Commentary: I was stuck in Albuquerque for a day recently. There were a lot of homeless people in Robinson Park, so I bought a bunch of pizzas to give away. Food. Warm – and unexpected.
When I returned with six pizzas, only a couple of tables were occupied. I took a pizza to each.
Driving down the block, I saw a guy with a backpack and a knit cap on the opposite side of the street. “Excuse me, are you hungry?” He was. Emphatically so. He thanked me profusely. When I asked where there might be others who could use a pizza he praised the community arts storefront I'd noticed earlier while hanging out at Java Joe's.
So I wandered back there. On the way I gave another pizza to two more gents walking in that direction. As I parked, a cheerful fellow came out. I held up the pizza. He said they usually gave out snacks, but could certainly give out pieces of pizza.
Inside, an art class was in progress. At least a couple-dozen people were painting or doing crafts or just hanging around. Folks of all ages and ethnic groups and at least two sexes. At one table a guy I'd passed on the street was eating the pizza I'd given him.
The Community Arts Center (formally, Offcenter Community Arts Project!), felt like a place people were grateful to be. It's funded by community donations and grants, including one from McCune. It's open to everyone – but especially those “at the lowest incomes or marginalized due to age, mental health issues, physical disability, immigration dislocation, or other complex social challenges.” The Art Rules posted around the place start with “Respect Each Other and Yourself,” “Come Ready to Work on Art,” and “Be Creative, Make Art and Have Fun,” but also stress cleaning up and delicately discourage stealing.
I gabbed with the cheerful guy for awhile. He was the Director, Robert Allen. He stressed the importance of “having a safe place to come and explore self-expression,” which is particularly important to “people who are marginalized.” Everyone sometimes feels isolated, and being able to share artistic self-expression can be incredibly healing. Agencies bring people to the Center, as sort of a half-way stop – or, as Robert calls it, “an integrative point for people with disabilities.” As a writer/photographer I know how essential to our person-hood art is. As someone visiting Albuquerque, I see clearly that a whole lot of people, some obviously marginalized but most not, are here working quietly, alone or together, in an particularly peaceful way.
The Albuquerque Community Arts Center is the first of 60-80 “art hives” around this country and Canada. There are thirty in Montreal alone. (The lady who started this one in 1996 later moved back to Montreal.
There oughtta be one in Las Cruces. We know what art and self-expression mean to people. We have a vibrant art community, great artists and teachers, and also folks who feel isolated or maginalized.
We have some vigorous and imaginative nonprofits. I know our city council has to emphasize grander stuff that supposedly will bring in big bucks and a bunch of jobs; but maybe it could look at hleping form an art hub, or something similar.
At a time when we need to help make life better for all, why not consider an art hive? It would enrich the lives of many citizens, and not just marginal ones.