Several years ago, art therapist Janis Timm-Bottos was inspired when she learned about Depression-era “community art studios.” These studios were created in response to the economic hardships of the day and gave people a free place to come together and express themselves. In 2001, Timm-Bottos founded OFFCenter, an art studio that provides supplies and studio space at no cost to just about anyone who wants to create.
During times of financial strife, nothing could be better than OFFCenter's seventh installation of We Art the People Folk Art Festival, which brings a variety of activities and entertainment to Downtown’s Robinson Park this Sunday, September 13. All of the activities are free, and everyone is invited to do art projects and participate.
“OFFCenter is the best place in the world, and it's Albuquerque's best kept secret,” says volunteer Sharie Fabian. “There is healing in art, and the art festival is a good way to let the community know about the center.”
Every day, more than 50 people come into OFFCenter to create. A large number of them are homeless or facing other financial struggles, but an artist doesn't have to be strapped for cash to paint, sew or sculpt. The center is open to anyone from any economic background, and artists of all skill levels are welcome. OFFCenter is busy throughout the week, offering free classes in subjects such as drawing, writing and guitar. There’s also a gallery to display and sell work, and 80 percent of the art sales go back to the artists.
“With this festival, we're trying to bring OFFCenter out into the community,” says Ron Breen, OFFCenter’s executive director. “Anyone can just simply walk in and enjoy, and hopefully they will find something that engages them.”
We Art the People starts at 10 a.m. with 100 folk art vendors and live music. At 11 a.m., the festival's trademark Puppet Parade begins. The parade of approximately 30 giant puppets—created by OFFCenter artists—is led around Robinson Park by a samba band and dancers.
In one part of the park, festival patrons can build flowers out of recycled materials like water bottles and trash bags. In other areas, people can access materials for making collages, rain sticks, dolls and pinwheels.
Like other nonprofits, OFFCenter is feeling the effects of the recession when it comes to getting funding though grants and donations. A community-based arts project is not exactly a “traditional” social service, Breen says, and it tends to get pushed to the back burner when times are hard. Nevertheless, a determined staff and faithful volunteers are keeping everything running smoothly, and in spite of decreased funding, activity and attendance at OFFCenter have steadily increased during the recession.
Karen Turner has been on the board of directors since OFFCenter opened its doors eight years ago.
“I think what has kept it going is a spirit that began when we started this,” Turner, a card artist, says. “It's the idea that being together in a community and making art is really important and is really healing.”
We Art the People usually attracts around 3,000 people. “It's about inclusion; everybody joins in because art is a very important part of what a community should be,” Breen says. “We aren't looking for art with a capital 'A'—we are celebrating art of the everyday.”