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 Northeast Portland community.
But the event also collided complaints neighbors for years. And it has always played a complex role in the neighborhood’s continued gentrification.
In years past, city officials had increased police presence last Thursdays because of shootings and clashes with law enforcement.
After a hiatus during the pandemic, Last Thursdays are back. The last of the summer is this Thursday, August 25.
OPBs Paul Marshall sat down to speak with Alberta Main Street Board Chairman and President Devon Horace.
Paul Marshall: What is the vision of Last Thursday?
Devon Horace: Simply bringing together all the small businesses, creators and artists for the opportunity to share their work on Alberta Street with the community and hopefully earn money from their work throughout the community.
Marshal: When you decided to restart last Thursday, it was during a pandemic, but also with a history of disruption for residents of the Alberta neighborhood of Portland. How did you think about reopening this time around?
Horace: Given what the community had to say and COVID concerns, we reopened it and I said we needed to do this differently and we needed to be more organized.
When you talk to a few legacy members of Last Thursday, they feel like it’s like Burning Man and everyone should express themselves and be artistic.
This may cause a bit of disruption. Our team [this year] would like to bring a more organized approach to last Thursday. We always want it to stay local and we always want artists and creators to feel comfortable sharing their works with the community. We really take this seriously, making sure everyone is safe and making sure everything is better organized
Marshal: You are the first black person to lead last Thursday. Do you think that made you approach it differently?
Horace: Yes, because I know the community. I know former members of Last Thursday are watching me and my team to see what they will do. I’m young and I’m a black man here in Portland, Oregon, and I’m proud of it. I want to run correctly.
I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing, not only for myself and my team, but also for my community, because I’m part of that community.
It’s a great honor for me not only to represent the black community, but also my community as a whole and to be able to say, ‘How do I present myself? And how do I improve it?
Marshal: Alberta Street has seen a lot of gentrification over the years. How are you working to deal with the impact of these changes?
Horace: Gentrification, that’s how I see it — it’s going to happen.
As developers and cities and regions grow, it brings in those dollars and brings in those companies and bigger companies. It also funnels a wave of funds into the community and there are pros and cons to that. As an investor myself, I always see things as a win-win scenario.
But also: how do we create affordable housing or affordable leases for buildings for showcases, programs and initiatives?
How does the city help fund certain things to help low-income people and minorities, people and businesses to be able to benefit from gentrification as well?
I hope that not only myself, but also Alberta Main Street as a collective, we can provide this through partnerships with cities, GCs (general contractors) and other street developers – to partner to them and say, ‘How can we make this fairer? How can we make this fairer for everyone and not just think about profits and growth in this field?
Marshal: Still on the theme of partnerships, how do you balance supporting your businesses of color with white neighborhood residents?
Horace: We could see a wave of black-owned businesses as well as Latinx and businesses of color coming to Alberta Street. Some of our white patrons supported it because we are a community.
They go 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, as chair of the board, I see a lot of support from our white counterparts. Others are also showing their support and saying, “It’s a black-owned business, it’s a Punjabi-owned business or a Latinx or a Chinese-owned.” They also think, “Let’s explore it. Let’s help and how do we spread this message? »
I love seeing people sharing these things on the Instagram and Facebook forums and 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 need 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 it.
Marshal: How would you describe Alberta Street itself and your relationship with it?
Horace: When you look at the different businesses on Alberta Street from MLK to 33rd, it’s an influx and variation of different businesses and different cultures.
A guy asked me where can I find Chinese food? I’m like, ‘Right there!’ He was also looking for some kind of Mexican cuisine or Latin or Mediterranean cuisine. I can point to where these businesses are located on the Alberta Street strip and I’m very proud to say that.
Since I’ve lived here, Northeast Portland has been my home. But what I love most about Alberta Street is that it’s so diverse. When you come to the street and experience the street, it is very lively, artistic. It is very community friendly.