Apr 4, 2024 - Things to Do

Crowds are slowly returning to First Thursday art walk

A man and a woman look at colorful prints at the NW 13th Ave outdoor art market in Portland's Pearl District.

Pearl District's First Thursday art walk gets a boost with the return of the open-air art market on NW 13th Avenue. Photo: Courtesy of Travel Portland/Ashley Anderson

Organizers of Portland's First Thursday art walk are optimistic that the event will once again bring people to the streets to celebrate creativity after a COVID-era lull.

Why it matters: First Thursday makes the city's art industry accessible, even for those who don't plan to buy.

  • "It is very much part of the DNA of Portland," says Elizabeth Leach, the owner of the Elizabeth Leach Gallery.

Driving the news: First Thursday will get a boost this week with the return of the art market on NW 13th Avenue.

  • The outdoor First Thursday Street Gallery that runs between Irving and Lovejoy streets from April to October typically draws larger crowds to the year-round event.

Catch up quick: First Thursday began in 1986 and is spearheaded by the Portland Art Dealers Association (PADA), which charges galleries between $1,000 and $5,000 to be sponsors.

  • But gallerists took a hiatus in 2020 during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic and only rejoined the event piecemeal over the next two years.

Yes, but: This year, "it's definitely coming back," Leach says.

  • "I think it's coming back slowly, this will be a big year," agrees Brett Binford, who runs Eutectic Gallery and is the president of PADA's board.
  • He said gallery owners are seeing two or three times more people at First Thursday than last winter, and bigger crowds are expected in the warmer months.

How it works: The event takes over the Pearl District, creating a loop from the 13th Avenue street market to NW 9th Avenue, down Everett Street to the DeSoto Building galleries on the North Park Blocks, and back via the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

What we're watching: Binford is looking to the city government to do more to improve the First Thursday experience — and downtown's safety.

  • "We would like to see the city do more in the way of helping clean up downtown so that businesses, like the arts community, can once again thrive."

If you go: The 13th Avenue art market is from 5pm-9pm, and most participating galleries stay open until 8pm.

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