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Hopeful message: Artworks brighten empty spaces amid pandemic in ABQ, Santa Fe, Taos

MK’s ‘Oh, Honey,’ digital print on paper, is at 116 Central SW in Downtown Albuquerque. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Artists are often at the forefront of change.

With expression through various mediums, artists have sparked conversation through their pieces.

Downtown Albuquerque is going through an art renaissance today – and it has a lot to do with an artist’s touch.

Through destruction left behind from a riot or what’s left over from economic turmoil – beauty is rising.

Boarded-up storefronts have had the hand of artists putting a pop of color onto them, bringing a sense of community.

Yet tucked away in some of the empty storefronts are window installations.

This project is called “Windows on the Future.”

The event is the result of a collaboration among Vital Spaces, 516 Arts and The Paseo Project.

The regional series is an effort that supports working artists with stipend payments and brings vibrancy and vitality to central and northern New Mexico commercial districts while encouraging social distancing.

There are 60 storefronts in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos.

“Vital Spaces has been doing this for many years and transforming vacant spaces through art,” says J. Matt Thomas, of The Paseo Project. “We were planning on doing something before the pandemic. This needs to happen, to get our brilliant artists out there and getting paid. Their pieces add to our community and fills vacant space at the same time.”

According to organizers, maps are online and the public is invited to drive by to see the pieces. Storefronts include operating retail stores, empty office buildings, public libraries, galleries, a theater marquee sign, a wine bar and a hotel.

“We are grateful to business owners for this opportunity to show art publicly while indoor exhibition spaces remain closed,” says Jonathan Boyd, executive director of Vital Spaces. “It will make the art more accessible in general, since viewers can happen upon the installations while walking down the street or shopping.”

In early May, the organizations announced an open call to artists, creatives and art groups to submit proposals for window showcase installations.

“COVID-19 has changed the way we live, including the ways in which we interact with one another, with our cities and towns, and with art,” said Pamela Koster, CEO of Falling Colors and one of the funders behind this project. “Our hope is to provide an alternative way for visitors and locals to experience Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Taos by putting art in unexpected places.”

The theme was open to creative interpretation and after a jury process to review the 300 submissions, 60 artists were selected – 20 per city.

The winning installations take on a variety of topics and styles, from the realistic to the fantastic. They include two-dimensional and three-dimensional works, as well as video and projection, and performance art pieces.

The collaborating organizations gave a $500 stipend to each artist.

Thomas says art is a form of communication and art as a language can just permeate so much more.

“Whether it attracts you through aesthetic or through beauty or through a statement, it’s a powerful media,” he says. “In Taos, we’re seeing more vacancies in town. It takes a toll on the community, and it’s a visual reminder of what’s happening. When you can fill those windows with art and expression, it gives you a hopeful message that we’re still here. Artists are still making and creating.”

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