Portland General Electric
North Fork Art Jam
The 2013 North Fork Art Jam took place over a two-day period in June, where thirty local artists from the Estacada Area Arts Commission were hosted by Portland General Electric (PGE). PGE staff provided the artists with safety gear, safety instruction, a brief history of PGE and generating facilities on the Clackamas River. Artists were given a guided tour of the North Fork Dam and Powerhouse and the new adult fish sorting facility and then created works of fine art in a variety of media based on inspiration from the hydro industry and the surrounding wooded, river environment. These resulting works of art have been made available for public viewing at four venues via a year-long traveling art show that began in September at the Estacada Public Library in Estacada, Oregon.
Over the last seven years, PGE has collaborated with community groups to create “Art Jam” – an annual event in which regional artists are invited to explore PGE’s hydro facilities and create art inspired by their experiences. Art Jam was originally developed in response to public interest in PGE’s hydroelectric facilities and provides a unique opportunity for public access while being sensitive to safety and security concerns.
Art Jam was founded by the Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation in partnership with PGE. The first event was facilitated at PGE’s T.W. Sullivan Power Plant on the Willamette River in 2007.
The success of Art Jam events on both the Willamette River and Sandy River inspired Jane Reid, director of the Estacada Arts Commission, to partner with PGE and organize a similar event for artists on the Clackamas River. There have been four Art Jam events on the Clackamas: the River Mill Powerhouse in 2010, the Oak Grove Hydroelectric Facility in 2011, the Faraday Powerhouse in 2012, and the North Fork Powerhouse in 2013.
The 2013 North Fork Art Jam was the largest Art Jam event to date, and was uniquely challenging in several ways. The presence of construction, a high-voltage switchyard, and a vantage from the top of the dam presented PGE staff with unique safety challenges. North Fork’s modern architecture challenged artists to derive inspiration from North Fork’s decidedly 1950s utilitarian design.
PGE staff ensured that the artists remained safe by providing a robust safety orientation and provided hard hats, safety vests, glasses, as well as noise-filters. In addition to these precautions, Portland General Electric invited Mike Bender, the company’s Hydro Safety Coordinator, to participate in the event. He ensured that all construction areas, as well as the high-voltage switchyard, were clearly marked, and that the artists maintained a safe distance from these locations.
In addition to the multiple safety issues, the artists were challenged by the North Fork Dam’s modern architecture. The North Fork Powerhouse is a concrete, windowless structure of starkly utilitarian design. The artists were encouraged to derive inspiration from North Fork’s spartan features as well as the surrounding environment.
Hydropower interpreted through fine art has connected the Estacada community with their own local history. The development of hydroelectric power plants on the Clackamas River helped establish the town of Estacada. The results of the collaboration between PGE and skilled, local artists provides an innovative method for telling the Clackamas River Hydropower story through pottery, woodcarving, painting, quilting, and historic narrative. The Art Jam program is a valuable addition to PGE’s public education and outreach programs.
The 2013 North Fork Art Jam event was arguably, the most successful event to date. More artists participated in this year’s event than in previous years and almost twice the amount of art pieces were completed and displayed. Despite the safety challenges, the artists were able to tour the facilities and derive inspiration without injury. The 2013 art exhibit displays the success of the Art Jam and artists in creating unique, compelling works that demonstrate their talent and convey PGE’s rich history of hydropower from a unique perspective, despite the North Fork Dam’s aesthetic challenges.
“Artists are very grateful to have the opportunity to tour the hydro projects and to work from them. People have begged for access to the dams/powerhouses for years; this project gives PGE the opportunity to provide access to community members, specifically to the artists and through the artists’ work.” – Jane Reid, Director, Estacada Area Arts Commission