Alibi V.26 No.37 • Sept 14-20, 2017 

Culture Shock

SOMOS Albuquerque

New celebration gathers community Downtown to annunciate all that we are

A preview of an installation created by local artist Reyes Padilla
A preview of an installation created by local artist Reyes Padilla
Beth Ashley

“We've all lived the Albuquerque narrative, we live it everyday,” Julia Mandeville said as we sat outside of Deep Space Coffee with Stephen Segura on a cold Labor Day morning. Mandeville and Segura are just two of five people spearheading the inaugural Downtown celebration SOMOS—a day-long event that aims to highlight our community in five distinct arenas: entertainment, cuisine, arts and culture, economic development, technology and family. “We are really committed to creating a sustainable touchpoint for people in our community to feel connected [and] feel pride of place and creative and celebratory in their endeavors,” Mandeville continued.

To that end, the coordinating team, which also includes Chris Schroeder, Cailyn Kilcup and David Silverman, began tentative planning sessions in May of this year. After an overwhelming response from the community—including funders, collaborators and participants—the five rapidly transitioned from “feeling it out” to full-on organizing. Now backed by local governments, funding titans like the Albuquerque Community Foundation and hundreds more collaborators (including local businesses as well as many nonprofits), everything was nearly in place two weeks out. “I think it is really unique in the national landscape to have this grassroots groundswell of effort around building a celebration of our city, and then to have it matched on incredible levels by private sector support and municipal and local government support,” Mandeville said of the tremendous backing from the community that has allowed this event to take shape over the course of just under five months.

A central feature of SOMOS is seven large-scale art installations selected by a “radically open” proposal process, though “we could've picked out of a hat, the artists in our community are so talented,” Mandeville effused. Those that are participating include Mark and Elizabeth Horst, who are collaborating on a free-standing archway of steel, wood and cloth, figuratively transporting attendees into the space of celebration. Barelas-based GRAFT collective will present a new version of their phone booth installation, Salvage Memory Hotline, and construct a sculpture garden for it to rest in. Nearby, Reyes Padilla will present an interactive synesthetic mural standing 8 feet by 12 feet, and Natalie Voelker will be working on a “people-scape,” where she will do live portraiture of SOMOS attendees, adding them to a scene of our city. Add to the list Concept Flux, who are creating a 20x20 sculpture garden with a programmable LED tree for when you need to take a break from the action and picnic in the park and You're On TV will bring a sculpture of televisions and videocameras Downtown and project passerby into the art in realtime. Rounding out the seven projects are DRY MTN, who will invite people to slip their wishes for Albuquerque into a clothed tetrahedron, which will be ceremonially burned with projected fire at the end of the night, “burning and baptizing our hopes and dreams for the city,” as Mandeville described.

As the two described the immensity of the festival, Segura paused to look over Central and said, “I've always dreamed of bringing a large scale event like this to the heart of Downtown, really bringing people here and … illuminating all the good things that we know are here and in Albuquerque as a whole.” Yet, both underlined the fact that this isn't anything new—there have been a plethora of events that have spoken to and inspired this one. “The thing that sets SOMOS apart is the scope and scale of the collaboration behind it. … We've all shared this vision for a long time, now we have the experience behind us to leverage and make it into the thing we want to see for our city,” Mandeville explained.

The breadth of that vision is hard to fully grasp without seeing its full scale. There will be four different music stages with national headliners following a bevy of local talent. On the main stage is Dillon Francis, rounding out the indie stage is Minus the Bear, and on the hip-hop stage, all of the original members of Deltron 3030 will close out the night. There will be a beer garden with 10 New Mexican breweries offering up some of their favorite craft beers, which might well be paired with some of the food that will be on offer, coordinated by Yelp. There will be vendors selling jewelry, art, crafts and other wares, as well as an extensive family area complete with a rock-climbing wall, petting zoo and skate ramp (here we should also mention that SOMOS is free for children 12 and under). “It's a showcase of all the good and positivity going on in Albuquerque right now,” Segura summarized.

Not the least of which is a creative take on highlighting nonprofits in the city. Instead of the booths where staff pass out fliers to anyone in reach that is so often par for the course, the coordinators of SOMOS have paired around 30 area nonprofits with artists, so that they can collaborate on inventive ways to share their mission with the community through take-away art projects or large, collaborative works that will have a life well beyond the event. While SOMOS costs $10 at the gate, everyone involved with the event is getting paid for their time and energy—and 50 percent of the day's profits up to $50,000 will be donated to a participating nonprofit, which attendees will vote on day-of, making the celebration a place of real gravity and influence for these organizations.

Taken as a whole, what SOMOS is offering is something wildly exciting. As Mandeville so brilliantly summed up: “This is a pivotal and exciting moment for our city. You always hear slow growth lamented but I think it is actually an opportunity for us, because we get to define what our growth and development looks like. … This is the way we want to move forward, and we want all voices at the table and represented in these conversations and illuminated in these kind of events. … That we share a common vision and as we're moving forward and discovering greater opportunities, that we're caring for all of our citizens in deep and meaningful ways, so that we can move into this space—this bright future—together.”

Mark your calendars for the first SOMOS celebration on Sept. 23, and find more information at somosabq.com.