For more than 20 years, the Last Thursday Street Festival on Alberta Street has brought together artists, small businesses and vendors to share their work with the Northeast Portland community.

But the event also met with complaints from neighbors for years. And it has always played a complex role in the ongoing gentrification of the neighborhood.

In past years, city officials have increased the police presence on recent Thursdays because of shootings and confrontations with law enforcement.

After a break during the pandemic, Last Thursdays are back. The end of summer is this Thursday, August 25th.

OPBs Paul Marshall sat down to chat with Alberta Main Street Board Chair and President Devon Horace.

In this photo from festival organizers, people attend an event last Thursday on Alberta Street.

In this photo from festival organizers, people attend an event last Thursday on Alberta Street.

Danya Feltzin / Courtesy of Alberta Main Street Board

Paul Marshall: What is the vision for last Thursday?

Devon Horace: Just to bring all the small businesses, makers and artists together for an opportunity to share their work on Alberta Street with the community and hopefully make some money from their work across the community.

Marshall: When you decided to reopen last Thursday, it was during a pandemic, but also with a history of disruption for residents in Portland’s Alberta neighborhood. What did you think of the reopening this time?

Horace: Considering what the community had to say and the concerns of COVID, we opened it up and I said we need to do this differently and we need to be more organized.

When you talk to some legacy members from last Thursday, they had the attitude that this is like Burning Man and that everyone should express themselves and be artistic.

This can lead to a bit of a rift. Our team [this year] I would like to bring more of an organized approach to last Thursday. We still want to keep it local and want artists and creators to feel comfortable and share their work with the community. We take it really seriously, making sure everyone is safe and making sure it’s more organized

Marshall: You are the first person of color to lead last Thursday. Do you think that made you approach it differently?

Horace: Yes, because I know the community. I know the legacy members from last Thursday are looking at me and looking at my team to see what they’re going to do. I’m young and I’m a black man here in Portland, Oregon, and I’m proud of it. I want to execute properly.

I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing, not only for myself and my team, but also for my community because I’m part of this community.

It’s a great honor for me not only to represent the Black community, but my community as a whole and to be able to say, ‘How am I doing? And how am I making it better?’

Marshall: Alberta Street has seen a lot of gentrification over the years. How do you work to address the impact of these changes?

Horace: Gentrification, that’s how I see it – it’s going to happen.

As developers and cities and areas grow, it’s bringing in these dollars and it’s bringing in these businesses and bigger businesses. It also sends a wave of funds into the community and there are pros and cons to that. As an investor, I always look at things as a win-win scenario.

But also: How are we creating affordable housing or affordable rent for buildings for showcases, programs and initiatives?

How is the city helping fund certain things to help lower income and minorities, people and businesses that can also benefit through gentrification?

I hope that not only myself, but also Alberta Main Street as a collective, we are able to ensure that through partnerships with cities, GCs (general contractors) and other developers on the street – we partner with them and say: ‘ How can we make this more equitable? How can we make this more equal to everyone and not just think about the profits and growth of that area?

Marshall: Staying on the topic of partnerships, how do you balance supporting your black businesses with the white residents of the area?

Horace: We’ve been able to see a wave of black-owned businesses, as well as Latinx and people of color businesses coming to Alberta Street. Some of our white customers have supported it because we are a community.

They go out, they want to eat, they want to enjoy different music, different cultures. They want to support local artists.

I can’t speak to every other district or community, but from what I’ve seen, being a board president, I see a lot of support from our white counterparts. Others are also showing support and saying, ‘This is a black-owned business, this is a Punjabi-owned business or a Latinx or Chinese-owned business.’ They’re also thinking, ‘Let’s explore it. Let’s help and how do we spread this message?’

I love seeing people sharing these things on Instagram and Facebook forums and also bringing their whole family and team to some of these businesses.

I think it’s a beautiful thing. But the more that happens, I feel like the more we need to bring that visibility and access to black businesses, and people of color and minority-owned businesses, to be able to take advantage of that.

Marshall: How would you describe Alberta Street itself and your relationship with it?

Horace: When you actually look at the different businesses on Alberta Street, from MLK to 33, it’s an influx and it’s a variation of different businesses and different cultures.

A guy asked me where can I get Chinese food? I’m like, ‘Right there!’ He was also looking for some kind of Mexican cuisine or some Latin food or Mediterranean food. I am able to point out where all these businesses are on the strip of Alberta Street and I am very proud to say so.

Ever since I’ve lived here, Northeast Portland has been home. But what I love most about Alberta Street is that it is so diverse. When you actually come to the street and experience, the street is very lively, artistic. It is very supportive of the community.

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