Artwork / 2018 / Dirty Hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ Legacy)

a painting of developers and power players in Portland, Oregon hanging over the neighborhood they are destroying
Gwenn Seemel
Dirty Hands (Mayor Charlie Hales’ Legacy)
acrylic on a fiberglass door
78 x 35 inches

This is a remake of my 2015 painting Dirty Hands, and it was commissioned by the Make Room organization as part of a public art exhibit in DC in September 2018.

The focal point of this composition is the two enormous piles of toxic dirt that loomed over my apartment building’s playground in 2014 and 2015, when I was living in Portland, Oregon. They were there for more than six months without any coverings or anything to keep down the dust they generated. They remained until my partner and I started asking about them, and then one of them was left there for an additional seven weeks while we asked more questions. It was only after a whole lot of effort from us that the dangerous dirt was removed.

a painting of developers and power players in Portland, Oregon hanging over the neighborhood they are destroying
detail image

The people portrayed in this piece represent the main reasons why I left Portland. The then-Mayor Charlie Hales is at the center of the money sun, on a coin that reads “in money we trust.” Beginning with the man directly above him and going clockwise, the Portland power players are as follows:

  • Bob Ball is a developer and the owner of a number of companies. He is also the Commander of the Portland Police Reserve Unit, a role which seems important since the police hesitated to ask people working on Ball’s project to follow the City’s noise ordinance and not make noise on Sundays.
  • When we met Joel Andersen of Andersen Construction at City Hall during a hearing to ask Hales to limit the construction noise to the six days a week outlined in City ordinance, he seemed content to have his company working all the time, stealing the respite of Sundays from Pearl residents and even taking extra hours on other days.
  • Nancy Hales is the wife of Charlie and, while First Lady of Portland, she was also the director of Portland State University’s First Stop Portland, a program which is intended to promote Portland’s development projects to the world and which was founded by Dike Dame.
  • Tiffany Sweitzer is a developer and the President of Hoyt Street Properties as well as the poster child of sustainable development in Portland and globally as well.
  • As Vice President of Construction for Hoyt Street Properties back in 2014, Doug Shapiro managed the day-to-day operations of construction, which included remediation of contamination. At one meeting at City Hall, he complained that removing the piles of contaminated dirt was really expensive because the dirt had to be trucked to a special dump.
  • Kevin Parrett is the Manager of the Cleanup and Tanks Section of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and he is empowered to compel the construction companies to comply with laws. When we asked for records of his visits to the toxic dirt piles to supervise the way the material was being handled, he told us we would have to do a records request, which would cost a hundred and some dollars. We made the request, sorted through several boxes of paperwork, and learned that the DEQ doesn’t keep official records of site visits.
  • David Sweet was the Chair of the Noise Review Board, which decides how much additional impact a construction project can have on a neighborhood, and, in our experience, he always seemed ready to give construction extra work hours even when private citizens pointed out that the noise pollution had gone beyond what was livable.
  • Paul Van Orden is the City of Portland’s one Noise Control Officer and, according to City Hall, he was the only person who could enforce noise ordinance despite the fact that the City’s code clearly empowered police officers to do so as well.
  • Office of Neighborhood Involvement bureaucrat Kathy Couch used to write the minutes for Noise Review Board meetings, creating a subjective document of the proceedings. Her version of events was often critical of private citizens, and it was the official record.
  • Homer Williams is a developer and the Chairman of Williams & Dame Development. Hoyt Street Properties, a Williams & Dame partner company, is run by his stepdaughter, Tiffany Sweitzer.
  • President of Williams & Dame Development Dike Dame serves on the board of Portland State University’s First Stop Portland, which he founded.
  • Mark Bruun is the President of Lorentz Bruun Construction and, during our tenure in the north Pearl, his company regularly violated the City’s noise ordinance.

Before deciding to include these people in this painting, my partner and I spoke with many of them directly in 2013, 2014, and 2015. We asked them to proceed with their projects in a way that didn’t harm the community unduly, but they dismissed us as NIMBYs. Worse still, they saw us NIMBYs who live in affordable housing and should therefore be grateful enough to put up with anything they wanted to do to us. But I’m no NIMBY; I am a DIEMBY. “Do It Ethically in My Backyard!” That’s all I ask.

The video about the making of this piece shows some of the other artists Make Room commissioned. If you want to see footage of the piece installed in DC, check out this video.