Visiting and Reflecting on the Community Art Studios in Albuquerque

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While entering an industrial area of Albuquerque, I drove over the railroad tracks and turned right into the medical campus of Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless. Considering the area that it is located, the buildings and the look of the campus are quite welcoming.  As it should be since it is inviting folks who are disenfranchised and overall poor. However, little did I know that I would be meeting folks who are rich of spirit.

As I entered Art Street, I was greeted by Laurie within the archway; who asked me to sign-in (with my birthdate which feels odd but it helps with their funding). Then I was introduced to Thomas, who was serving as “Mentor of the Day” and this was his first tour.  Right away, I felt the lightheartedness between Laurie and Thomas, and then the casual demeanor from Thomas to me. Even though I am a different demographic of the population that graces the doors; I still felt like one of them. These folks are the salt of the Earth.

In the first corner are miscellaneous magazines and books.  However, what caught my attention is the handmade and artistic “door.” This doorway was just in their recent gallery exhibition and it was a collaboration of several of the Art Street artists. This opened up discussion for Thomas and myself to talk about how the different pieces and approaches from each artist on the doorway. Overall, it looks like every person wanted to show a sense of hope and peace.

As Thomas continue the tour, every section has a different story for him. Back by the paints, the black sink had been stained.  He said he used the splatter and took photos for backgrounds in artwork and further inspiration. I thought that was an out-of-the-box idea, as most of us would see a sink with paint splatter. There is a designated kids area and we had a chuckle when he said, “Anyone can sit here, but if kids want to sit here, they will kick you out!”  In the fabric and sewing section, they do have a sewing machine that was currently out-of-commission. Thomas informed me that not everyone knows how to use everything and sometimes stuff gets broken (hopefully temporarily).

When I returned a week later, the Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless campus was a-buzz with people and their belongings. At this time, the studio environment inside Art Street was much more mellow than my previous visit. I noticed several of my classmates were on a group tour led by Art Street staff member and SWC student Jessie. I’m sure she did a marvelous job, but I felt lucky to have gotten a one-on-one tour with one of the artists.

I began by claiming a spot next to Bruce, a young artist probably in his 30s with scruffy hair. Of course I asked if it was OK that I sat there. I wonder how many of the regular folks might do this courtesy, or if they are used to having a free-flow of space. I looked around the found objects and found a few things of a Spring color scheme. I sat down and realized I hadn’t retrieved the basic scissors and glue. Bruce jumped up and went through a drawer of mismatched items to get me some strong glue. I was surprised and delighted to find Bruce’s initiative and eagerness to help!

The three main elements of my piece are a fabric sample (possibly of vinyl nature), a get-well card, and some fake cards. My composition was pretty standard in that the fabric was the canvas, and the middle flowers from the card also sat in the middle so that I could “make” flowers.  I added some flowers on the outside moreso to ground the space and composition. I feel lucky that several folks said I could put it on the wall. (Really, I wanted someone else to have it, or use it!)

While making, I was more concerned with the artists around me and what their process is. I watched Bruce make a structure that looked like a square structure built of foam on top of a lamp that had been wrapped in gold foil. I watched him taking pieces of a popsicle stick and meticulously hot glue it in line to the rest as if it was the protection of the house. I looked at other artists too and many folks had several methods to get the result in their artwork.  Overall, I noticed most of the artists were proficient in problem-solving. They don’t know me that well, but I wondered what parts of their lives influenced their artistry. Or perhaps what parts of working in Art Street can influence them as a person or influence what they do/say in their life.

I left there, made a few turns, and up 4th Street to Very Special Arts (VSA).  The outside is a stark difference already since they have a parking lot and a rather large building.  Once inside, I was greeted by Susanna, the Outreach Director, to give our group from class a tour. She explained that they have formal classes and programs to accommodate a variety of artists with physical and mental disability. In the lobby, there was an ongoing gallery exhibition from the artists and nature. There was a range of skill levels, but I was impressed by the VSA’s work to help the artists feel like a real artist.  Each of the artwork was for sale and the artist gets 75%. While it may not go towards “making a living,” a little bit goes a long way both for finances and for mental well-being when getting artwork seen or sold.

As we toured the facility, I was especially impressed by the black box theatre that was having a rehearsal at the time.  The actors were going thru piece by piece and getting altered by a director. Their lives can be challenging enough, but now they are taking-on an additional challenge in that space.  In the other rooms were a variety of classes for the artist students to learn mosaics, Spanish and Sign Language, or mask-making. When we got to the last room for mask-making, it crossed my mind that we just did masks in our class too! I admire the teachers and staff for what they do to facilitate a creative process; but also while paying attention to a variety of needs for this demographic of students.

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