Recently at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, students unveiled three conceptual art proposals for the Bridge Boulevard entrance to the valley
BY MEGAN KAMERICK
Humberto Medina is from the South Valley, and he knows it has a reputation among people who don’t live there.
“I feel like the South Valley is portrayed as ghetto, but as I grew up, I felt that’s not the fact,” Medina says. “People are really caring for each other and look out for each other.” Medina is part of a team of students at Working Classroom that hopes to bring more holistic visions of the South Valley into our collective consciousness through public art. The nonprofit has been working with South Valley MainStreet and Bernalillo County Cultural Services for the past four months, exploring the history of the area and listening to residents describe why it’s so meaningful to them.
Recently at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, students unveiled three conceptual art proposals for the Bridge Boulevard entrance to the valley. These pieces were inspired by a combination of listening sessions with community members and research and collaboration with New York-based artist Ronny Quevedo. One piece imagines sculptures of Mexican gray wolves enclosed within a structure of adobe and vigas. The lobos would transform from vital wolf to a skeleton to convey the nature of extinction.
Another proposed concept includes hanging murals dedicated to Spider Woman, the Navajo weaving goddess who represents balance and unity. Working Classroom student Lora Werito is Navajo, and she wanted to acknowledge the Native roots intertwined with Hispanic and Chicano heritage in the valley.
“I also wanted to include a sand painting of our creation story, where my people struggled through three different worlds before we got to the current one and how we stuck together as a people and fought against the troubles together,” Werito says. That relates to the South Valley because “we’re unified people.”
This public art is part of a multimillion-dollar overhaul planned for the Bridge Boulevard corridor, from Eighth Street near the cultural center to Coors Boulevard. It will involve road improvements, landscaping, lighting and signage. Bernalillo County officials asked attendees at the cultural center event to weigh in on possible art projects along the corridor. The research and input gathered by Working Classroom will be used to create a public art plan for the corridor, says Carrie Moritomo, cultural services marketing specialist with Bernalillo County. The students also worked with Partnership For Community Action and Creative Albuquerque.
Bernadette Miera, cultural services manager with Bernalillo County, spearheaded the idea of including art in this redevelopment project by applying for a $75,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. “It’s really important as we start looking at how this whole corridor will be redeveloped, the place-making concepts that will come in, the art that will eventually be on this corridor and seeing these youth through our public art process,” Miera says.
The students will present their concepts to the Bernalillo County Public Arts Board, which also will put out a call for proposals. The idea is to seek additional funds to create art for installation in the corridor. Students will continue to be involved, she says.
According to Miera, the voices of young people often are missing at public meetings. “Hopefully this gives them a feel for the community process and inspires them enough to keep them engaged in the community – and understand the importance of being engaged in the community and helping to shape it,” she says.
The students received stipends and signed contracts to help them build professional skills. Part of the project included temporary billboards with phrases such as “South Valley is home” or questions such as “What traditions have you kept alive?” They also worked with several businesses on Bridge, including Price Transmissions, Taller Sergio Grajeda and C&L Transmissions, to help them create new signs.
“Our mission is getting youth involved in community and social action and education, and so we are teaching them through our concepts a lot of things they can use in life,” says Rosalie López, visual arts program director at Working Classroom. They’ve learned about design and type and color ordinances, she adds.
And they’ve learned a lot about their own neighborhood as well. “I feel good that I’m giving back to the community and that I got a chance to do something so important to someone as fixing up their sign – and also just to get a chance to feel like a grownup,” Werito says. “It gave us a chance to feel professional.”
Esteban Aguilar says every design has a history behind it. “I pass Bridge Boulevard almost every day,” he says. “It feels good to, you know, just pass by and see signs that we actually worked on.”
The process created a chance to share stories among generations, Lopez says.
Richard Meadows hopes to collaborate with the students on other such projects. He’s the executive director of South Valley MainStreet, which is one of four MainStreet projects in Albuquerque and 37 around the state. The program works with business owners and residents to revitalize commercial corridors. “It’s supposed to be about self-reliance and volunteerism and community, especially young people being part of revitalization, rather than a top-down gentrification model,” Meadows says.
MainStreet received a grant from PNM, and 40 volunteers recently painted four buildings on Bridge just over the Rio Grande Bridge. The group also is working on a pop-up visitor center in one of the buildings, and Meadows hopes to include Working Classroom on that project. MainStreet is also about fostering the creative economy, he says. “Rather than ‘Let’s bring Tesla to Albuquerque,’ let’s invest in the businesses we already have – our local growers and local artisans and other business,” Meadows says. “Let’s invest in local industries, and that’s going to be our base economy for the South Valley.”
Humberto Medina is from the South Valley, and he envisions a future of new businesses and homes along this corridor. He just graduated from the ACE Leadership High School, and he is interested in being part of that future. “I want to manage these projects,” he says.
Megan Kamerick is an independent radio and print journalist and producer at New Mexico PBS.