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Arts Organization Paints New Life into Downtown Albuquerque

By Kelly Gallagher

When trains pull into the Albuquerque station, rail passengers are greeted by a mural of a black buffalo against a red background. This bold, an eye-catching piece transforms the plain wall it is painted on and adds a dash of local character to the scenery- an excellent way to welcome people into the city.

Other murals come into view as visitors meander downtown. They are tucked beside doorways and stretched high above the street, adding splashes of color and action to the cityscape. These delightful touches of creativity aren't the work of vigilante artists, but rather the planned result of a collaboration between artists and area businesses made possible through the efforts of 516 ARTS, an independent, non-profit organization located in downtown Albuquerque.

Aeronauts Cuda + Stu | Pilots of the Survivorship Armada | Pueblo Revolt 2180 (detail)

2015, mixed media

"516 ARTS was founded in 2006 as an arts anchor in the downtown revitalization process, and as a central gathering place for arts and community engagement," says Suzanne Sbarge, executive director of 516 ARTS. "It's all about communication, dialogue, creating meaningful experiences, and connecting people on a deeper level."

The concept of connecting people to each other and to art plays a prominent part in a mural project currently in progress. The mural, titled "Brainbow Alley" features images of real people who live and work in Albuquerque in the artwork. To have their face depicted in this piece, citizens must simply provide a financial contribution to the project - not a bad price to be immortalized in the creative fabric of Albuquerque. The project will also provide a welcome makeover to the alley behind the arts center, which will, in the words of the 516 ARTS website, "demonstrate how alleys can become pockets of urban creativity in downtown Albuquerque's revitalization process."

While the murals add visual flavor and a sense of liveliness to the streets of Albuquerque, visitors will also find a lot of action happening within the walls of the 516 ARTS building. The organization specializes in contemporary art and features the work of interdisciplinary artists from diverse backgrounds. 516 ARTS aims to display art that addresses modern issues in order to ignite curiosity and conversation.

"Art is for everyone, not just an elite few," says Sbarge. "516 ARTS serves an important role in breaking down barriers and bringing diverse groups of people together to learn from one another and communicate in new ways."

In addition to visual art, 516 ARTS patrons can enjoy musical performances, poetry, lectures, panel discussions, and more. There are also various educational resources available for Albuquerque-area art educators and students, as well as volunteer opportunities.

A city in the desert can easily become insular and self-focused, with little interest in drawing in crowds from faraway places. Thanks in part to the efforts of 516 ARTS, Albuquerque citizens have access to works and ideas from artists from around the nation and the world, and visitors are encouraged to come, stay, and join the conversation.

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About The Author

Kelly Gallagher studied creative writing at SUNY Oswego and Vermont College of Fine...

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