Pioneer Courthouse Square is a Happening Place

An opera singer builds toward a big finish. A violinist plays a soothing melody. Dancers stage an impromptu, “pop up” performance. Scenes from a pre-Covid era? Experiences we’ve lost and will never get back?


Just another day in Portland’s famous outdoor Living Room. Even during a pandemic – especially during a pandemic – Pioneer Courthouse Square remains the place where people gather (albeit socially distanced or online) to share the sights and sounds of music, dance and other creative expression.

“To sing publicly and see people stop and listen, even if for just 30 seconds, it feels like that string of human connection that we’ve all had to cut during these times…I get to thread that again… Even if just for a moment,” says Camille Sherman, a mezzo soprano from the Portland Opera who appeared at the center of a violet-colored circle singing a piece from the Barber of Seville before a lunch-time audience.

During normal times, Oregonians enjoy spending the holidays together – at Pioneer Courthouse Square sing-alongs, at downtown concert halls and theaters. This year will be different, but there’s still an opportunity for connection through art and culture, thanks to a Polka Dot project that began at the Square and is poised to spread throughout downtown for the holidays.

That’s right. There will be tubas and carolers and the Sugar Plum fairies. All performing on colorful “Dots” commissioned by generous local donors and created by Portland artist Bill Will.


It started this summer, when the non-profit organization that manages Pioneer Courthouse Square sought to find a way the urban city park could remain a place where people could find creative inspiration – or maybe just a short break from reality.

“I’m pretty familiar with the Square,” says Will, who created a map of the world at the Square for 2010 Festival of Flowers using a colorful palette of more than 20,000 potted plants. “This was a different challenge.”

This summer Will sought to create an installation that was upbeat, engaging and safely distance. Something more than just decoration.

“I liked the idea of an imaginary six-foot protective bubble,” he mused.

After all, that’s where we’re all living. That’s how Will landed on “Polka Dot Courthouse Square.” Colorful Polka Dots that reflect light and hope and spaces where we could be together.

Once Will finished his installation, the Pioneer Courthouse Square team recruited artists and performers. By the end of September nearly a hundred music, dance and other art and cultural groups had turned the 12-foot Dots into their own Center Stage.

On any given day or evening, passersby may hear Bach, or folk guitar, see Chinese or Indian dancers or catch acrobats in flight. In the spirit of any “Pop-Up” event, there’s no set schedule. Many of the performances are captured on video and available for all to enjoy at, the Square’s social media channels or on YouTube.

The installation was originally set to run through October 15, but the project has grown longer and larger. Beginning in November and continuing through December, the Dots will leapfrog beyond Pioneer Courthouse Square to more than 24 locations through the core business and retail district of downtown, from the U.S. Bancorp Tower to the North to the Museum district and Portland State University to the South.

30E14397E7F34466A29CDBFAA54BAEECA series of dots will be placed on the Portland Art Museum’s campus between the Main and Mark buildings across from the South Park Blocks.

“It’s great to be hosting this visual art project and working with Bill (Will) in this way, says Sara Krajewski, who is the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at the Portland Art Museum and a member of the Pioneer Courthouse Square Board.

“It’s been a challenge to see how Covid has affected performing arts organizations and performing artists,” Krajewski adds. “During this time the Museum has focused on what we can do to be collaborative partners with others in our arts ecosystem.”

Paul Andrews serves as member of the Executive Committee of the Pioneer Courthouse Square Board and is among those who provided seed money to launch the Dot installation and expanded programming. In his mind, the project speaks to the core mission of Portland’s famous outdoor Living Room.

“The Pioneer Courthouse Square nonprofit was created to bring positive energy downtown,” he says. “This project sounds simple but it’s extremely powerful. Today the Dots help energize downtown Portland, bring us together and brighten up the city.”

Watch all the summer Polka Dot Square performances here. Contribute to the artists and ongoing programming here. Stay up to date by following Pioneer Courthouse Square on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

This article is sourced from, here.