Jonny Cool, Music Producer
The bio on Jonny Cool’s website reads, “Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Jonny Cool is an intergalactic space traveler with strong ties to Jupiter.” When you meet him, it does feel a little bit like speaking to someone who lives on another planet—one where there are no rules, yet everyone moves to the same beat.
But he wasn’t raised by aliens. Both his parents are musical: His dad and late uncle were piano prodigies, and traveled the world with the likes of Miles Davis, B.B. King, and Etta James. His mother was a soul singer in Portland, who Cool says looked like Aretha Franklin. She’s the one who got him interested in the history of Motown and bands like The Temptations. But he didn’t take music seriously until he was diagnosed with diabetes at 18, which forced him to give up his favorite activity, basketball.
Ever since the diagnosis, he’s been making beats. Most recently he scored a promotional trailer for the Portland Ballet, dance tracks for local performer Kya Bliss, and Arresting Power, a documentary about police brutality in Portland.
As someone who was born in PDX, he’s had a front-row seat to the city’s rapid gentrification. “I could get a crazy look walking through Alberta, like, ‘What are you doing here?’” he says, referring to the formerly majority-black area now known as the Arts District. “Like, I grew up here.” Cool is part of a number of organizations that work to degentrify Portland.
“We put so much time and money toward the Blazers,” he says, referring to Portland’s NBA team. “They haven’t won since 1977. We need to put our [energy] towards things that are really beneficial, like helping to house this community.”
And though he’s traveled to collaborate with the likes of John Legend and Kanye West, and lived in New York for a few years, it’s ultimately Portland that he wants to call home.
“The other day, I caught the bus—and my cousin is the bus driver,” he says. “I would never ever bump in to a relative [somewhere else]. That makes my heart happy to be able to see that and see childhood friends grow and be successful here.” He notes that Portland’s proximity to nature is also important creatively. “There’s Peninsula Park not too far from here. You can’t get that in New York—you can’t just get a dose of nature,” he says, adding, “The trees are my buddies too.”
Bertony Faustin, Winemaker
You can’t miss Bertony Faustin. He is tall and striking, with a booming voice that carries easily over the din of his winery in North Plains, a short drive from Portland.
It’s clear when you meet him that he’s someone important—you can feel it in the way he shakes your hand and pours you a glass of his wine. His vintages have unconventional names, like “Should be $30,” “Bad and Boujee,” and “Bad and Boujee-er”—the first of many hints that Faustin isn’t your average pedigreed winemaker, and doesn’t want to be. “All of that shit didn’t look like me,” he says. When he first opened Abbey Creek Vineyard in 2008, he became the first recorded black winemaker in Oregon, and customers were surprised to find that he was in charge of the operation. “I’d kind of get the glare,” he says.
Nonetheless, he wasn’t interested in being anyone’s “pioneer.” He started Abbey Creek after his father passed away in 2007, when he realized he wasn’t living the life he wanted as an anesthesiology assistant. “I didn’t even drink before I started making wine,” he says. His in-laws had planted grapes on a five-acre plot in the ’80s to qualify for a farm deferral, and Faustin decided to try his hand at winemaking. “My plan B was to make raisins,” he says.
Moving fast, he released his first vintage the very next year. “I had to flip it,” he laughs. “I’m from Brooklyn. My father’s from Haiti. I call it the immigrant hustle. It’s this ‘you have no choice, you have nothing to lose,’ kind of grind. So you just kind of do it.”
The winery now produces 1,500 cases a year, all of which are poured and sold directly to customers, not to stores or restaurants—yet another example of Faustin’s tendency to break the sacred rules of wine. “I mean, it’s full of shit,” he says of the industry. “It’s smoke and mirrors.” Which is why, when Oregon celebrated its 50th year of winemaking in 2015, he decided to “just own being this trailblazer.”
“Once I accepted that everyone wasn’t going to be my customer, that gave me freedom,” he says. “Freedom to be the hip hop winery. Freedom to wear my Timbos and overalls every day.”
“I would not have the same impact if I wasn’t doing this in the whitest city in America,” he continues. “I challenge the Oregon wine industry to be the most diverse [in the] industry. Because yeah, we make great pinot. But if that’s the only thing we’re hanging our hats on, I think we’re wasting our time.”
About being Oregon’s first black winemaker, Faustin has one final sentiment: “I knew I was the first, but it was more important to me that I wasn’t the last.”
Maya Vivas, Ceramicist
Maya Vivas landed in Portland five years ago, looking to settle in the cheapest West Coast city they could find. As an artist, they felt like if they could only tick off the right boxes—gallery shows, their own studio, self-promotion—they’d be rewarded. But that wasn’t exactly the case. “I thought I was doing everything right. And I was just hitting a lot of walls, and feeling like nobody was taking me seriously. Nobody was interested in listening to what I had to say,” they tell me. “And then I was like, well, how much of this is just the struggle of being an artist and how much of this is the struggle of being a black artist in this city? I’ve come to realize that it is the latter. This is the nuance of my life.”
Vivas is a ceramicist whose work has explored body, race, and botany. “As a person who has a lot of disconnect from my body, [ceramics] is so physical that I have to pay attention to what my body and hands are doing. It brings me to the present,” they say. Vivas has turned that physicality into performance pieces, including “Soft Between the Elbows,” which they performed this year at NCECA, the largest ceramics conference in the country.
In 2018, Vivas and their friend Leila Haile opened Ori Gallery on Mississippi Avenue in Northeast. Ori showcases trans and queer artists of color, holding art competitions for queer youth and staging community events like grant-writing workshops, artist talks, and fundraisers. “We don’t really see this as a project that’s ours—we don’t have ownership of it,” says Vivas. “We see it very much as a community-oriented project and we are just the guiding factor.”
The pair opened Ori with one goal: to create a space for people like them, who wanted to be respected as capital-A Artists, and not “black artists” or “queer artists.” “Like, what if we just created a space where all those things are already assumed and we can have a wider conversation?”
Vivas also joined the Contemporary Art Council at the Portland Art Museum to drive conversations on more inclusive programming. Meanwhile, they’re still grinding on their personal artistic career, which continues to be rewarding, even when it’s challenging.
“A lot of the time when I’m sculpting, I’m having these vivid memories or thoughts that are racing through my brain. Moments of quiet, moments of excitement, moments of sadness,” says Vivas. “When I’m performing, I’m doing the sculpting and I’m having all these moments, but I have a microphone. And so all those thoughts that come racing through, I’m releasing for everyone else to hear.”
Katherine Paul, Musician
Katherine Paul goes by “KP” in life and “Black Belt Eagle Scout” on stage—a name she chose because she felt like it represented receiving the highest honors at the top of her craft.
She’s been working at her music for almost as long as she can remember. “I come from a musical family, but not in the traditional sense,” she says. KP grew up as part of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in Northeast Washington State, going to powwows and witnessing ceremonial drumming, which was the first form of music that she ever experienced.
The second was Washington’s grunge movement, where she discovered riot grrrl bands like Hole and The Microphones, and taught herself how to play guitar by watching VHS tapes of Nirvana and other artists on MTV. “There was a whole music scene right next door in Anacortes, and I could actually go participate and go to shows. Just being in a community where that was available was really huge for me.”
Her third experience with the music world was the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, which she attended right after her junior year of high school. “Essentially, that camp changed my life,” KP says. “I loved everything about it. I was finding out about feminism back then, and it was like heaven. I met a ton of amazing people, friends that I have to this day.”
When she moved to Portland in 2007, KP formed her whole life around music, playing in bands and then eventually working as a talent buyer and ticketing manager at local music venues, including Mississippi Studios. It was these experiences—on both the creative and business sides of music—that convinced her to go solo and form Black Belt Eagle Scout. Her debut album, Mother of My Children, was released in 2017 by Good Cheer Records, and was quickly picked up and rereleased by Saddle Creek, a more established label based in Omaha, Nebraska. Not one to rest, she released her second album, At the Party With My Brown Friends, earlier this year.
“It’s about being a person of color, an Indigenous person, and about my friends and support systems,” she says. Noting her experience in Portland’s many white-dominated spaces, she adds, “If you’re at a party and there’s majority-white people there, but you have your group of brown friends, you feel good. The album is an homage to those relationships.”
Carlo Lamagna, Restaurant Owner
When chef Carlo Lamagna was laid off from his job at Portland’s Clyde Common, where he’d won accolades including the StarChefs Rising Star Award, he found himself at a crossroads. “I thought, maybe I’ll just move back to Chicago,” he said—he’d previously worked at North Pond and Perennial Virant. “But another part of me was like, why am I running? I can add color to this beautiful city. I had a great opportunity to be able to take from my Filipino culture and show it to the city of Portland, and the world, because Portland is under a magnifying glass when it comes to food.”
And so Lamagna decided to open his own restaurant, fulfilling a lifelong dream; Magna Kusina opened in Southeast Portland in August 2019. “It’s definitely an accumulation of who I am as a chef and who I am as a person,” he says. “It’s a culmination of everything I’ve worked with and worked for.” The menu—which showcases locally sourced and sustainable Filipino food—pulls from Lamagna’s past experiences as a chef, from Perennial in Chicago to his own pop-up restaurant, Twisted Filipino, as well as the time he spent in many other industry jobs. “We’re going to try to do our part in helping promote Filipino ingredients and flavor profiles to the greater Portland community,” he says.
Lamagna’s pride in his Filipino heritage is even more evident when he talks about his family’s cooking, which has influenced his own. For Magna, he’s created a squid and egg noodle dish with Dungeness crab and a crab fat sauce inspired by an old family recipe: “I grew up in Michigan and my dad and my uncles used to drive to Baltimore to pick up king crabs, bring them back to Michigan, and sell them. My mom used to cut them in half and sear them with ginger and garlic.” He also recalls his uncle’s caldereta, a funky-flavored goat stew, and the adobo or pancit that was always waiting for him on the table when he came home from late restaurant shifts. “A lot of the food [on Magna’s menu] has a very, very deep, loving connection to who I am and how I grew up,” he says.
And it goes beyond the food: He says that within his culinary community, he’s considered a kuya (“older sibling” in Tagalog) because he’s “been in the game for a minute.” He takes his role as a mentor seriously, and has ensured that many of his employees are POC. “I know that they would understand the food a little bit better, and they would help promote that spirit and culture and who I am as a human.”