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Facets of Street Art: Experiment from Portland*   no comments

Posted at 12:09 am in facets,metadata

1.0 Portland Oregon: Thriving, Sacred, Weird

Portland Oregon is thriving city in the US Pacific Northwest. Situated at the intersection of the Columbia and Willamette rivers, Portland is a gateway to the Columbia Gorge to the east, to the Willamette Valley to the south, and to the Pacific Ocean and thus to Western North America, and Asia, to the west. Settled centuries ago by the Multnomah and Clackamas bands of the Chinook peoples and thus celebrated as a holy space at the foot of Mount Hood, the area was one of the most highly populated parts of the Pacific Northwest for centuries before the arrival of European settlers in the 1840s. Today’s Portland evolved from settlements at the end of the notorious Oregon Trail from about 1840 onward. Known as a “gritty” city from the beginning, in the late 20th century Portland began to be associated with liberal, progressive and countercultural points of view (,_Oregon ). The city’s unofficial motto, enthusiastically embraced across the region, is “Keep Portland Weird” ( ).

2.0 Some Portland Street Art

Portland is home to an incredibly vibrant street art scene.

Since 2020, Graf has discussed the mixing of elements of graffiti and street art in Portland, noting that “it is not that graffiti artworks are not documented, but rather that they are documented in organic, local ways and end up distributed across the internet without seeming rhyme or reason (5),” but that there is discoverable commonality in these ad hoc forms of documentation. Graf’s groundbreaking research (2018) used open-coding to extract  “ad-hoc” terms from 241 websites featuring street art and graffiti art documentation. A summary of facets extracted from that work appear in Graf (2020a). By viewing the facets as a set of arrays we can see the emergence of a faceted knowledge organization system (KOS) for street art and graffiti, extracted from the communities that create and curate them.

In an essay for IKOS about Portland street, Graf (2020b, 6-7) commented on a “mural” at Portland’s Produce Row, on some “throwies,” such as those on “CEAD and ROZE,” across the way from Produce Row and on a nearby set of “pieces.” In 2021 (“Documenting” 2021, 17-18) Graf was quoted as describing “Attitude of Gratitude,” a work of street art on the headquarters of the SolTerra corporation as “street art with some elements of green or environmental art” in which the figure’s hair is made of living plants. The origins of the mural are described in Gallivan (2018).

All of the art noted above is all found in the Southeast quadrant of Portland. In Northeast Portland, at the intersection of Broadway and Grand Avenues, is a mural “Hope is Vital” developed in 2007 as part of the sister city relationship between Portland and Mutare, Zimbabwe (Weinstein 2018). The artist is Heidi Schultz (Public Art Archive 2024):

This mural’s purpose is to create global solidarity and educate the Portland community about Portland’s sister city, Mutare, Zimbabwe, and humanitarian efforts there. Underneath the inspiring message, “Hope is Vital,” the sun shines on a yellow medical clinic Portland helped build for its sister city. In a show of support, persons from both Portland and Mutare hold hands, dance, and drum to celebrate life, above the text “it takes a planet to save a village.

The mural is “signed” by the Portland Oregon-Mutare Zimbabwe Sister City Association, which was created in 1991 (Portland Sister Cities Coalition 2024).

3.0 Testing the Facets

One good place to begin a research project is at a qualitative point of reference. Given the complexity of the issue of street art and graffiti knowledge organization, it makes some sense for us to begin by simply applying Graf’s facets to the street art we have here as a set of case studies. We used standard metadata practice, which is to say we assigned terms only as they appeared either in Graf’s descriptions or in online documentation. Here in tabular form as examples are metadate for Red Wall and Hope is Vital.

4.0 Toward a Typology

To be clear we must understand that Graf’s facets were created as part of descriptive research to identify observed aspects of street art and graffiti. That is, she did not present them as a form of knowledge organization system. In our test, then, we have discovered that the system is a kind of typology, in which “types” are identified and categories are not mutually exclusive. Thus we may have more than one term (or type) from any given facet in a specific string.

Here two of five cases are demonstrated. All are well documented using the facets derived from Graf’s research. We might consider that a set of indexable facet indicators might be employed to turn the descriptions into searchable strings. It is worth noting that the Graf typology is a phenomenon-based system, and thus amenable to its own “grammar” for combining terms in a faceted sequence (Gnoli, Smiraglia and Szostak 2024).

Graf (2018) points out the wide variety of hashtags and other ad hoc forms of indexing that already are employed in the street art community. By embracing a formal descriptive logic generated from the phenomena of study a street art typology can clearly be employed as one approach to a formal knowledge organization system.


“Documenting Street Art in Portland: ‘Attitude of Gratitude.’” 2021. IKOS Bulletin 3, no. 1: 17-28.

Gallivan, Joe. 2018. “Attitude of Gratitude.” Website.

Gnoli, Claudio,  Richard P. Smiraglia and Rick Szostak. 2024. “Phenomenon-based classification: An Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST) paper.” Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 75, no. 3: 324–343.

Graf, Ann M. 2018. “Facets of Graffiti Art and Street Art Documentation Online: A DOMain and Content Analysis.” PhD diss. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Graf, Ann M. 2020a. “Domain Analysis Applied to Online Graffiti Art Image Galleries to Reveal Knowledge Organization Structures Used Within an Outsider Art Community.” Knowledge Organization 47, no. 7: 543-557.  DOI:10.5771/0943-7444-2020-7-543.

Graf, Ann M. 2020b. “Documenting Graffiti Art Works: IKOS Views Portland.” IKOS Bulletin 2, no. 1: 5-8.

Portland Sister Cities Coalition. 2024. Website.

Public Art Archive. 2024. “Hope is Vital.” Website.

Weinstein, Alexandra. 2018. “Hope is Vital” Website. Elliot neighborhood.

*Extracted from: Smiraglia, Richard P. 2023. “Facets of Street Art: A Qualitative Experiment in Documenting Portland Street Art.” 2023. IKOS Bulletin 5, no.3 : 129-41.

Written by admin on March 7th, 2024

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