Portland native Mike Malone moved to the East Coast for college, worked on Wall Street and the New York art scene before finding his way back to Oregon, lured by the Maker Movement. Mike started an online company that helps turn your digital photos into art with gallery quality printing and framing. Think all those Instagram pictures as great wall art!
The Long Journey Home: From Portland to NYC and Back Again
I recently returned to Portland after fifteen years in New York City.
And my soul thanks me.
Originally founded by the Dutch, NYC has always been a permissive island surrounded by a vast sea of puritanism. This undoubtedly helped to make it a unique destination for the waves of Europeans that began emigrating to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. A melting pot of cultures and new ideas, built upon a platform of open, democratic values. This dynamic proved powerful as a war ravaged Europe ceded power and influence to the United States in the middle of the 20th century, and New York City became a global leader in the arts, fashion, finance, media and technology. It’s through this prism that I view New York.
Having always had an interest in both business and economics, and driven by my desire to live in New York City, I eagerly went to work on Wall Street. I found it to be a fascinating world, populated by interesting characters from a range of backgrounds but driven by a common goal. And the work itself was interesting too. Like New York itself, the roots of modern day Wall Street can be traced back to the post-war period. Tasked with imagining a better, more stable future, the allies, anchored by the United States, devoted much attention to matters of the economy. Emerging from this was a monetary system among participating nations that rested upon a foundation of the US dollar (along with gold, until the gold standard was abandoned in 1971). Simply, this created a very real and sustained demand for dollars. And this was the domain of Wall Street. So, think of Wall Street as a giant pipe running through lower Manhattan, and through that pipe runs astonishing sums of money, originating from all over the world. The game then is to dip ones fingers as far into that pipe as possible.
My years spent in the trenches happened to be defined by the most extreme economic events in recent memory. For a host of reasons (read: the economic emergence of China), never before had so much money passed through the proverbial pipe as did during the first several years of the 21st century. Markets went up, the economy expanded, and all seemed (very) well indeed. Wall Streeters were not only making huge sums of money, they were being lionized for doing so. Because it wasn’t just Wall Streeters making money. As is often the case, the successes seen on Wall St. permeated the entire economy. And so the notion that more is better wasn’t simply the domain of the financier. It seemed everyone was in on the game. More begets more, until it doesn’t.
So, what does this have to do with Portland? A lot, I think. I certainly don’t mean to minimize the toll that the downturn took, but if there can be a silver lining, the great recession seemed to precede a collective reassessment of what matters. Is it possible that more isn’t always better? If that’s the case, what are the alternatives? Portland – in many ways rightly – came to represent that alternative.
In order to understand Portland, one must first look at a map. It’s a western outpost of sorts, surrounded by expansive and rugged terrain and huge swaths of tall timber that was the financial catalyst to early settlement in the region. So in many ways, Portland is defined by its isolation.
This, of course, could define the early days for much of the west, and particularly the Pacific Northwest. What makes Portland unique, at least when compared to the other major cities of the far west, is, ironically, its smaller, less navigable port. So even after the west started down the path of industrialization, Portland remained somewhat sheltered. Sheltered from outside influences, from new economic opportunity. So a culture that was defined by the resourceful, pioneering spirit of its early inhabitants and the ruggedness of its surroundings was allowed to germinate a while longer. And even as many of its rough edges began to smooth, Portland remained attractive to those more preoccupied with lifestyle than with means. A place where people were more committed to their passions than they were with access to new markets.
And this brings us to the Portland of today. The city is growing rapidly, and with that comes new flavors and new opportunities. But the independent, irreverent spirit very much lives on. Portland remains a place where the making of things is as uncompromising as ever, evidenced by a culinary scene that is second to none. The rugged, unforgiving terrain that was once a major barrier to entry has become an unmatched outlet for recreation and restoration. A history of isolation has brought about a sharp focus on the local, where the cultivation of community seems fundamental. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Portland’s brief stint as a hub for illicit activities and organized crime at the turn of the 20th century, which bestowed the city with just enough edge to keep things interesting.
And this is what brought me back to Portland. Wanting to be a part of Portland’s culture of makers, I founded a company called Livestock Framing, an online platform that allows people to upload digital photos to be custom printed and framed. When I need space, I go to the beach or to the mountains or to the gorge. And when I need time to think, I have it. It’s terrific respite from the relentless pursuit of more.
And that’s good for the soul.
Livestock Framing – Upload a digital photo. Make your frame selection. Done.
Arrives at your door ready to hang, complete with hook, nail and shipping is always free.
Bio: After several years in New York City, Mike Malone recently returned to Portland and founded Livestock Framing. Livestock is an online platform that allows people to upload their digital photos to be custom printed and framed and mailed directly to their door.