The head of Alberta’s Last Thursday Festival talks about arts, business and safety

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

But the event also drew complaints from neighbors over the years. And it has always played a complicating role in the continued gentrification of the neighborhood.

In past years, city officials have increased police presence on Thursdays due to shootings and confrontations with law enforcement.

After a pause during the pandemic, the last Thursday is back. The last one of the summer is this Thursday, August 25th.

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

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

Courtesy of Danya Feltzin / Alberta Main Roads Board

Paul Marshall: What is the philosophy of last Thursday?

Devon Horace: The community hopes to bring all small businesses and creators and artists together for an opportunity to share their work on Alberta Street and make some money from their work throughout the community.

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

Horace: Considering what the community had to say and the covid concerns, we opened it back up and I said we should do it differently and we should be more organized.

When you spoke to some of the Legacy members last Thursday, their attitude was that it’s like Burning Man and everyone should express themselves and be artistic.

That can cause a bit of disruption. our group [this year] Last Thursday wanted to bring a more organized approach. We still want to keep it local and we still want artists and creators to feel comfortable and share their work with the community. We take it seriously, making sure everyone is safe and it’s more organized

Marshall: You were the first black person to lead last Thursday. Do you think you were inspired to look at it differently?

Horace: Yes, because I know the community. I know that the legacy members from last Thursday are watching me and watching my team to see what they are 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 well.

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

It’s a great honor for me to represent not only the black community, but my community and to be able to say: ‘How am I looking? And how am I going to make it better?’

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

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

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

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

How is the city helping to fund certain things to help low-income and minority, people and businesses also be able to benefit through gentrification?

I hope that not just me, but Alberta Main Street as a whole, we’re able to deliver through partnerships with cities, GC’s (general contractors) and other developers on the street — to partner with them and say: ‘How can we make this more equitable? How can we make it equal for everyone and not just think about profit and growing that sector?

Marshall: Staying on the theme of partnership, how do you balance support for your businesses of color with the white residents of the area?

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

They come out, they want to eat, they want to enjoy different music, different culture. They want to support local artists.

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

I love seeing people share these things on Instagram and Facebook forums and bring their whole families and teams to these businesses.

I think it’s a beautiful thing. But, more and more, I think we need to bring that visibility and access to black businesses, as well as businesses 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 33rd, it’s a flow and it’s a contrast of different businesses and different cultures.

A guy asked me where to get Chinese food. I’m like: ‘There!’ He was looking for some kind of Mexican food or some Latin food or even Mediterranean food. I am proud to say that I am able to point out where these businesses are on the strip of Alberta Street.

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

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