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From Chips & Salsa to Art

From Chips & Salsa to Art

'In time, the space will be recognized nationally as an art space. My hope is that it’s a legacy' - Sheri Crider

M&J Sanitary Tortilla Factory Space for Artists – Again

Microlender Provides Loan to Buy Building South of Downtown



Longtime residents of Albuquerque remember the M&J Sanitary Tortilla Factory at the south edge of Downtown as a high-powered lunch spot that displayed the works of local artists on its cooking-oil infused walls.

The restaurant, tortillas and sopapillas are long gone, but the art is making a comeback.

With the help of a new interior, new lighting and climate control, Sheri Crider and her business partner, Barbara Bell, are turning the vacant building at 403 Second St. SW into an art gallery and 15 artist studios.

Crider and Bell rented the old restaurant with hopes of purchasing the 13,700-square foot space. The renovation took about three months. Crider, a licensed contractor, did the work herself.

The $81,000 renovation involved tearing out storeroom walls and walk-in coolers. Heating and cooling were upgraded for artist work areas. The front area of the space, where the patrons once dined on posole and green-chile-smothered burritos, had sufficient climate control, but the rest of the factory was served only by a swamp cooler.

Crider started the renovations with the hope she and Bell could get a loan to purchase the space, but that wasn’t a certainty. “It’s hard to qualify for a loan being a low-budget art facility. It’s not a typical business,” Crider said.

But on Dec. 9, Crider and Bell were approved for a loan from Accion International – a nonprofit micro lender that serves low-income clients – that allowed them to purchase the building.

Since Crider first began providing a space for artists, her goal was to showcase artwork at no charge to the artist. Crider is an artist herself and knows the challenges.

“We have to make the artwork, pay for the materials, and then we have to rent a place to show it,” she said. Artists and curators must submit professional proposals for their shows to be featured at Sanitary Tortilla Factory.

The Sanitary Tortilla Factory collaborates with the UNM art department, 516 ARTS and the Albuquerque Museum of Art.

“In time, the space will be recognized nationally as an art space. My hope is that it’s a legacy. Something that lives beyond my life,” Crider said.

Notable art critic Lucy Lippard and Bill Gilbert, who started the Land Arts program at the University of New Mexico, serve as jurors for Crider’s and Bell’s planned Sanitary Tortilla Factory artist residency.

Crider moved to the Sanitary Tortilla Factory from her old space, SCA Contemporary Gallery at 525 Haines Ave. NW., because her landlord wouldn’t sell the space. “I would have never had any equity always giving money to someone else. Upgrades go to the landlord,” she said.

Crider is keeping the name of the old turquoise and blue building for her new art space because she values the history of the building.

Many remember the M&J Sanitary Tortilla Factory for its popular New Mexican food. The restaurant was featured in The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, and the New Yorker. M&J once catered a party hosted by then-President Bill Clinton.

The restaurant had “sanitary” in the name because the company used a tortilla-making machine, which in the mid-20th century was viewed as more sanitary than making tortillas by hand.

“The restaurant’s owners, Bea and Jake Montoya, had regular art shows, and artists remember their returned artworks smelling like tortilla chips,” Crider said.

Business suffered from construction on Lead and Coal avenues, and the M&J closed in 2004 after 30 years. A food manufacturing business occupied the space until 2012, and the building was empty until Crider took it over.

Sara MacNeil is an ABQ Free Press journalism intern.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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