Music Editor’s Note: On the day I showed up at Warehouse 508 —quite accidentally, I might add and ostensibly to research an article on the music education services available for Burque’s youth—most of the staff was just about to be unceremoniously laid off. A few minutes after I left the site, coolly relevant interview in pocket, shit got real.
The community and media response to this abrupt and rash move was brought to life by a group of local youth committed to seeing that the city-funded facility continues to serve its constituency in a supportive, inclusive way.
Thanks to coverage by our estimable Arts Editor, Alisa Valdes, the situation gained momentum: Ultimately the board of Warehouse 508, from NMX Sports, relented and rehired three out of four of the management staff that had been previously dismissed, including Freddy Lopez, Roberto Reyes and Mercedez Holtry. Though program director April Freeman was not rehired, the change of course is a huge victory that demonstrates the role community activism as a force to be reckoned with in the Duke City.
In the spirit of cooperation and new beginnings that the very justified correction—the reinstatement of vital staff—signifies, we’re presenting the interview with venue manager Roberto Reyes that was transcribed just before the fracas, as a reminder of how important this program and its staff are to the fabric of Burqueño culture.
I rushed toward First Street, frantic to get a story, imagining that I had a resemblance to at least one of the characters in Nightcrawler. That pretend identity had no use though as I was soon presented—present like—with one of the best ideas for a story ever—a whole music feature about Warehouse 508.
That’s the name of sprawling youth education, athletic and entertainment center on the northeast edge of Downtown at 508 First Street NW. Housed within are an indoor skate practice park, a snowboard and mountain bike storage area, a rock and roll stage and performance hall, a silk-screen studio with more harumph than the one at UNM fine arts and a computer lab outfitted with the latest computer and music production equipment available to human kind.
So, what’s not to write about I thought as I was introduced to Warehouse 508 director Thierry Gonzalez, an Albuquerque native who recently returned to serve his city, after serving in similar state-funded educational alternative programs over in Califas. Gonzales is an OG skater who got educated and intends to give back to his community.
He introduced me to longtime Warehouse 508 dude Roberto Reyes. Reyes, who has risen to the rank of venue manager, has been with the organization since its beginning 10 years ago—when he himself was coming up in Burque.
Reyes and Weekly Alibi chatted about how Warehouse 508 offers an essential alternative that produces informed citizens ready to participate in the civic culture around them.
Weekly Alibi: Let’s start by talking about music. Could you tell our readers about the musically inclined programs you offer at Warehouse 508?
Roberto Reyes: Definitely. We offer a a variety of different after school programming, typically from 4 to 8pm, Monday through Saturday. We offer some summer programs as well. But yeah, part of the curriculum available here is what I’d call musicianship classes. The classes we offer range from sound engineering to stage lighting, as well as teaching performing and recording techniques, applied music, writing rhymes for MCs, basics of DJing.
Wow! Who are some of the local notables teaching those classes?
It’s mostly young professionals that work within the city of Albuquerque. Like DJ Flowfader teaches our DJ class, he’s been at it for years!
Yeah man, he won the best DJ category in the 2017 Best of Burque poll!
Exactly, so to have that kinda force here is awesome. We have Freddy Lopez, an MC outta the Bay Area who transplanted out here, doing the MC class. Wake Self taught a few classes and Def-i, too. Lee, an excellent local engineer, does the sound engineering class and the rock star class.
Lee Sillery from Constant Harmony, the dude from Burt’s? Excellent!
He’s a great teacher!
So let me get this straight; you’re supporting artists in the local community as well as imparting very important skill sets onto a population of local students?
Exactly. So, more to the point we’re teaching transferable skills. When we’re teaching subjects like DJ skills or specific musical instruments—or for that matter videography, photography, live-sound mixing, performance lighting, putting on shows as a promoter—all of those skills come together as a set. Not every one is the “rockstar,” but still provides essential creative support. We’re trying to teach them by keeping that in mind.
What are the parameters for participation in one of your many programs?
We serve kids from middle school through college. The typical age-range for our programming is 11 through 20 years old.
Is there a lot of interest from the community in the programs you offer?
Yeah, definitely and a lot of kids who come here, they’re interested in a lot of different things. The cool part is that, maybe, they land here with one interest, but leave having learned a lot about a variety of subjects.
What sort of educational outcomes have you seen happen in this kind of creative environment?
There’s Gravity. He’s 17 now: He knows how to record. He knows how to produce a record. He knows how to DJ and does live mixing. He’s an active MC himself. He learned all these skills within two to three years at Warehouse 508. Now he’s getting all kinda gigs: Doing DJ shows, DJing Quinceaneras, recording and producing other local artists.
And the funding that supports this amazing learning environment and staff?
The City of Albuquerque provides the predominant base for our funding. But youth who attend can also fundraise to get what they need going. If they need specific educational materials, we hold shows. On top of that, on Fridays and Saturdays, we have youth-promoted, youth-driven clean and sober events with local bands.
Then that also provides a safe and creative space for young learners, amirite?
Exactly. We try to provide a soft, progressive approach to promoting shows. Here you can get your feet wet, put a show together, get 200 people through the door. Then you can move on to putting together bigger events.
How long have you all been offering these amazing experiential learning programs?
We opened our doors in 2009, thanks to Mayor Marty Chavez. He arranged to have the city buy this building and then community organizers met to decide on how to use this facility. In September we’ll celebrate our 10 year anniversary.
Besides music programs and a killer extreme sports curriculum, what else does Warehouse 508 offer?
Videography, photography, graphic design, screen-printing, mural painting, poetry and poetry performance, dance—I’m one of the instructors—and I started here as a student in the art program.
How do Alibi readers get their kids involved in one of your programs?
It costs money. Typically, there are 3 sessions per year, consisting of 8 to 10 week classes. It’s $50 per class, but we offer scholarships for anyone who is economically challenged.
Why do you think programs like yours are important in today’s cultural environment?
One, it’s a very versatile education, youth get what they need from it, practical skills are imparted. Another thing though is that having a viable alternative to home and school, where students can be themselves in a creative environment. Everything we offer is an inclusive alternative where you can become informed and immersed in creative culture. When I was a youth, I wanted to be a DJ, but that was unattainable because of the cost. A place like this offers a solution to that basic problem.