It seems doubtful that anyone has ever taken a stroll for the sake of strolling through the Downtown alleyway between Central and Gold. It’s a claustrophobic, imposing corridor that runs from Seventh to Third Street, and it’s not at all appealing. Indeed, it might even strike you as repellant and a little bit scary. But a group of young Albuquerque artists aim to make the alleyway inviting and beautiful—and to give you a reason to wander it.
The Alley Art Mural Project is the product of an evolving partnership between Warehouse 508 and 516 ARTS. Both nonprofits are dedicated to community enrichment, and the most significant common thread is each organization’s commitment to providing venues for, encouraging involvement in and expanding access to visual arts. When 508 Director Amy Dalness and 516 Education Coordinator Barbara Geary met a few months ago, they discussed how to give the youths served by 508 an opportunity to participate in the exhibition schedule at 516—and hatched the idea for the mural project.
Dalness and Geary structured Alley Art around a six-week workshop with the intention that the project could recur cyclically and correspond to each of 516’s exhibitions this year. Juli Cobb, an accomplished artist, signed up to be the inaugural project mentor. The trio put out a call for applications, focusing on 15- to 21-year-olds and eventually enrolling five participants: PAPA’s Amanda Sinclair, 16; CNM’s Miles Anderson, 17; and West Mesa High students Ashley Montaño, 18, Kaitlyn Archuleta, 17, and Christian Moreno, 17. They also engaged UNM College of Fine Arts student Mitchell Olson and Kevin Vigil, a BFA grad from the Ringling College of Art and Design, as mentor artists.
The group’s vision is being realized in the same way it was conceived—cooperatively.
The participating young artists collaborated on the conception, design and execution of the large-scale work, which they then began installing on the back alley wall of 516 ARTS. The theme parallels 516’s current show, Form & Function, which includes works of art that have a day-to-day practicality—such as rugs, light fixtures, scarves and wallets. The muralists’ response involves elements that imaginatively echo that beautiful utility—cogs, butterfly wings and USGS satellite images, among others.
With Cobb’s encouragement, the mural evolved into a mixed-media installation piece: part painting, part collage, part sculpture. Inspired by Form & Function exhibitor Cal Lane, who plasma cuts lacey designs into utilitarian metal objects like cans and shovels, project supervisor Mitchell Olson planned to carve a tree silhouette out of a steel drum barrel. Channeling exhibitor Julia Barello, whose work includes asterisk-shaped earrings constructed out of dyed MRI film, Ashley Montano composed three large three-dimensional gear cog of cut foam core covered in multicolored cloth.
The group’s vision is being realized in the same way it was conceived—cooperatively. But their blueprint would be a pipe dream were it not for the generosity of Albuquerque businesses. Cobb, Dalness and Geary received dozens of cans of paint from Bond Paint Co., Diamond Vogel Paints, Kwal Paint, and the True Value Hardware at Lomas and San Mateo. John McClendon of Old World Finishes (an artist himself) was especially helpful, providing brushes, painting and tracing equipment so that the group had the necessary supplies to carry out their ambitious plan. Upon learning that the youngins were going to use barrel and grillwork doors for the art project, Dave Sova of US Metal Recycling (and his eponymous photography studio) donated the materials. And Jerry Miller at Factory on 5th is both advising Olson’s metalworking and giving storage space for project materials.
The commitment of the participants, the devotion of Olson and Cobb, the support of sponsors Warehouse 508 and 516 ARTS are astounding. The scale of the project—coordinating participants, procuring materials—is enormous, and the timeline is surprisingly short, but their diligent enthusiasm ensures that it will be completed for the Feb. 27 unveiling. This is a true community service initiative, one that’s uniting individuals to improve the whole of our shared environment.