What Oxford can learn from leaders of Oregon’s Pearl District Business Association

New University Avenue mural on the corner of South 14th and University
New University Avenue mural on the corner of South 14th and University

With the addition of a new mural on University Avenue and Oxford’s arts center, the Powerhouse, located there – this semester Oxford Stories is embarking on a small solutions journalism project. Our reporters are starting a community conversation about the possibility of a continued arts emphasis in the University Avenue area.

Leah MacFarland
Oxford Stories

Portland, Oregon is a city with a population of about 647,000 people compared to Oxford’s 23,000.

With the slogan “Keep Portland Weird,” the city focuses heavily on the arts, with hundreds of galleries, theaters and murals. 

The most heavily saturated area of Portland full of galleries, cafes, and more is lovingly referred to as the Pearl District. Julie Gustafson, head of the Pearl District Business Association, said the Pearl includes parks, residential areas, restaurants, grocery stores and galleries. 

“It is the blend of the historic and the new,” Gustafson said.

The Pearl is built around the streetcar industry and abandoned warehouses. Gustafson said it gives artists a home.

“It integrates them into a space with other businesses,” creating a place of community and culture, she said.

The PDBA provides public advocacy for everything from street signage to street closures, homeless issues to crime and safety, and represents the Pearl District in future city planning.

Freedom Lennon, a photography student at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, said, “In a mostly white city, the Pearl usually seems to be the center of culture due to the arts.”

Art includes and promotes diversity, Lennon said, but the Portland arts scene can be expensive, shutting out economically diverse groups.

On the bright side, Lennon said Portland is “a big enough city to not feel trapped into one thing, and to have a variety of work, but it’s small enough to have a tight-knit art community.”

University Avenue, a hub of Oxford, MS.
University Avenue, a hub of Oxford, MS.

The same can be said about the smaller community of Oxford.

It is difficult to draw any parallels between Oxford and Portland. However, University Avenue could add restaurants and small local businesses, parks and cafes. With a consistent effort to improve upon what is already in place, Oxford could eventually have its own smaller Pearl. 

Gustafson offers the following advice.

“Do it as organically as possible,” she said. “Have a plan, but don’t move too fast.”

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