The mainstream art world can be dirty, deceptive and painfully exclusive, especially for scrappy unknown artists struggling to make names for themselves. For whatever reason, money too often trumps artistic merit, and nepotism seems to rule the day. Thankfully, events like this weekend's We Art The People Folk Art Festival exist to pull the arts back down to Earth where they belong.
The force behind the festival—this year as in the past—is the Offcenter Community Arts Project, a nonprofit organization that operates out of a little storefront on the west end of Downtown. Offcenter exists to provide artists opportunities to create and sell art in a communal environment. “I'm still a little in awe that so many people don't know Offcenter exists,” says Alexander Ferguson, the main coordinator of this year's festival. “It's such a great space. So many artists complain about the cost of studio space and art supplies. Offcenter eliminates all those excuses, letting people come down, use our supplies for free, then sell their art in our store.”
Ferguson views We Art The People as an extension of Offcenter's vision. “For one day a year,” he says, “you have this giant interactive studio to work in as part of a large, supportive community.”
To facilitate this, the organizers have again set up two art tents where anyone can come in, sit down and start making art on the spot. Likewise, Ferguson says, there will be another giant participatory art project constructed that day. Last year, it was a paint-by-numbers mural. This year, it'll be a gigantic tree that will be decorated by participants with all kinds of bottles. The tree is set up on wheels, so it can be rolled back to Offcenter when the festival is over. (I'm trying to get a clear picture in my brain of what this will actually look like, but I can't. I guess I'll just have to see it for myself.)
Afraid to get your precious little fingers dirty? No worries. There will be plenty to just gawk at, like the traditional and ever-popular parade of giant puppets at 11 a.m. And at 2 p.m., a fashion show consisting entirely of altered thrift store clothing, which can be purchased afterward for a song, with all proceeds going to Offcenter. And a hundred vendors. And live music by local musicians performed on two stages throughout the day.
“It's been fun to be on the inside,” says Ferguson, who's working on a masters at UNM in art education. “It takes a lot of people to get this together, working with the city, organizing volunteers. But the community has really come together for this.”
They're hoping for as big a turnout as last year, but they're a little worried. Last year, the National Poetry Slam competition was in town, and the organizers benefited from a huge influx of visiting poets, most of whom were staying at the Hotel Blue directly adjacent to the park. This year, without the benefit of that fortuitous event, organizers are pumping a little more juice into the publicity machine with the hope that they can whip up the crowds the event deserves.
Do your part and come on down. Bring the kids. Bring the dogs. Bring some clothes that you won't mind getting dirty.