Celeste Noche and Emilly Prado
Celeste Noche is a documentary photographer who started Portland In Color in 2017, originally a photo series dedicated to highlighting Portland’s artists of color and their everyday lives in “the whitest city in America.” By 2018, it evolved into a database and journal, from partial funding awarded by The Regional Arts & Culture Council; writer and journalist Emilly Prado then joined the team.
By its own definition, Portland In Color seeks to disrupt the homogeneity of representation in portland arts and media by highlighting the voices and experiences of people of color. Their work is to promote the work of others, to ensure visibility into diverse creativity.
For Design Week Portland, Portland In Color will host Redesigning the Narrative on Wednesday, April 10. The panel features local artists and is focused on dismantling industry gatekeeping and redesigning inclusivity. An exhibit featuring works by local artists and designers in the Portland In Color network will also be on display.
How does working in Portland affect how you approach your practice and the work you take on?
Celeste: Portland has inspired me to create work I felt was missing. Moving from San Francisco to Portland was a huge change for me; I wasn’t prepared for how isolated I felt. Finding communities of color was really my lifeline through that. But it took me so long to find those safe spaces, and even when I was surrounded by their support, I saw such little visibility in town for their talent and narratives. It was so disheartening and angering that I really began to reflect on the work I was doing and whether it served a greater purpose.
My community has taught me so much about prioritizing impactful work and meaningful collaborations. Portland in Color was born from that, and I feel both the honor and responsibility of sharing those stories, which is why I’m so thankful to have Emilly on board because she really brings them to life in a new way. That kind of self-reflection for all potential projects has shifted my work from editorial to more documentary. I still do both, but I want to tell the stories that exist in their truest light.
Emilly: Portland is the only city I’ve lived in as an adult, having moved here when I was 18 years old, but the way I approach my work is directly influenced by my experiences of living in and navigating spaces as a brown person in a historically white city. My journalism work centers on amplifying the voices of people from marginalized and underrepresented communities because these are the experiences often neglected and pushed to the margins. It’s my duty to uncover those perspectives and present their experiences as factually and respectfully as possible.
I originally pitched writing about Portland in Color to Street Roots because I was blown away by the intimate, thoughtful portraits and the softness and care in which their stories were shared. I’m really grateful to now be a part of the series and on the team with Celeste.
What have you learned from the other artists involved in Portland in Color?
Celeste: Their personal experiences are what have been resonating with me the most. They’re a constant reminder of how Portland needs to be doing better, but also how we all play a part in that. Being an artist/creative is already a challenge on its own, but that difficulty is compounded for Black/Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC). We spend so much time and labor on simply existing—having the difficult conversations, debating whether to call out microaggressions or ask ourselves if it’s safer/less exhausting to try to ignore them, or even just watching out for our safety.
All of that, and we still choose to create. Somehow, we still have the energy for it. I don’t think non-POC communities understand just how much it means and what it takes.
Where do you see the most success and failure in inclusivity efforts in Portland?
Emilly: Inclusivity is trendy right now, especially in Portland. Over the past decade, I’ve seen conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) radically change in that they are now conversations I hear happening outside my own personal circles and communities. However, DEI is often approached from the same lens and remains a conversational topic, as opposed to a framework from which to create policy. The components that make up DEI are related, but they each work separately and together to ultimately dismantle the power structures and systems that intentionally keep marginalized people out.
Hiring diverse staff and having conversations about DEI are great starting points, but to make real change, we need BIPOC, LGBTQ+, women, and people with disabilities in positions of power—that’s the equity lens. In the creative industry, that means hiring diverse executive staff, directors, producers, and managers. The inclusivity part is making sure the work culture environment makes all people feel like they belong—from the hiring process itself, to the accessibility of spaces, to the ability to listen to others. It goes far beyond this—and you can consult Portland in Color for community and equity consultants—but I don’t see these steps being taken seriously enough in the arts, media, or nonprofit sectors yet.
What are some of your personal goals in the next few years? And for Portland in Color?
Emilly: In the next few years, I’d like to publish my next book and plan to find an agent for that project by the end of the year. I want to carve out more time for my personal creative writing and reading voraciously, spend more time with friends and family, and be firm in creating and maintaining those crucial work/life boundaries I’ve struggled with as a freelancer. For Portland in Color, I look forward to having the resources to continue with the project and expand our reach by inviting local BIPOC creatives to contribute as interviewers and photographers. I also am excited to produce events and, eventually, workshops centered on professional development and resource-sharing.
Celeste: I think I’m finally getting closer to balancing commissioned work and personal projects, and I’d love to see how diving deeper into both of those worlds looks. I never went to art or journalism school, so I’d love to learn more by going to workshops and collaborating with more of my peers. I’d love for Portland in Color to continue being a resource, but like Emilly said, it’d be great to see more support and partnerships, so we can keep expanding and bringing more work to BIPOC creatives. Whenever we find the balance between freelancing and keeping up with Portland in Color, quarterly workshops and pop-up performances/shows would be so rad.
What is one dream you’ve yet to accomplish?
Emilly: Portland in Color in its current form is still very new, but I dream of it becoming a resource that Celeste, the city of Portland, and I can more fully and sustainably invest in with time, money, and space. There is so much potential for what we can continue to create and give back to our community in terms of connectivity, professional opportunity, visibility, empathy, and change. I’m honored to be involved at this stage and look forward to collaborating with many more creatives of color and supporters as we grow into our next developmental stage.