Weird Wednesdays: Into the future of Portland’s Weirdness

What’s up? It’s Wednesday.

And you know what that means: We’re getting weird today — it’s Weird Wednesdays.

Each week, we’re highlighting and celebrating elements of Portland’s wonderful weirdness, in collaboration with the amazing folks at Weird Portland United.

We kicked things off with an interview with the Unipiper on the long history of Portland’s weirdness. Our second week focused on all the weird things that Portlanders like you, yes YOU, love about our city’s strangeness. Our third Wednesday we wandered the Land of the Lost with the scaled sensation himself The Portland Sleestak — which you can read in your best hissing voice here. Last week we took a stroll through the beautiful weirdness of Portland’s natural art with local artist Cedar Lee.

And today, we are bringing it back full circle with the Ambassador of Odd, the Warden of Weird, the Unipiper, to gaze into our crystal ball for the future of Portland’s weirdness. What follows is our interview, edited for length and clarity.

Has Portland’s relationship with its own weirdness changed over the past few years? If so, in what ways? 

While the weirdness itself hasn’t necessarily changed (other than the amount of it, but that’s a different discussion), Portland’s general feelings toward weird have shifted. Where once weird was put on full display for all the world to see, lately I feel the weird has been pushed more to the side, like cleaning up your toddler’s messy toys before the company arrives.

I think that as Portland’s image has grown in the national spotlight, some who previously championed the weird started to see our rough edges as an eyesore and a source of potential embarrassment. Some of the very things that put our city on the map have been shunned in favor of a more polished (and significantly less Portland) look. There are valid reasons behind this shift no doubt, but we run the risk of losing touch with an important part of our identity. The search for genuine weirdness has grown more complicated. 

True Portland weirdos in the before times. (📸: Courtesy of Weird Portland United)

What would you say is in the future for Portland’s weirdness?

The forecast for the future of weird in the Rose City is not all doom and gloom. The Portland I see before us now is, in many ways, the same Portland, filled with the same raw energy, that greeted me when I first set foot here in 2007. It’s the Portland that is hungry for new ideas and eager to reward those willing to take risks. 

As we start to emerge from our pandemic-induced hibernation, there is going to be a strong urge to reconnect in a meaningful way with the things that we have been so long deprived of — weird included. Portlanders have been saving up a lot of weird energy, and they are going to be in search of new experiences and ways to let their freak flag fly. It will be time to again embrace events like Pedalpalooza and bring back the Urban Iditarod. 

What is the main takeaway when it comes to embracing Portland’s weirdness, from your own experience as the Unipiper?  

Life in Portland comes with a gift that far too many people never take advantage of — the freedom to be weird, or if you prefer, the freedom to be yourself without fear of judgment. 

Whether it’s a Unipiper, a Cat Rapper, or a professional cuddler, in Portland you can be whatever you want. The biggest hurdle for most people is convincing themselves to give in to their weird inclinations and just give weird a chance. So embrace your weird gift. Run with it. Make it your own. Weird Portland United also recognizes that this gift is not currently realized equally for all Portlanders. That is why Weird Portland United is committed to leveling the playing field, dismantling unjust institutions, and making sure that everyone shares this opportunity equally.

An iconic moment between two Portland Weird legends. (📸: Courtesy of Weird Portland United)

What is in the future for Portland Weird United as well — what are some projects, events you all have on the horizon that you’d like people to know about?

Covid has had a major impact on our plans for this year, however we are still in the early planning stages for Weird Week – a weeklong celebration showcasing everything weird in Portland. It’s too early to say exactly what form this will take but expect a full program of events highlighting the work of Portland’s weirdest. It has long been a dream of mine to unite the city in celebration of these cherished aspects of life in Portland. We are also now hard at work on a large format outdoor mural that will tie-in to the Weird Portland Hall of Fame as a way to publicly recognize some of its inductees. We intend for this mural to help tell the story of Weird Portland with a fully interactive augmented reality layer accessible by smartphone. Stay tuned for updates as we will soon be launching a search for an artist to bring this vision to life.

Who are some up and coming weird Portlanders you’d like to give a shoutout to?

First and foremost, everyone in this city who self identifies as “weird.” It’s those folks who keep the spirit alive. This past summer WPU handed out a number of “Keep Weird Alive” $500 grants to help Portland creatives stay afloat during the pandemic. Through the public nomination process we were introduced to so many amazing Portlanders who were not previously on our radar, but absolutely should have been! This highlights the importance of fostering our weird community and providing a platform for underheard voices. The grant winners included the likes of Strawberry Pickle – proprietor of Rainbow City, Portland’s traveling one-man Vaudeville show Spencer Sprocket, founder of Disco’s Skate Shop Carlos the Roller Blader, video visionary and culture worker Karla Mi Lugo, and Sundari Devi Franklin, owner of Minnie Opal, Portland’s most unique mobile fashion boutique . In addition, I am greatly inspired by the random appearances around town of characters like the Portland Sleestak, and the spontaneity of art installations by Mike Bennett. All of these people fill me with an incredible amount of hope for the future of weird in Portland.

Let your weirdness burn brightly, Portland. (📸: Courtesy of Weird Portland United)

A huge thank you to all of the unique weirdos we interviewed over the month of February and to Weird Portland United for collaborating with us on this series. 

We have some good news for you as well: Based on positive feedback from all of you, expect Weird Wednesdays in your inbox this time each week. Do you know weird Portlander or a Stumptown place that should get some time in the spotlight? Email us at [email protected] and let us know.