Aural Fixation: Art Groove Celebrates Life

Fundraiser Benefits Mental Health Awareness Month

Robin Babb
6 min read
Art Groove Celebrates Life
Muni Kulasingha (Courtesy Cinder Cone Media)
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This weekend, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Albuquerque’s Cinder Cone Media is hosting Art Groove: Free Your Mind and Shine, an art and music fundraiser unlike any other. The funds from the event will go to three mental health nonprofits—National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Compassionate Touch Network (CTN), and the New Mexico Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)—and will further their missions to provide crucial mental health services to those who need it most.

Headlining the musical portion of Art Groove is
James Whiton, one of the most talented bassists in contemporary rock music. Whiton, a Burque native who recently returned to live and work in the Duke City, has played with Tom Waits, Keith Richards and a host of other big names. He’ll be performing a solo looping set as well as playing with a trio he formed especially for the occasion. Whiton’s trio includes Muni Kula and Greg Williams, both from Burque band Le Chat Lunatique. Whiton does “a version of Billie Jean that will blow your mind,” says Howard Wulkan of Cinder Cone Media.

Also performing is
Rock N’ Art Fusion, a team comprised of speed painter Michael Ostaski and composer/musician Howard Wulkan. RNAF is a performance best seen live to properly appreciate—Wulkan plays a live original score while Ostaski paints a 6’ x 7’ picture in about 7 minutes flat. The painting will then be immediately auctioned, with funds going to the organizations mentioned above.

Several other local musicians from the Cinder Cone Media roster will be performing, including breakthrough artists Ryan Wenze (who’s just released his debut EP,
Embers), and CAID, a hip-hop artist who focuses on the positive and making it through hard times.

On the visual art side of the spectrum, Art Groove will be auctioning many artworks by local and national artists, including an incredible piece by Rassouli, UNM graduate and internationally acclaimed fusion artist. If you fancy yourself an art collector, Art Groove is certainly the place to be this weekend.

When asked about her reasons for organizing Art Groove, Cinder Cone Media’s Lainie Wulkan opened up to me about the ways suicide has impacted her: “I lost my previous partner to suicide. During my healing process, I learned that May was Mental Health Awareness Month, and I decided to make something happen.”

And make something happen she did. As Cinder Cone Media, Lainie and her husband Howard organized Art Groove as a benefit event for mental health and suicide prevention nonprofits and then watched as dozens of other sponsors flocked to the cause. “It’s showing me how important this [issue] is, the fact that so many people are pitching in,” said Lainie. “We got so much art [to auction], too! People sent art in from all over the country. I was really amazed.”

Suicide and mental health issues have always been widespread and serious, but only recently has national media begun to give them the attention they are due. After the death of Robin Williams in 2014, editorials about his long-hidden struggle with depression spilled across the internet, proving that the time for that dialogue is now.
In New Mexico alone, one person dies from suicide every 19.5 hours on average, based on 2014 data from the Center for Disease Control.

When she spoke about mental health and suicide prevention at an Albuquerque school recently, Wulkan asked the assembled students if any of them had been affected by suicide. “Every single one of them raised their hands,” she said. “I was floored.”

The lack of mental health resources nationally—and in New Mexico in particular—is a dire problem for those who find themselves or their loved ones without the help they need. The funds raised by Art Groove will go toward three of the nonprofits doing the most locally to provide some of those highly necessary services in Albuquerque. Compassionate Touch Network, a Santa Fe-based organization, is “committed to promoting community mental health and social advocacy through education, healing, and the arts.” They seek to end the stigma around mental illness and suicide by sharing stories through the written word and visual arts.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a volunteer association of hundreds of local affiliates and state organizations, all working together to provide support and education about mental illness, advocate for the rights of the mentally ill, and provide assistance with a toll-free number that offers referrals, information and a friendly ear.

The New Mexico chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, based in Albuquerque, conducts research and public education about the causes and ways to help prevent suicide, and advocates for policies that provide funding for mental health programs and suicide prevention training for schools and clinics.

There will be a memorial at the event for those lost to suicide or mental illness. Feel free to bring a photo or memento to add to the altar.

The Friday event is headed towards being one of the biggest held at Tortuga, relates gallery curator Pax Garcia and one can also buy tickets to the Art Groove After Party on Sunday, also at Tortuga Gallery from 1-4pm. Many of the same artists will be performing their sets on Sunday, with the addition of a hip-hop showcase by several UNM students.

As serious as the matters at hand are, Lainie wants Art Groove to be a celebration—a recognition that being in the midst of dark times doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and have fun. After all, people struggling with depression and mental illness could use a little levity and community as much as, if not more than, the rest of us. “We all go through rough patches, and it’s important not to ignore that. We need to come together and support each other during those times,” says Lainie.


It all goes down this Friday evening, 5-9pm, and Sunday, 1-4pm at
Tortuga Gallery (901 Edith SE). You can buy tickets at or by contacting Tortuga Gallery at 505-506-0820. If you can’t make it out this weekend, consider donating to one (or all!) of the nonprofits on their own websites.
Art Groove Celebrates Life

James Whiton

Courtesy Cinder Cone Media

Art Groove Celebrates Life

Howard Wulkan

Courtesy Cinder Cone Media

Art Groove Celebrates Life

Cinder Cone Media

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