On January 3, a new piece of public art was installed at Portland Fire & Rescue’s main administrative building at SW Ash Street and Naito Parkway. The colorful mural by Portland artists Addie Boswell and Antwoine Thomas was commissioned by Portland Fire Chief Sara Boone and managed by the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC).
When Fire Chief Sara Boone was sworn in, she communicated that the three areas she considers to be the pillars of Portland Fire & Rescue are community, service, and sacrifice.
In her first weeks, Chief Boone installed new lighting and painted an accent wall behind the portrait of Chief David Campbell, one of Portland Fire & Rescue’s most notable former chiefs. She wanted Chief Campbell’s portrait to be an area of focus because Campbell, who died in a fire, symbolizes the service and sacrifice every firefighter commits to when they are sworn into duty. Chief Campbell tragically died in the line of duty during a 1911 fire when he entered a building to make sure all firefighters had retreated; the building collapsed upon him before he could get out. Chief Campbell made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure his firefighters were safe.
Chief Boone also wanted to add a mural on the wall leading to the chief’s office to showcase the bureau’s deep connection to the community it serves. She wants to make sure that everyone who walks down the hallway to the chief’s office knows that they are welcome and included. The bureau engaged RACC to manage the project. The project was funded with percent-for-art dollars that earmarks the costs of certain City improvements for public art.
Through a paneled public process, Boswell and Thomas’s submission themed “It takes everyone to create community” was selected and commissioned. The colorful painting, now titled “Vibrant Cities Don’t Burn,” creates a bright tapestry of Portland imagery stitched together with symbolic threads denoting PF&R’s history and work. A flutter of 36 butterflies representing each of the 36 Portland Fire & Rescue firefighters lost in the line of duty (as noted by the downtown firefighters’ memorial) fly in the direction of Chief Campbell’s portrait down the hall. Among the scenes of nature and people working in harmony are roses, which are both a symbol of the city and the centerpiece of PF&R’s logo. The work honors the sacredness of the land and people who came before us. The piece is imbued with so many surprise bits of symbolism that a key will accompany it on the wall.
“I want to thank the artists for creating this celebratory, inclusive, and engaging piece of work that will greet those who head down the hall to the chief’s office. I appreciate the level of commitment and understanding that the artists put into this work as visual and visceral representations of service and community,” says Fire Chief Sara Boone. “Images are powerful and they play a meaningful role in who feels welcomed in certain spaces. Those who head down this hallway will understand our history and know that we are going into the future together. This artwork highlights the best of our city and Portland Fire & Rescue.”