATHAN ELDRIDGE, GALEN RICHMOND, and MEGHAN BRADY AND MATT PHILLIPS will offer installations on the street. Sullivan-Stevens will turn a loaded pallet of bricks into a new structure; Eldridge will present another immaculate photobooth (an enormous office space) to the paying ($20) public; Richmond will continue his circuit-bending projects with a 6 pm performance and children's activities (giant building blocks) at the Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine; and Brady and Phillips will paint 20 modular pods (a/k/a cardboard boxes) that can be rearranged by passers-by to create unique, ever-changing street murals.