A derelict Central Avenue nightclub would become a park complete with shade trees, painted sidewalks and community art if residents of Albuquerque’s International District get their way.
The city and collaborating organizations received a $150,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant almost a year ago to bring art and creative projects – along with more public spaces – to the area, which has been known in the past for its high crime rates and low economic status.
More than 150 people filtered through various events recently as part of ID Live!, a three-day celebration of the district, or the area between Lomas and Gibson on the north and south and San Mateo and Wyoming on the east and west. The festival was host to an international art garden, food trucks and a short-films showing, among other things.
A group of residents met every Sunday since January to come up with ideas for the park.
“All of these people actually live in the neighborhood and this is what they’ve been working on, they’ve been envisioning these ideas,” said the city’s public art program manager, Sherri Brueggemann.
Students from the University of New Mexico’s architecture and planning school also worked on ideas for changing the look and feel of the neighborhood.
They suggested everything from yarn knit around trees, public art made from trash and color-canvassed sidewalks to a yearly international food festival. Their illustrations were on poster boards hung from a makeshift arbor in the lot near Alcazar and Central.
“I think historically this neighborhood has experienced a lot of challenge and a lot of flux … it’s a really potent place and has a lot of positivity to it, so now they have to figure out how to create a community that celebrates all of this as opposed to being in conflict,” said graduate architecture student Valentine Antony, who was looking at the display Saturday. “It used to be called the ‘War Zone.’ Who wants to go to the War Zone? But the International District, that sounds pretty cool.”
A few blocks away on Bell Street, more UNM students had congregated to host a “pop up party.” That means the stage, flags and announcement boards are completely portable and easily assembled, according to UNM assistant professor Moises Gonzales, whose students worked on the project last semester. The party kit was going to be left with local residents, Gonzales said.
“This area is probably one of the hardest urban surfaces in Albuquerque, meaning there’s not a lot of parks, there’s a lot of multi-family housing, so the idea is how can you create civic space?” Gonzales said. “With a kit that fits in the back of a pickup truck … they’ll own it, and they can just create these spaces – the public plaza on the street if you will – from time to time.”
The kit included signs and sculptures engraved with the words “Bell Street.”
“We want to create better urban space, even if it’s just for a day,” Gonzales said.