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Art and design powerhouse PNCA breathes life into First Thursday events

by University Communications,

PNCA, the Pacific Northwest’s art and design powerhouse, closes out its First Thursdays participation with its final event of the season on May 2.

First Thursday, a long-standing beacon of community engagement and a highlight of nightlife in Portland's Pearl District and North Park Blocks, made a comeback in a big way with the help of Willamette University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Through a grant provided by the City of Portland, PNCA expanded long-standing partnerships with neighborhood galleries and businesses to improve the branding, marketing and overall experience of the art happening. Throughout the winter, the monthly event featured new exhibitions, hands-on experiences to create art, opportunities to try local cuisine, dance parties, and exclusive performances all organized by the premier art and design school.

As the city’s funding comes to an end, a special night of art and entertainment is planned for its last First Thursday on May 2 to celebrate all that has been accomplished in this effort to spark a renaissance of arts engagement in downtown neighborhoods. The First Thursday event at PNCA will include a collaborative community mural project led by artists Molly Mendoza and Adam Cirisi along with dozens of activations in the galleries and businesses that partner with First Thursday.

PNCA’s Jordan Schnitzer Dean, Jen Cole says, “First Thursday has always been about community and celebrating the art and artists that make Portland great. With support in the last year from the City of Portland, we've been able to accelerate new collaborations with our North Park Blocks neighbors to increase awareness of art activation in downtown, increase foot traffic to area business and cultural institutions and support joy and fun through new programs in the North Park Block area.”

The city’s funding support not only brought fun through artist-led activations, live music, performances, building projections, film screenings, and a collective mural painting event, but also made a difference by providing jobs for local artists, musicians, street vendors, and designers.

The community has noticed the difference. Since PNCA received the grant funding and launched the new programming, the First Thursdays event has increased attendance by 50 percent. At a time when the city is still working to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, these signs of life are heartening.

“We come together in the North Park Blocks in celebration of art, joy, and community and create spaces for meaningful connections amongst neighbors and community members,” says Cole. “There is a growth in attendance overall, as well as an increase in the age and ethnic diversity of those joining us. It is amazing that First Thursday is a place for people from all backgrounds to come together to celebrate art, artists, and Portland.”

Although the grant funding is ending, there are plans to apply for additional funding to restart the expanded programming this fall. First Thursday events will continue through the summer, but without some of the fun new additions the art school brings to the table.

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