One of the most striking pieces of the Oregon Convention Center’s public art collection will be reinvigorated soon, as the 28-year-old “Bell Circles II” art piece will be updated to span the footprint of the entire convention center.
The Robert Coburn installation, which memorializes the relationship between Portland and three of its Asian sister cities, will greet visitors from the north as well as south once the Japanese bell is located at the southeast corner of the center, near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Lloyd boulevards.
In 2019, the Portland-Sapporo Sister City Association is scheduled to celebrate its 60th anniversary with a bell blessing ceremony at the site. The following year, 2020, marks 75 years since the end of World War II and also invites the opportunity to celebrate the relationship once again. Dignitaries from Sapporo are planning to attend the Rose Festival and bell rededication ceremony.
Coburn’s installation, which was unveiled in 1990, reflects relationships with Portland’s sister cities of Ulsan, South Korea, Sapporo, Japan and Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Two large bells, one from Sapporo and the other from Ulsan, are suspended in bell houses on the convention center’s north plaza. Smaller Taiwanese wind bells are also part of the sound garden. They were originally placed when the center had only one entrance and entry.
This summer, an 18-month renovation project is set to start at the center, and will include reconstruction of the northeast entry to the convention center. As part of the renovation, the Japanese bell will move to the southeast corner.
Coburn is again working with the convention center and the Regional Arts and Culture Council to reimagine the sound relationship to the center.
“With Portland’s $5 billion tourism industry, these bells welcome guests from all around the globe,” said Craig Stroud, the convention center’s director.
Sister city associations foster and promote cross-cultural understanding between the countries they unify. The Portland-Sapporo Sister City Association stewards the longest-running sister city relationship in Portland – and one of the oldest in the United States.
Portland and Sapporo are close to the same latitude, are both about 150 years old, with metropolitan populations of close to 2 million. Both cities enjoy beautiful settings and an appreciation of the outdoors. Both were established by pioneers – by loggers and fishermen – who capitalized on their respective region's rich natural resources.
The Portland Ulsan Sister City relationship works to benefit the many businesses that work in both countries. Among Portland’s local companies which have offices in Korea include Tektronix, Nike, Lasco Shipping Co., Mentor Graphics, and the Port of Portland. Korean companies that have offices in Portland include the Hyundai Group and Pan Ocean Shipping Co.
In 1986, the mayors of both cities agreed that they should cooperate in the development of programs for the promotion of tourism; the promotion of trade and mutual economic development activities and activities that amplify the feelings of friendship between the citizens of these two cities.
The Portland-Kaohsiung Sister City Association was founded in 1987, and in 1989 two dragon boats were shipped to solidify their sister city relationship between Portland and Taiwan. The dragon boat races have become an annual event commemorating the relationship. In 1990, the Association purchased three additional boats, donating one to the convention center, where it remains suspended from the south tower for tourists and conventioneers to enjoy year round.
The Oregon Convention Center houses a public art collection valued at more than $2 million.
“The convention center collection is one of the largest and most varied convention center art programs in the country. It is a treasure for residents and visitors which also captures historical relevance and culturally significant points in time,” Stroud said. “The collection ranges from whimsical to poignant to provocative.”