Artists on the edge open creative frontiers for the rest of us. They are
the catalysts of change. Their work is not always understandable nor
comfortable; and at times it may even seem to be down right fraudulent.
But, without visions from the edge the world tends to cluster in the
middle near places of sameness. If you are an edge artist working with
artistic extremes you’ll find it hard to find a spot to show your work.
Galleries are interested in sales and few restaurants will show cows
floating in formaldehyde. Resources and support systems are equally hard
to access. An alternative is to move to New York where there is
interest, support, an audience, and the hope of getting discovered by
the arts editor of the New York Times.
When an artist leaves the community, the community looses a part of
itself. Several folks, though, are working to make it possible for
artists to stay. They are working to educate the community, to provide
exhibition spaces and resources for artists to help them
develop their portfolios and to provide a critical forum where artists
can discuss their work.
The oldest of these efforts in Albuquerque is the Harwood Art Center.
Founded by the Escuela del Sol Montessori, the Harwood has provided
studio space for 50 artists, access to educational
opportunities, and spaces for exhibitions and performances. The Harwood has
been at the core of some major arts initiatives such as the “Prints of
Albuquerque” and “Vehicle.” It has been blessed with
strong leadership and a good deal of community support. Some artists,
however, are concerned that the Harwood’s tie to Escuela del Sol and
its status under the school’s board of directors means that it cannot exhibit
really edgy, controversial work.
Site 2121 has been located at 2121 Isleta Blvd. deep in the heart of
Albuquerque’s South Valley, and has been a major exhibition site and a support system for contemporary artists. Jon McConville, Da-Ka-Xeen
Mehner and Sabra Sowell have for the past four years dumped their
time, energy and money into making Site 2121 a viable proposition.
Recently they have rented the second floor of a building
downtown, and they are currently renting out studio spaces. There will be
some exhibition space available, although the single staircase precludes
anything beyond by invitational openings. They are also working with ARC
Gallery to form a non-profit organization to develop a center for the
ARC Gallery, the work of Michael Certo and Jessie DeLeers, sits on the
corner of Mountain Road and Broadway near Downtown Albuquerque. Like
2121, ARC has been an exhibition space for numerous artists.
They have shown over 250 individual artists between them. ARC specializes
in providing a space for artists to experiment and explore new
directions. Currently about one fourth of the building is being used for
gallery space, and the rest is living quarters and studio space. Certo is certain that if he didn’t own the building they wouldn’t still be
there. Like 2121, artists at ARC share in the cost of exhibiting, and Certo and
DeLeers provide technical support. “It is like working two jobs to make
this go,” states Certo.
The hope is to get non-profit status and to find funding for a
center. Not only will this provide a stable organization, it will pay
these folks for their efforts. The center as envisioned will provide
increased exhibition space, a resource center and library, a place where
artists can photograph their work, a forum to show slides and discuss
each others' work, and a way to begin to educate an audience.
There is the
hope that some sort of residency program can be developed that will
allow for for visiting artist to come and work here. Certo says he has
found that San Francisco has over 14 centers for contemporary art. Despite
the differences in size, income, and sophistication, Albuquerque
certainly needs at least one. If the energy and dedication that these
people have shown over the past four years holds out, we’ll get it soon.
Santa Fe is not only the “city different,” it is the city of differences.
On Pecos Trail in the old Armory is Plan B Evolving Arts--the closest
thing to a community center for the contemporary arts. Actually, the
current program evolved from the Santa Fe Center for Contemporary Art.
Ginger Myhaver, Michael Luhan, and Zane Fisher were brought in as project
managers from OffSite, a small contemporary art gallery and work space
in the warehouse district. There is a large exhibit space, a movie
theater, a performance space, a small coffee shop, some studio work
spaces and other resources available to artists in the community. One of
my favorite programs was a kind of junk exchange shop. Artists would
bring in their left overs for other artists to purchase. One man’s junk
Exhibits at Plan B are about as edgy as one can get. The gallery
space is itself is pretty daunting and a bit overwhelming--a
cross between a castle keep and a blimp hanger. But where else can one
see a Jan Svakmajer retrospective?
On the other extreme is Site Santa Fe. Funded by big bucks, it brings in
some of the edgiest artists from the international world of art. It sits
in a renovated warehouse on Paseo des Peralta. It was designed around
its first exhibit and hosts everything from the quiet contemplations of
Agnes Martin to the twittering robotic machines in its current show. It
also sponsors numerous lectures, performances and films. Site Santa Fe
was founded on the idea that the city needed a not-for-profit space to
show art from the edge. It is a startling discovery for a town so driven
by the market and one Albuquerque hopefully will catch on to.