In 2013, Gage Hamilton, with help from the folks at Hellion Gallery, began to develop a project that would bring more public art to Portland’s streets and neighborhoods. Frustrated with the lack of street art in the city as a result of a shady Clear Channel lawsuit in the late 90’s, Forest For The Trees decided to do something about it.

In 1998, Clear Channel filed a lawsuit against the City for violating their “freedom of speech.” Their claim was that if the company could not place advertising on walls that were not zoned for signs, then artists should also be banned from placing art in the form of murals in said locations, ignoring the differences between art and ads.

By working with the city and neighborhood councils, FFTT gained clearance to paint murals on a number of walls around Portland, and then invited artists from all over the world to fly to Rip City to paint them. With that, Forest For The Trees was born, and we all got to work gearing up to design branding, prepare marketing solutions, take photos and video and lend a hand with an online presence.

The old adage “can’t see the forest for the trees” has a simple meaning: it means that you are too caught up details to see the big picture. Hindered by the Clear Channel lawsuit, Portland had painted over artwork and repressed artists for the sake of corporate pandering, unable to differentiate between marketing and artistic expression.

The initial 2013 event was a smashing success, thanks in part to taking a few cues and pointers from POW! WOW! Hawaii, a similar art event in Honolulu. Contributors and artists from the incredible Hawaiian events played a big role in helping Portland get our feet on the ground to launch the first annual mural festival.

Annually now, artists from all over the world descend on Rip City for a week in late August. Over the course of this week, the entire creative process is shared with the community and the entirety of Portland as permanent murals emerge around the city.

With years of history behind it now, FFTT is a licensed nonprofit. The organization hopes to continue to pull Portland’s residents away from their daily routines, providing them a moment of appreciation for the creativity that surrounds us in the Pacific Northwest.

Here’s a selection of some great FFTTNW shots by our friend Kris.

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