Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cre8teCamp Portland

I attended Cre8te Camp yesterday, the first in what I hope will be many more un-conferences for the creative community.

What is the creative community? It can be interpreted narrowly, as members of creative enterprises like ad agencies and design studios, or broadly to include scientists and engineers as in the academic theory of Richard Florida. Cre8te Camp Portland included software programmers as well as film makers. Including me, there were a mere two PR people in attendance, but the other is also a jazz singer. I, on the other hand, make no claim to creativity except as a dilettante. Still, as a PR consultant to creative enterprises I was interested in what this group had to say and how I could contribute.

Portland is at a crossroads, a point at which some decisions need to be made regarding the character of its future growth. The city draws creatives like never before, but increasingly the talented young people are having a difficult time staying here due to the cost of living. We are in danger of losing what gives the city its dynamism and energy unless the city and state leaders decide once and for all that the creative economy is the linchpin to future prosperity.

As was pointed out at Cre8te Camp, the down economy is actually a good time to regroup, identify investments, and seed the foundation of future growth in areas of authentic interest to Portlanders, like sustainability. There was quite some talk about what should be the role of the city in growing the creative sector, with quite a few emphasizing that the role should be facilitator only and not driver. So much of what has bubbled up as creative energy in Portland has been organically driven, not policy driven, and getting the city involved in an ownership role would kill off the natural impulses in what should be a grass roots movement.

That means organizing all the disparate creative groups in Portland into an active entity encompassing all major groups - indie music and film, design, graphic arts, galleries, animation studios, architecture firms. That won't be easy.

It also means, as was talked about at length in a break out session, in strategically important sister cities that serve to broaden the base of ideas and innovation through collaboration and exchanges. One thought was to consider a Greater Cascadia creative sector, joining Portland, Vancouver, Boise, San Francisco. Another was to identify cities around the world that match Portland's DNA of independence, sustainability, DIY, craft and balance with which to work to expound on the values pertinent to creativity that have sustained Portland's economy for the last few decades.

My vote: Curitiba, Brazil.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Victoria: Top Eats Part I

We are blessed to have our famous Portland food carts, serving up the most delectable ethnic and regional plates without which the city workforce would have few affordable and tasty lunch options. In Victoria, where prices are quite a bit higher for every single thing, the food cart craze has not yet landed, sad to say. However, there was one eatery shack we did find, and as it happens it was all we could have asked for.

redfish bluefish is open 11am to 7pm six days a week year 'round, rain or shine. That's good, because I will make the proverbial bee line for it every time I'm in town. Even now, I can easily indulge in the memory of its perfectly grilled hunk of wild salmon tucked inside a toasted bun moistened with just the right amount of dilled dijonnaise, a lovely dollop of fresh cole slaw and organic greens on the side. An order of dense hand cut fries, plain or curried, or a cup (4 oz.) of the chunky Pacific Rim Chowder with white fish, corn, garlic, chipotle and coconut milk and chances are you won't be hungry again fast enough in order to return for more.

The shack serves the obligatory fish and chips, tacos of salmon, scallops, tuna or white fish, fish "sloppy joe" and other plates of BBQ'd and spicy seafood. A nod to Victoria's English heritage is seen in the offer of Mushy Edamame ("our twist on mushy peas").

What makes this shack so popular? Well, the quality of the ingredients is one reason. The fish is wild and ocean friendly and much of the other elements are organic, fresh and local. But the experience is also a draw. On a sunny day no restaurant can compete with the seating: on the dock in view of the sea planes landing and whale boats departing.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Top Five Things to Do in Victoria

If you are lucky enough to visit Vancouver Island on a clear summer day, you'll think you are close to paradise. And that's where we were last week, visiting with friends from Vancouver and Italy and then taking off on our own for a tool around the environs. Not even an extra long drive home on Monday, lengthened by the inevitable road accident (no one died) between Tacoma and Olympia, marred the memory of perfect days.

Everyone has their favorite things to do in Victoria, which by the way is leaving its twee days slowly behind and embracing an edgier future of more diversity, more young people and a more varied local economy that includes software, slow food and sustainable industries. Victoria is getting more interesting, escaping the ossified fate that awaited it before the oil boom in Alberta brought in young money.

These are things I always do when in town:

See the Emily Carr paintings at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. I was stunned upon discovering Carr about ten years ago and never tire of revisiting her works. The book store sells her autobiography which is worth a read. She was an independent creative spirit trapped in a Victorian small town with a repressive, authoritarian father. So she was a little angry. Nevertheless and against such odds, she found her way.

Discover excellent Canadian writers you've never heard of at Munro's book store. I like Munro's because of the historical building that houses it, but also because it once belonged to one of Canada's greatest contemporary writers, Alice Munro. I defy anyone to find a better writer in the English language. Her ex-husband still runs it.

Get out of the tourist-clogged Inner Harbour and take a 3-mile oceanside walk or bike ride (rentals available in town) on Dallas Road. You'll be watching marine birds, sailboats, commercial fishing boats, freighters and ferries on the Strait of Juan de Fuca with views of the craggy Olympic Range across the water in Washington state.

Taste and pick up a selection of organic tea leaves from all over the world at Special Teas on Fort Street. Nice Roobois!

Indulge in a muckle of tea at the White Heather on Oak Bay Avenue, and avoid the more famous spots where you are treated like one of the herd and charged double for the privilege. "Muckle" means "big" -- really, really high tea. The baker hails from Scotland and makes savory and sweet scones as authentic as can be and nothing like what you buy at Starbucks'. Reservations required. Don't let the non-descript shopping street facade keep you away, as it's what's inside that counts.

I'll expound on these and add another top five in a later post.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008


There was a social critic, can't recall the name, who wrote years ago about the canny ability of Western capitalism to mediate and emasculate any confrontational social movement by merchandising it. Co-opt and reward. When Hip Hop leaves mean streets and wins Grammys, it's something else altogether. Take the blandly cheery "eep-opp" of Italy, for example.

The author meant this in a good way, as he was writing during the tumultuous early 1970s. Don't worry, he implied. We won't have a revolution because consumerism will make protests entertaining, not angry, events.

The merits of this argument can be debated. But it came to my mind as I read about the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints and the success of their Internet sales. If Fashion Avenue does embrace the prairie outfit, will that mean we won't see FLDS as the exploitative and unlawful force it really is? Will 12 year old girls continue to be married off to middle-aged church leaders?

Because it seems the law against polygamy is already pretty toothless when these communities have been allowed to thrive and prosper despite being illegal. And while we're debating the issue, what does this state of affairs say about what the US electorate supposedly believes about marriage -- one man, one woman?