So You Want To Move To Portland

By Erika Moen on February 6, 2011

(Re-posting this from my September 22, 2010 Livejournal entry)

Pretty regularly I get asked about moving to Portland, usually by artists who see that there is a pretty healthy community of us out here.

Here is a letter I wrote today, in response to an older sister wanting to know if her younger, freshly-out-of-art-school sister’s plans to move from across the country are realistic:

Alright Portland, I get it, I get it. You're goddamn beautiful. Happy?

It is true, Portland is a great city to be a young artist in: rent is extremely cheap compared to other places, our public transit/bicycle institutions are really well developed so you don’t need a car, and there are so dang many of us artists that you’re going to find the community without even trying. Before getting married, I was living on my own for roughly $1,000 a month, which covered my rent, utilities and groceries. It wasn’t a glamorous life, but I was comfortable.

That said…

Portland is a good city to be self-employed in– that is, all the work you do will be through your computer for someone who lives in another state. That is because there are no jobs in Portland. She absolutely should not come out here expecting to get hired by a studio, especially not for animation. If she lines up a job ahead of time (at Laika, fashionbudda or Bent, which are pretty much her only options), then that’s fine, though she shouldn’t expect to keep it too long since layoffs are regular due to the economy. I say this from personal experience and from the experience of my friends, as we have worked in Portland animation studios.

Before moving out here, she will need to save enough money that she could live on for 6-12 months, because it is pretty much impossible to find a job. Any job. Even washing dishes (not exaggerating). Or at least have a really good freelance client(s) that she knows will be providing enough work for her to live on for the immediate future. Basically, she needs to have work already lined up before making the move, because chances are really, really poor she will find any out here.

I have had several friends move out here to be a part of the art scene and they had to leave after 6-12 months because they could not find any work whatsoever, even washing dishes.

Has she visited yet? That is pretty crucial, too. 9/10 of people I know love this city with all their hearts (I’m one of them!), but there’s that 1/10 who move here for the same reasons your sister wants to and then are absolutely miserable here. Not even about the job situation, but for some people coming here is like trying to graft on skin that your body rejects. They want to come because all their friends and peers are here and it’s a beautiful little city, but then once here they become absolutely miserable and need to move away again. That may say more about the individual than it does Portland, but still, it’s worth visiting the place first to make sure it’s socially and mentally a good fit.

So! If your sister already has work coming in as a freelancer or she can line up a regular job in Portland in advance and she has 6-12 months worth of livable savings in her account, then she should definitely go ahead and move out. If not, this really may not be the right place to start out in.

Haha, sorry to be all doom and gloom! I really do adore my city and have made a lovely life for myself out here. But it’s hard to get your foothold in and I see a lot of people just move here without any concept of how completely non-existent the job market is and have to leave again.

Lots of good luck,

Erika

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