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 V.13 No.36 | September 2 - 8, 2004 

Culture Shock

It kind of feels like a bomb has been dropped in Albuquerque, leaving a charred, smoking hole right in the middle of Downtown. Financial problems have motivated Magnífico—one of Albuquerque's best nonprofit arts organizations—to close its Downtown gallery at 516 Central SW. The organization's board also decided to lay off its three-person staff.

What does this mean? I'll tell you what it means. It means Downtown Albuquerque has taken one giant step backward. For years, 516 Magnífico Artspace hosted some of the most interesting contemporary art shows in town. The space also added a touch of class to the area, which, in case you haven't noticed, Albuquerque's Downtown sorely needs.

I'm still deeply puzzled by how all this came to pass. I mean, I understand the basic mechanics of the whole disaster. The organization has been suffering financially for a while. The recent loss of a city contract and several grants left Magnífico on life support.

But why, pray tell, didn't the board put a call out to the community? Why didn't it do more to publicize the fact that it either needed more money from art supporters in town or it would soon go the way of the slide rule?

You might recall that Musical Theatre Southwest was in a similar position a few months ago. That organization pulled out all the stops, begged for money far and wide, fought tooth and nail, and managed to keep itself afloat. Why didn't Magnífico try something similar?

According to Calinda Lee, Magnífico's interim managing director, the board did make numerous appeals to its "closest friends and most likely candidates." It decided against making a broader public appeal for support, because board members felt that this would just delay the inevitable.

Sooner or later, the thinking went, the expense of keeping open the gallery Downtown would've placed the organization even further in debt. Lee says that Magnífico wanted to keep itself alive and keep a good name in the community.

I have to say, though, that without the gallery, Magnífico is a faded shadow of its former self. Thankfully, HDIC, the owner of the building, hopes to lease the space to another arts-related business. That's a small consolation, and there are still several good galleries and art spaces in and around Downtown. Yet this doesn't trump the fact that the loss of 516 Magnífico Artspace is almost too big to stomach.

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