2007 didn't have the flash of controversy surrounding all-ages shows of previous years. It was more like a slow illness. Blue Dragon shut its doors. The Curio opened and closed. Space Maybe winked in and out of existence. Sol Arts announced its closure just weeks ago.
Happily, The Stove cropped up. The Cell is going strong. And Winning Coffee is hosting some of the best shows around.
But what about that venue everyone was talking about, the result of prior controversy, modeled after Santa Fe's Warehouse 21? After waging a battle against all-ages shows held at some liquor-serving establishments (Isotopes Park and Journal Pavilion excluded), the city bought the Ice House property at 508 First Street NW and promised to turn it into a program like Santa Fe’s much-loved Warehouse 21. Funding for the project was threatened this year but has been restored.
Nora White runs MAP21, a local youth-operated magazine that's been homeless since the Blue Dragon closed. She worked as a volunteer to help put the Ice House space together for three years. She considers youth empowerment her life's work. But she quit the project this month because she's frustrated. "What our town is doing is backwards," she says.
White advocates a plan modeled after a youth space in Seattle called Vera, which she visited in early December to gather information. The gist of her research? Build the community first, then do the planning. "You have shows around town as a pilot program, then you build community support and you have youth empowerment and training. You have community on board before you open the place," she says. "Vera told me straight up: Make it simple for them. Shows, shows, shows and shows."
Youth, White says, don't go to planning sessions. They go to shows.
Michael Mehling, a planner with the City of Albuquerque, says he's on the same page as White, but "there's got to be some planning meetings. And it's particularly important because the design of this project is going to be youth-led." White's just not a meetings-person, Mehling adds.
Project organizer Katie Larntz sent Mayor Martin Chavez a letter when all the hubbub about all-ages shows reached a head in 2005. "You need to have a backup plan like Warehouse 21," she told him. He asked for a meeting and shortly thereafter the Ice House had been purchased. They call Larntz the foremother of the project.
Larntz says the planning meetings are gaining young people’s interest. "We're grabbing kids left and right from all walks of life," she says. Outreach events are in the works, maybe in Civic Plaza and maybe at The Cell. "We're hoping to go to the schools and have assemblies," she says. The task force, which only recently began maintaining a concrete lineup, is also trying to figure out if the performance space can be opened at the Ice House before the rest of the building is ready for use.
But White says the reason city planners don't understand her vision is because they aren't artists. "They're just city bureaucrats doing the best they can," she says. "Their plan is like how you plan anything else in the city. You have a whole bunch of planning meetings before anything happens."
The project's timeline includes conducting three performance events by the end of June 2008. The facility should be open in late summer.