Now in its eighth year, Downtown's GO! Arts Festival is concerned, naturally, with the promotion of the arts. But perhaps even more important to the organizers is getting people Downtown.
The three-day street festival, held Friday, Sept. 25, through Sunday, Sept. 27, happens on Gold between First and Fifth Streets. This year, organizers already have 175 artists on board, nearly 50 more than in 2008. In addition to artists’ booths, there will be food, performers, a beer garden, a children's activity area and other attractions.
Brian Morris, executive director of the Downtown Action Team, also wants to emphasize, emphatically, that the GO! Arts Festival is free, to "help people spend money on art." It’s all a part of inducing New Mexicans to visit Albuquerque’s Downtown area. “With the Rail Runner,” says Morris, “we’re hoping [for] people from Santa Fe, people from Belen.”
Downtown was once home to the city’s major shopping and entertainment destinations, but the urban flight and suburban sprawl that began in the ’50s and ’60s left it, like most midsize city centers, an echo chamber. Groups like the Downtown Action Team have worked for the past decade to revitalize the area, making it once again central to the city’s character.
It's been an uphill battle. Nob Hill gained a foothold as the city’s bastion of locally owned restaurants and shops, while Uptown supplies a panoply of chain stores and eateries. Though Downtown has yet to attract the volume of offerings that some other areas have, Morris says that, by any measure, big changes have happened in the past decade. The problem is, once people get used to not going Downtown, it's hard to get them back.
"We're hoping that some of our attendees are first-time Downtown patrons," says Morris. "They can see what changes we've been working on for the past 10 years." He points out that people who may not have been to the area in 20 or 30 years could have an entirely erroneous perception of what Downtown now is. "There's been a lot of new development."
A significant part of that change is due to the large number of art galleries and museums that call Downtown home. Christopher Goblet, deputy director of the Downtown Action Team, says the festival doesn’t seek to duplicate or obfuscate the work of the area’s already existing arts entities, but rather, moves to highlight this. GO! has “always been about drawing the Northeast Heights and Westside residents,” he says, not only for the one event, but so that they can see for themselves how much art Downtown has to offer.
The GO! Arts Festival is part of a multipronged approach to revitalization that seeks to go back to the days when the area was, as Morris calls it, "a community gathering place." The festival differs from others in the region in that its organizers have focused mainly on contemporary art, seeing the event as an urban art festival in accordance with its setting.
"The quality is just amazing," Morris asserts. "The cool thing is people can talk directly to the artists ... learn about their processes and buy directly from [them]."
The Downtown Action Team encourages people to use the Rail Runner, but there are also plenty of parking options. "Make a whole day of it," he says. "Go eat, see a movie." And more than anything, the group hopes to develop an atmosphere that people want to come back to. "We want to create Downtown as a destination for the arts."