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Creative Capital: ABQ Rising

Creative Capital: ABQ Rising

'Art is vital to mediating that important part of our identity' - Manuel-Julian Montoya


Albuquerque is a constellation of art, culture and innovation. Our city reverberates with the talent and passion of those who live here.

This makes for an incredible opportunity: Through thoughtful development strategies that focus on celebrating and honoring what makes this place so unique, we have the potential to raise the conditions and quality of life for everyone in our community.

Our urban landscape feels defined as much by our multicultural makeup as by the creativity of our individual citizens. We see it illustrated everywhere. In hand-painted shop signs, vintage neon and contemporary murals. Lowriders, tattoos and street art. Galleries, museums and maker’s spaces. Theatre companies, aerialist collectives and dance institutes. Slam poetry, live music and pop-up shows. Adobe, Victorian and modern buildings. Breweries, coffee shops and restaurants. Locally owned retail, farmers’ markets and start-ups.

We are bursting at the seams with vision, and we are channeling that energy to magnify positive outcomes.

Though we sometimes hear its “absence” lamented in public discourse, we do have the intellectual capital to compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy.


Artist David Santiago

Davis Santiago is the artist behind the cover image of the Aug. 24, 2016, issue of ABQ Free Press

Manuel-Julian Montoya, Ph.D. and professor of creative enterprise at UNM’s Anderson School of Management, emphasizes: “New Mexico is a special place because its diversity and its heritage express very different realities that co-exist with one another. Our artists, poets, scientists, and engineers all represent the collision of art and science in a state that is equal parts first-world economy and emerging economy. This is why the phrase ‘Land of Enchantment’ still matters – magic and fantasy are modes of expression that play a crucial role in making sense of a world that is sometimes beyond our senses.”

So how does Albuquerque embrace these roots and cultivate “enchantment” as a sustainable asset, resource and benefit?

Montoya suggests, “Albuquerque, as the urban center and economic hub of the state, is also the receiver of the fantastic realities that make us timeless and ‘in-between’ [economies]. Art is vital to mediating that important part of our identity, and it is what makes us resilient and relevant in a fast-changing world.”

The City of Albuquerque has long recognized this. Paraphrasing her predecessor, Gordon Church, Sherri Brueggemann, manager of the city’s Public Art Urban Enhancement Program, said: “The city’s commitment to program and fund arts and culture contributes to how the city defines itself and nurtures its character and soul.”

Many of our municipal policies reflect this commitment and, with one of the largest cultural services departments and one of the oldest public art programs in the country, we have a relatively strong existing infrastructure to build on.

This framework is enhanced by nonprofit organizations such as 516 Arts, Artful Life, Creative Startups, Harwood Art Center, Keshet Ideas and Innovation Center, MediaDesk, SINC, TIASO, We Are This City, WESST and Working Classroom, to name just a few.

They employ diverse approaches and serve diverse population segments. Yet, their mission work demonstrates shared values of building capacity for creative entrepreneurs and entities, increasing educational and professional development opportunities, growing equal access and financial mobility, expanding audiences and identifying new markets, and contributing to the vibrancy and vitality of our city. Ultimately, they strive for deep social impact.

Key actors in our private sector recognize that “the role of arts, culture, and creativity is critical to community and economic development,” said David Silverman, principal of Geltmore LLC and board chair of Downtown ABQ MainStreet. “Authentic and vibrant places can be found where the arts are flourishing. Any good real estate developer understands that. We see Downtown Albuquerque, in particular, as very ripe with opportunity, especially as more support is provided to engage the arts and culture community as catalysts in our revitalization efforts.”

There is robust evidence of the foundational role that arts and culture play in our economy. UNM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that arts and cultural industries in Albuquerque/Bernalillo County generate more than $1.2 billion in annual revenues and approximately 20,000 jobs.

The study, issued in 2007 and available on the bureau’s website, also made recommendations for how to leverage and grow the impact of our creative sectors.

Similar recommendations were extended statewide in the bureau’s most recent creative economy report, published in 2014. Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell and Gillian Joyce asserted: “A successful long-term strategy must involve a balance of policies that preserve and renew the state’s unique social and cultural environment with initiatives that avail its creative professionals with the energy and opportunities that globalization and emerging technologies offer.”

Four broad priorities are identified – which echo and reinforce the above mentioned nonprofits’ work and, additionally, call out the need for increased funding and investment.

Local leaders are pursuing integrative research and policy initiatives. U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s office drafted and is preparing to sponsor the federal CREATE Act, which would provide comprehensive resources for entrepreneurs in the arts to transform the economy.

The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and UNM regularly convene an arts and culture working group of private-sector and public-sector representatives. The city council approved the Arts and Cultural District Plan for Downtown Albuquerque MainStreet.

As they develop their work for Bloomberg Philanthropies, ABQ iTeam identified “homegrown commerce,” particularly in the creative fields, as a potential focal area.

The Albuquerque Public Schools Office of Innovation is pursuing a partnership with The Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child Initiative, which would result in a five-year strategy for implementing arts education as part of the universal K-8 core curriculum.

We all know Albuquerque faces an array of profound challenges. Our extraordinary creative culture can serve as an engine of meaningful and lasting change – and because it exists by virtue of our people, it affords us, each and together, the chance to define exactly what that change looks like.

About the Cover Artist: David Santiago

Devoid of clothing, the women of St Jame are known for being nude. However, a closer examination reveals a deeper level of exposure. Each work is built atop a wood panel hand-picked by the artist, with a variety of mediums – primarily charcoal and pastel, but also acrylic, ink and makeup, bringing them to life. Yet, even staring back at you, blushing with awareness, they reveal a transparency preserved despite the layers of mediums, a hint of wood grain that recalls what they are really made of. This inception of meaning, details within a detail, continues across each face – their freckles, sun spots, are actually stars in disguise, a constellation hidden somewhere within their array. Even the artist’s signature “St Jame” is something of a puzzle, a derivation of his last name – St Jame > Saint James > Santo Yago > Santiago.

Santiago was born and raised in Albuquerque and spent his early years as a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, rolly-backpack-pulling superfan of the film “Titanic.” Eventually, he forsook the former and embraced the latter, becoming a charcoal artist specializing in female portraiture.

A graduate of the University of New Mexico with a B.A. in architecture, Santiago discovered many of the techniques and mediums he still uses, as well as a love of art, and work ethic that can only be born from architecture school’s rigorous sleep-depriving demands. Santiago is the exclusive artist of Tractor Brewing Co. and is a featured artist of We Are This City. He has shown and been published nationally.

For Santiago, art is a passion, constantly evolving through artistic experimentation and experience. Each piece is defined not only as a final product but also through the process, materials and ideas that went into its creation. In observing a glimpse of its wood-grained origin within the final product, viewers are allowed to be part of the artistic journey and to reflect on their own path to that moment. It allows them to delve deeper, be reflective, exposed, naked with the art.


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Albuquerque’s definitive alternative newspaper publishing an inquisitive, modern approach to the news and entertainment stories that matter most to New Mexicans. ABQ Free Press’ fresh voice speaks to insightful and involved professionals who care deeply about our community.

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Albuquerque’s definitive alternative newspaper publishing an inquisitive, modern approach to the news and entertainment stories that matter most to New Mexicans. ABQ Free Press’ fresh voice speaks to insightful and involved professionals who care deeply about our community.