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Portland Film, Music and Arts

Portland and the Arts

Downtown Portland at sunset looking across the Willamette River.
More Oregon adults attend opera, jazz and classical music concerts, per capita, than in any other state. A geographical analysis of a survey released in late 2009 by the National Endowment for the Arts also showed Oregon was second in overall per-capita attendance at performing arts events.

The survey also revealed that Oregon ranked number one in the percentage of adults attending art museums and craft festivals. The survey took place in May 2008, before the economic squeeze, but, following decades of scraping the bottom of the national funding barrel, the news came as a pleasant surprise.

Calendar of Art Events

Whether it music, dance, stage, film, or art, you will find it in Portland.  Online event calendars are maintained by a number of Web sites and print publications.

  • Oregon Public Broadcasting  Their music calendar is top notch.
  • Portland Visitors Association  The Portland Events Calendar covers Portland culture, from local theater to touring productions, and from beer and wine festivals to the nationally recognized Portland Rose Festival.
  • Regional Arts and Culture Council  The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) works to integrate arts and culture in all aspects of community life. RACC has served the Portland tri-county area since its inception in 1995, when the city’s Metropolitan Arts Commission transitioned into a separate not-for-profit organization.

Two print publications that have up-to-date Web sites of events.

Many of the colleges in Portland also offer concerts and theatre events.

  • Lewis and Clark College has an online event calendar and they invite the public to attend.
  • Portland State University is the largest college in terms of enrollment in Oregon.  Their events calendar allows you to narrow or broaden your search by adjusting the range of dates shown by the calendar to show a single date, a week, or a month’s worth of events at a single time. You can also select the type of event (e.g., concert, dance, music, performance, etc.).
  • Reed College has a full schedule of lectures, concerts, and exhibits that many of the Portland residents attend.


Portland Art Museum just keeps getting better and better. The Museum of Contemporary Craft (MoCC) in partnership with Pacific Northwest College of Art is a center for investigation and dialogue that helps expand the definition and exploration of craft.

Portland has numerous galleries in the metro area with the largest concentration in the Pearl District. Join the First Thursday Gallery Walk (first Thursday of every month) for gallery receptions and show openings in galleries throughout the Pearl District, Old Town/Chinatown and downtown Portland.

PORT is dedicated to catalyzing critical discussion and disseminating information about art as lensed through Portland, Oregon.


The group that manages the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall and other venues re-branded itself with a new name in September 2013 so it’s now called the “Portland‘5 Center for the Arts.” The organization has been known for decades as Portland Center for the Performing Arts (PCPA). It manages five downtown performance spaces: the Schnitzer, Brunish, Keller, Newmark and Winningstad theaters.

The center consists of five theaters in three separate buildings. The facility is the fifth largest venue in the nation and entertains over one million people each year at 1,000 plus events.

  • Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall plays host to a variety of presentations including classical, jazz, pop, rock, folk and gospel music, dance, theatre, travel films, conferences, and weddings. It’s located at Hall at SW Broadway at Main Street.
  • Brunish Theatre is a space for meetings, dinners, conferences, weddings, and performances, with potential for a wide variety of configurations and a capacity of up to 200. The Brunish Theater is located inside Antoinette Hatfield Hall at 1111 SW Broadway.
  • Keller Auditorium hosts a wide range of performances. The spacious theater, built in 1917 and originally known as the Civic Auditorium, stages Broadway productions, ballet, operas, family events and much more. Keller Auditorium is located at 222 SW Clay Avenue (corner of 3rd & Clay).
  • The Newman Theatre 880-seat theater was designed to emulate the Edwardian-style theaters of Europe. It is one of the most intimate theatrical experiences you’ll ever encounter — no seat is farther than 65 feet from the stage. The Newmark is located inside Antoinette Hatfield Hall at 1111 SW Broadway.
  • Dolores Winningstad Theatre courtyard-style theater is the most flexible performing space. With 304 seats, the seating and stage can be reconfigured in a variety of ways to allow for innovative staging and set design. Performances here can extend off the stage and into the balconies, and seats can be removed to create additional staging areas. In a sense, the whole room is a stage, and the audiences become part of the drama. The Dolores Winningstad Theatre is located inside Antoinette Hatfield Hall at 1111 SW Broadway.

The Portland Mercury has a complete list of theaters − click here to view. Major theaters include the following:

Portland Opera was created in 1964 and the company has been a leader in making opera more accessible to a diverse audience.  In 1984, Portland Opera was the second company in the U.S. to use projected English translations, a means of enhancing the theatrical experience for patrons at operas sung in a foreign language.

Fertile Ground was launched by the Portland Area Theater Alliance (the service organization for Portland theater artists and organizations) in 2009 to provide a platform for Portland theater companies to showcase their commitment to new work; and to invite regional and national artists, artistic leaders and arts aficionados to discover for themselves that Portland truly is fertile ground for creativity, innovation, and daring acts of performance.


Portland has a diverse appetite for music.  Jazz and bluegrass music is very popular in the Pacific Northwest and one can always find a jazz club or blues concert to attend.

The Oregon Symphony and Chamber Music Northwest are the two principal groups for serious music fans. 2010 was a decent year in classical music in Portland as groups large and small have handled the downturn with resilience and creativity. One of the year’s highlights, in fact, took place not on stage but in the offices of the biggest player, the Oregon Symphony. Thanks to shrewd management and sacrifices all around, the orchestra ended its fiscal year in the black and paid off its $7 million long-term debt. In performance, the symphony built on its artistic gains under Carlos Kalmar and sounds as good as ever in advance of next spring’s tour to Carnegie Hall. Among its guests in memorable 2010 performances have been some of the best instrumentalists currently playing: violinists Midori, Joshua Bell and Hilary Hahn; cellist Yo-Yo Ma; and pianist Stephen Hough.

Oregon is not adverse to combining different types of music.  In the Fall of 2010, the Oregon East Symphony and Chorale and a hometown rock-‘n-bluegrass band called Eastern Oregon Playboys performed a concert in Pendleton.


Portland has so many amazing bands that it would be impossible to list them all so this list will be far from complete.  The best source to keep track of the bands is the Portland Indie Music Web site.  Many of these bands perform at the Crystal Ballroom and the Aladdin Theater. Another popular spot is Mississippi Studioswhere they have a full calendar of music events.  They also serve food.

The Kingsmen, best known for their 1960s rock classic “Louie, Louie”, were originally from Portland, and Paul Revere & the Raiders gained popularity in Portland after relocating from Idaho. The city’s reputation as a hipster Mecca has paralleled the rise of local indie musicians such as The Decemberists, Gossip, The Dandy Warhols, M. Ward, and the late Elliott Smith. In early 2011, Decemberists’ new record, “The King is Dead,” debuted at number one on Billboard’s album chart.

Floater is Portland’s leading example of an indie band. They have remained unsigned to a major label for years and have managed to be voted the best band of Portland for 2009.

Portland indie band Climber admits that big-label stardom may never be theirs. With the band’s second full album, “The Mystic” was released in late 2010, the four members are finding a balance between their daily lives and their indie rock stardom.

Pink Martini is clearly an oddity in the pop world. Formed by two Harvard alums — singer China Forbes and pianist/arranger Thomas Lauderdale — in Portland, the 11-piece ensemble combines the sonic exoticism of “Space Age Pop” acts such as Esquivel and Les Baxter with an encyclopedic appreciation of non-Anglophone hits. It didn’t hurt that Pink Martini is essentially an over-extended rhythm section. In addition the standard accoutrement of piano, guitar, bass, and trap kit, there were usually another three or four band members on percussion duty, slapping bongos, pounding congas, shaking a tambourine or scratching a guiro.

Annual Music Events

  • The annual Musicfest NW is such a large and sprawling event that trying to sum it up can be a bit like grappling with a beast. Featuring nearly 200 bands playing at 20 venues over five days.  The Musicfest is held in early September.
  • Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival is the second largest blues festival in the country.

Best of 2010 Oregon Music

This sweet, seemingly effortless collection of songs is one of the best of the year from Portland bands, in the estimable opinion of Jeremy Petersen with OPB Music.

  • Nick Jaina – A Bird in the Opera House  “A studio album, in a good way” is how Jaina prefaced this release, his third in two years.
  • Laura Veirs – July Flame  Sometimes while we’re looking for inspiration in the rare and profound, it’s finally the everyday and mundane that opens creative floodgates.
  • Menomena – Mines  Three and half years after their previous release the trio returned at long last with a record that’s every bit what we’ve come to love from Menomena.
  • Typhoon – Hunger & Thirst  There was perhaps no young and up and coming band who enjoyed more popularity this year than Typhoon.
  • Tu Fawning – Hearts on Hold  By the time ‘Hearts on Hold’ came out in early October, many of us were long since primed and ready to champion Tu Fawning to anyone who would listen.


The Northwest Film Center is a regional media arts resource and service organization founded to encourage the study, appreciation, and utilization of the moving image arts, foster their artistic and professional excellence, and to help create a climate in which they may flourish. The Center provides a variety of film and video exhibition, education, and information programs primarily directed to the residents of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. The Film Center’s School of Film curriculum in filmmaking, video production, animation, and screenwriting serves those who wish to develop their personal vision as a film artist, offering classes and workshops which emphasize media aesthetics in a hands-on context.

Annual film festivals include the Portland International Film Festival (February), an invitational survey of new world cinema; the Northwest Film & Video Festival (November), a juried showcase of new work by regional artists; and the Young People’s Film & Video Festival (July), featuring new work by student media makers from throughout the Northwest.

NW Documentary practices, teaches, and shares the art of non-fiction storytelling. They illuminate important stories that would otherwise be lost or overlooked, provide experiential learning opportunities, and generate better understanding, appreciation, and dialog within our community. You can view NW Documentary videos as well as audios and photos at their Web site.

The Portland Lesbian & Gay Film Festival takes places every October. Cinema 21 in Northwest Portland hosts this 10-day festival.

Sundance Film Festival

In 2011 seven films either shot in Oregon or made by Oregon filmmakers played at the Sundance Film Festival.

How to Die in Oregon, about the state’s Death With Dignity Act, took the Grand Jury Prize in the U. S. Documentary Competition, a prestigious award. The film, produced by local filmmaker Peter Richardson, reviews Oregon’s landmark 1994 law that allows terminally-ill patients to seek a physician’s assistance in ending their own life. Of particular note, the film follows the life and death of several Oregonians who agreed to share their experiences seeking death with dignity.

The award is all the more striking because many Sundance film-goers avoided the film, as noted by the New York Times:

Sheila Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films, said she thought people were also squeamish. Even half her staff — and this is not a crew unaccustomed to difficult topics — refused to watch the whole film, she said. Meanwhile, the movie’s experienced publicity team said it had never witnessed such universal can’t-cope-with-that rejection from members of the media at Sundance, who left some empty seats at the screening.

Richardson had these words in accepting the award, “. . . the extraordinary individuals who allowed me to enter and document their lives. I love you. This award is for and because of you.”

Three other Oregon-related films were entered in the documentary competition: Hot CoffeeIf a Tree Falls and We Were Here. These three dramatic features film were shot in the state: Letters from the Big ManMeek’s Cutoff and The Woods.

Films Shot in Oregon

Paul Newman in a scene from "Sometimes a Great Notion"“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” swept the major Academy Awards in 1976 and put the Oregon State Hospital in Salem and Depoe Bay into cinema history. It’s a time-tested classic and the best movie filmed in Oregon.

“Sometimes a Great Notion” is the other Oregon movie made from a Ken Kesey novel. Filmed five years earlier than “Cuckoo’s Nest” in Newport and elsewhere along the Oregon coast, it is best known for a scene in which Joe Ben Stamper (Richard Jaeckel) is trapped by a log and the incoming tide despite the best efforts of his cousin Hank (Paul Newman) to rescue him. The movie is also the answer to a trivia question: What is the first program to be broadcast on HBO? It was also known, at least among those who were there, as a never-ending party during the summer of 1970. Newman, the biggest star in Hollywood at the time was also drinking heavily, and a keg of beer was often available on the set. Newman, Henry Fonda and the rest of the cast mingled easily with locals at a time when security was nothing like it is today.

Matt Love, the author or editor of eight books on Oregon history, has written about the production in “Sometimes a Great Movie: Paul Newman, Ken Kesey and the Filming of the Great Oregon Novel.”

Here are some of the films that have been entirely shot (or almost entirely) in Oregon:

  • Animal House  The University of Oregon hosted the original college comedy that many would imitate, but none would conquer.
  • Drugstore Cowboy  Gus Van Sant made his name with this little offbeat film filmed in the streets of Portland, Oregon.
  • Free Willy  This film sparked one of the largest and most expensive efforts in history to save a single whale. You can check out the Astor Column, the Astoria bridge, and Jason James Richter’s home. The film also sports shots of Cannon Beach and Oak’s Park in Portland, Oregon.
  • The Goonies  A cult-classic and the quintessential “Oregon” movie. Featuring the streets, homes, Warren Field, Clatsop County Jail, and Flavel house of Astoria. Additionally, check out the famous Haystock Rock of Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach, cleverly used for a central part of the film’s plot.
  • Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey  Trying to catalog all of the Oregon landmarks in this film is quite difficult.  You get to see Bend, the Columbia River Gorge, the Deschutes National Forest, Eagle Cap Wilderness Area, the Mount Hood National Forest, the Whitman National Forest, the Willamette National Forest, and Portland.
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus  Who could forget when Richard Dreyfuss took over the halls of Grant High School in Portland, Oregon?
  • The Hunted  An FBI deep-woods tracker captures a trained assassin who has made a sport of hunting humans. The chase sequence through downtown Portland is fun to watch and they made the bridge crossing the Willamette appear to be several thousand meters longer than it actually is. The Hunted sports scenes of beautiful Silver Falls in Silverton and assorted street scenes around Portland.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  Certainly one of the more decorated films to come out of Oregon, sweeping the Academy Awards in 1976. Center stage in the film is the Oregon State Mental Hospital in Salem, Oregon. Additionally, the scene on the boat was taken in Depoe Bay, Oregon.
  • Sometimes a Great Notion  Hank Stamper (Paul Newman) and his father, Henry Stamper (Henry Fonda) own and operate the family business by cutting and shipping logs in Oregon. The town is furious when they continue working despite the town going broke and the other loggers go on strike ordering the Stampers to stop, however Hank continues to push his family on cutting more trees. Hank’s wife wishes he would stop and hopes that they can spend more time together. Directed by Paul Newman.
  • Without Limits   The Story of Oregon’s most famous runner, Steve Prefontaine. From the high school sequences in Coos Bay, to the neighborhoods of Eugene and Springfield, Without Limits has it all. Most impressively, the track sequences were shot on the famous Hayward Field on the University of Oregon’s campus.


White Bird brings the best Portland-based, regional, national, and international dance companies to Portland, Oregon. White Bird does this through presenting established and emerging companies and choreographers, commissioning or co-commissioning new work, and collaborating with other arts organizations in Portland and the region to make dance performances possible.

Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT) was established in 1989. OBT’s celebrated company of dancers performs an annual five-program season at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts and also conducts both regional and national tours.

De Jump is a world where humor, music, dance, theater, acrobatics and ideas ignite. Performances at the Echo Theatre, just off Hawthorne Boulevard. In 1983 Do Jump’s Portland home, the historic Echo Theatre, a former silent-movie house, was renovated. The very next year saw the founding of the Do Jump Movement Theater School, teaching Do Jump’s unique style of movement. Classes encourage physical confidence, freedom and grace in a creative, non-competitive environment. Now creating works on a larger scale, Do Jump has produced many of its shows at the 800 seat Newmark Theatre at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. The company has also toured extensively throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Other Dance Companies:

  • Conduit Dance is one of Portland’s center of contemporary dance. With our three major thrusts of activity, Creative Practice, Performance and Education, Conduit shapes regional dance by providing the space and the support necessary for dance artists to attain excellence.
  • Oslund + Company/Dance‘s mission is to support the highest quality contemporary dance through choreography, performance and education. Over more than two decades, the company has created new work in the Pacific Northwest, based on the vision of its Artistic Director Mary Oslund.

Where You Can Go Dancing:

  • Portland Dance  A calendar of places, times, etc. where you can go dancing.
  • Portland Tango  Portland has developed into a major tango city and has produced many great tangueros.  It has become noted for that elusive and yummy tango experience called the “Portland Embrace”.