The city moves on its promise of a teen arts center unlike anything Burque's ever seen
By Amy Dalness
We often think of giving second chances to those who've committed some crime against society. Thieves, recovering addicts, white-collar criminals—most are given the opportunity to bring positive change to their communities. Why not offer the same chance to a building?
The Ice House operated under a veil of infamy. Often called an eyesore, a blemish on downtown Albuquerque, the all-nude strip club often came under the ire of city officials and law enforcement until its demise nearly two years ago. Today, the building, once a parlor of lust and forbidden fruit, bears the blossom of a different social service—a second chance in providing an artistic haven for the youth of Albuquerque.
When Mayor Martin Chavez announced his intention to purchase the old strip club for use as a teen center last year, he was met with criticism from members of the City Council. As reported in the Albuquerque Journal in May 2006, Council members encouraged the mayor to look to other unused city spaces to host "dance programs" and pointed to costly redevelopment issues such as asbestos and lead paint removal and structural problems. Despite their concern, Chavez bought the Ice House property at 508 First Street NW with funds from the city's budget for community redevelopment projects in blighted areas and publicly proclaimed his intentions to create a teen arts and entertainment center.
Now, nearly a year later, the only public mention of the project on the city level is a nebulous sentence on the mayor's website under "Mayor's Highlights," which directs information seekers to check out Santa Fe's Warehouse 21—a nationally recognized teens arts center—for more details as to what could be.
A Youth-friendly Future
Despite the seemingly idle appearance, plans are stirring for the mayor's insinuated teen center. An executive communication, EC-07-381, was introduced to the Albuquerque City Council on March 5, which includes a social service contract with the Santa Fe Teen Art Center (commonly known as Warehouse 21) to develop and operate a similar program in Albuquerque. The address of the proposed center: 508 First Street NW.
Valorie Vigil, the director of the City of Albuquerque's Department of Family and Community Services, is hopeful the contract (which her department proposed to the City Council) will pass. "We're very excited," she says. "The mayor is very excited to finally have the recommendation [at the Council]."
The contract was drafted out of a proposal submitted by Warehouse 21 (W21) in response to a request for proposals released on Nov. 9, 2006. The contract would require W21 to develop and operate a teen arts and entertainment center within the old Ice House building now owned by the City of Albuquerque while meeting certain goals such as assisting the city renovation of the building, hosting art/media/promotion classes and scheduling eight performance events within six months, though the exact terms of the contract may be changed within the Council.
While public discussion has only recently surfaced, the building and its potential haven't been ignored by the Albuquerque teen community. The cover of a recent edition of MAP21, a local youth-operated magazine, features a photo of the now abandoned Ice House doctored to display "MAP21" on signs along the building. Inside the ’zine, a young writer regales his vision of what the teen center could be, complete with details for a creepy haunted house fundraiser.
"There is nothing in Albuquerque that is youth-focused like Warehouse 21," Nora White says.
White, the program director for MAP21, has worked closely with the city on youth issues over the past two years, notably the mayor's Music Advisory Panel (MAP) created to discuss the mayor's proposed ban on all-ages concerts at venues that sell alcohol [see Spotlight, "This is the Beginning, Not the End," Sept. 1-7, 2005]. White continues to keep an open dialogue between the city and MAP21 and says creating a permanent teen center is the best way for MAP21 to reach more youth.
"The way it is now, we're on the buses, we're in the street, we're in the coffee shops, we're in the [Heights] community center once a week," she says. "The reason we actually need the spot is because it's centrally located; the youth can own it and we can spread."
W21 or Bust
While MAP21 has no interest in managing the space, White says they will work closely with the Albuquerque teen arts and entertainment center, but only if Warehouse 21 gets the contract.
"I will not do this if Warehouse 21 isn't managing it," she says. "Warehouse 21 gets youth."
If the City Council approves the request, the youth of Albuquerque could, in essence, own the building and have a direct influence on its future. Warehouse 21, which is currently in a transition of its own [see Newscity, "A New Era," April 27-May 3, 2006], is known for its success not only as an all-ages music venue, but for its adept program which allows for young people to manage, produce, teach, design and administer projects in a supportive, safe, drug- and alcohol-free environment.
"There is a lot of collaboration that W21 will do with all facets of the community that work with youth and get people involved and get going," Vigil says. She encourages interested members of the community to attend the Finance and Government Operations Committee meeting on April 23 to show their support and urge the Council to pass the contract as quickly as possible. If it passes the finance committee, it will go to the full Council as early as May 7 and be finalized on May 21—the next step to getting a Warehouse 21-like teen center in Albuquerque.
"Let's get this going, let's move it, we're excited about it," Vigil says. "This is going to be a professional-quality center [and] we want the youth to be instrumental."
In the meantime, White and the members of MAP21 will work to promote their magazine and youth arts however they can. "The best thing that could happen to Albuquerque youth is getting this teen center," White says. "It's not just beneficial; it's necessary."
The next City Council Finance and Government Operations Committee meeting is April 23 at 5 p.m. in the Council Committee Room on the ninth floor of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Government Center building (One Civic Plaza NW).
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