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Keeping the vibe alive


A crowd gathered to watch “The Little Mermaid” at Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza this summer as part of a series of free public movie screenings. (ROBERTO E. ROSALES/JOURNAL)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Civic Plaza pulsed this summer with free movie screenings, “pop up” happy hours and other events that attracted thousands of people to the heart of the city.

Now organizers want grassroots help to keep the vibe alive even after the grant that helped propel the plaza’s renaissance runs out.

They’ve launched a new nonprofit called Friends of Civic Plaza intended to build community support to sustain the programming and continue making Civic Plaza a legitimate public gathering space.

“Everybody talks about (the programs) being a good idea and how it’s beneficial to Downtown and to the city — it’s essentially Albuquerque’s town square — so here’s an opportunity for people to support it by attending and coming to the events from time to time but (also) to buy in literally to the future success of events out there,” said Damian Lopez-Gaston of SMG, the company managing Civic Plaza.

SMG and DowntownABQ MainStreet, its partner in the plaza’s revitalization, are offering $25 “friends” memberships through the crowd-funding website People can also sign up during the Friends of Civic Plaza launch event on Friday.

Several factors have converged to aid the plaza’s revitalization, but a key component was a grant from Southwest Airlines. Worth about $100,000 in cash and another $100,000 in expert guidance, the grant went toward movie-projection equipment, landscaping, patio tables and chairs and other expenses associated with some of the new programming.

This summer saw the launch of ABQ Food Fridays — a regular happy hour featuring live music, craft beer and food from local chefs and food trucks — and weekly movie screenings. Those events are expected to continue through early October, weather permitting.

Other activities have included lunchtime food trucks on Tuesdays, weekly evening growers’ markets and a couple of festivals.

The goal was to create change in “lighter, quicker, cheaper” ways, said Valerie Hermanson, a DowntownABQ MainStreet board member. The schedule featured many smaller-scale events rather than just a couple huge blowout festivals. The happy hours have averaged 150-350 attendees, while the films bring in about 400 to 700 people, Lopez-Gaston said.

Hermanson said that the “friends” model has worked for other public places around the country and seemed like a viable model for Civic Plaza. The initial goal is to sign up 500 people.

The Friends of Civic Plaza event on Sept. 25 will feature live music, a “Wizard of Oz” screening, a related costume contest and kids’ activities. It’s open to anyone, though “friends” will get free tapas, a free drink and entry into a raffle for a Southwest Airlines ticket.

For more information, go online to

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