Michael Abatemarco asks: What’s up with the Rai­l­yard’s art dis­trict?

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Michael Abatemarco

— gallery owner Gor­don Lawrie

@508 was al­most a derelict prop­erty. It re­flected on this whole area back here. It looked like a dump.

Ev­ery­thing the traf­fic will al­low

IF, like me, you hap­pened to see USA To­day ’s Read­ers’ Choice on­line con­test for travel that in­vited vis­tors to vote on the na­tion’s best art dis­tricts, you may have been sur­prised to see Santa Fe’s Rai­l­yard on the list as a con­tender. It isn’t that the area doesn’t merit vis­it­ing. Many would say, to the con­trary, that there are al­ways things worth check­ing out there. Over­all, though, it isn’t a very hap­pen­ing scene. Farm­ers Mar­ket and Fri­day-night gallery open­ings aside, some­thing is miss­ing from the Rai­l­yard this time of year, and that some­thing is peo­ple. Sure, it’s off-sea­son. Sure, there’s more go­ing on dur­ing the sum­mer months. But even in the sum­mer, foot traf­fic is so sparse that the area gets vi­brant only when some­thing ma­jor is hap­pen­ing at one of the big­ger venues: at SITE Santa Fe, per­haps, or El Museo Cul­tural de Santa Fe. Un­like its neigh­bor Ware­house 21, El Museo has never had much of an iden­tity of its own — even though, as host to the an­nual Cur­rents fes­ti­val, which show­cases new-me­dia artists each June, it’s where the sea­son launches. The gal­leries are still locked in a per­pet­ual shuf­fle, mov­ing from this lo­ca­tion to that — and for many of them there’s a dearth of shows from Jan­uary through May, a pretty good chunk of the year. To be fair, a few Rai­l­yard gal­leries con­tinue to do shows year-round, no­tably David Richard Gallery, which usu­ally opens more than one ex­hibit on a near-monthly ba­sis. Even SITE, a venue for more long-term, large-scale in­stal­la­tion shows and bi­en­ni­als, pro­vides some­thing to see be­tween ma­jor ex­hibits with SITE­lab, a small ex­hi­bi­tion space in the lobby with no ad­mis­sion charge.

I’m not one to lament the re­cent closing of Fly­ing Star Café on Mar­ket Street; I won’t miss the in­flated prices and dirty glasses and sil­ver­ware. But the in­ter­net hot spot did have its fans. For a brief mo­ment, I thought its closing was a sign of the times and wouldn’t have been sur­prised if other venues fol­lowed suit. But the Rai­l­yard is no ghost town. Other restau­rants and pubs do a steady busi­ness, even if traf­fic to the gal­leries is stag­nant. Rents tend to get higher rather than lower, with gal­leries un­able to make the cut closing up shop or mov­ing. That seems to be what hap­pened to sev­eral down­town and Canyon Road gal­leries in an ex­o­dus that saw Evoke Con­tem­po­rary, Le­wAllen Gal­leries, Char­lotte Jack­son Fine Art, and David Richard Gallery all head to the Rai­l­yard. Some see it as a trend to­ward es­tab­lish­ing a more cut­ting-edge, con­tem­po­rary fla­vor to the area — a prece­dent set by SITE Santa Fe — but those moves fol­lowed in the wake of sev­eral Rai­l­yard gal­leries (that were no less con­tem­po­rary) shut­ting down: Box Gallery, Ge­bert Con­tem­po­rary (which still has a Canyon Road lo­ca­tion), and Evo Gallery among

them. TAI Gallery man­aged to hang on by merg­ing with for­mer Del­gado Street art venue Eight Mod­ern to be­come TAI Mod­ern. The city has in­vested in the Rai­l­yard, spruc­ing it up over the years, and, while the crowds aren’t flock­ing there yet, it seems on the cusp of tak­ing on a new life: There are signs of hope in the Rai­l­yard.

Vi­o­let Crown Cinema’s planned open­ing of its 11-screen theater and restau­rant/bar com­plex at the start of May will bring com­pe­ti­tion for Santa Fe’s other movie the­aters and will prob­a­bly at­tract a lot of peo­ple, but its devel­op­ment has been a mixed bless­ing. Camino de la Fa­milia, the theater’s lo­ca­tion, is a con­struc­tion zone that has neg­a­tively af­fected foot and auto traf­fic to the lo­cal venues. How­ever, the cinema could re­vi­tal­ize the area when it opens. “The con­struc­tion has been wear­ing, but we are re­ally look­ing for­ward to this whole side of the tracks be­ing com­pleted,” said Avra Leo­das, direc­tor of Santa Fe Clay, a re­source cen­ter, stu­dio, and ex­hi­bi­tion space

for ce­ramists on Camino de la Fa­milia. “We’ve waited a long, long time. We can’t wait for the new road that’s go­ing to be be­tween what was Fly­ing Star and the north side of the cinema. There’s a walk­way be­tween the cinema build­ing and Santa Fe Clay that’s about to be com­pleted.”

It’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore ac­cess to Camino de la Fa­milia is no longer an is­sue. “The road will open at the end of this month,” said Gor­don Lawrie, the owner of @508, a new pop-up space on Camino de la Fa­milia and di­rectly be­hind REI. “Then you’ll have a high-traf­fic area.” In the mean­time, limited ac­cess is avail­able from Man­hat­tan Av­enue. Lawrie, who also owns Ei­dos Con­tem­po­rary Jew­elry in the San­busco Cen­ter, ne­go­ti­ated a lease on the old adobe, which was ex­ten­sively ren­o­vated to func­tion as a live-in work and ex­hibit space avail­able for short- or long-term rental. “It was al­most a derelict prop­erty,” he said of @508. “It re­flected on this whole area back here. It looked like a dump.” The for­merly di­lapi-

dated build­ing now has a fully fur­nished living room, kitchen, and bed­room as well as its own gallery. The new stu­dio/gallery of Na­tive artists Frank Buf­falo Hyde and Court­ney M. Leonard is ad­ja­cent to the prop­erty and shares its 508 street num­ber.

@508 is poised to be a boon to artists with­out cur­rent gallery rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Gal­leries typ­i­cally take 50 per­cent or more when their artists’ works sell; @508 gives many more artists the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate and show their work by hav­ing them pay rent and clean­ing costs but keep the money they make. If an artist wants to do some­thing short­term, like a pop-up show, they can rent the space for, say, two days, hang­ing their pieces on one day and show­ing them on the next. “If you want to get into a gallery, in­vite the gallery over and show them your work — not in a stu­dio set­ting, but on real walls,” Maria Levy, @508’s manager, said. The space is avail­able for crafts­peo­ple as well. “A craftsper­son has a cy­cle where they make work and have to be in the stu­dio,” Lawrie said. “It’s nice if you can have a con­ti­nu­ity, and in six weeks pro­duce a body of work. But then — what do you do with it?” Artists who live out of state or over­seas can ar­range for longer rentals and, be­cause of @508’s brand-new ameni­ties, use it also for living quar­ters for the du­ra­tion of their agree­ment. “You take it out of the art con­text. Let’s say you’re a chef, and you want to have a pri­vate din­ner. You can pre­pare it here, serve it here, and charge what­ever you charge,” Levy said. Artists can have their own pri­vate suite dur­ing the mar­ket sea­son and host a re­cep­tion, invit­ing their col­lec­tors.

One of the rea­sons lo­cal artists have been head­ing to the Siler Road area is to take ad­van­tage of its cheaper rents for live-in work stu­dios. That isn’t an op­tion in the Rai­l­yard. The av­er­age artist, or even the av­er­age small busi­ness owner, may not be able to af­ford to pay $20,000 in rent per year — the cost, ac­cord­ing to Lawrie, for space in the area. (I sus­pect the own­ers of the REI build­ing are ask­ing even more.) A walk up Mar­ket Street is like be­ing on a boule­vard not of bro­ken, but empty dreams: Its three large spa­ces in the REI com­plex are de­void of oc­cu­pants. I doubt it’s for lack of in­ter­est. Busi­ness spa­ces along Mar­ket Street have sat empty for years in a dis­trict that gets na­tional at­ten­tion, which sug­gests that some­thing fishy is go­ing on. “The premises are empty for a very good rea­son,” Lawrie said, hint­ing at de­vel­oper in­com­pe­tence. Lawrie con­vinced the own­ers of the San­busco Cen­ter to open its back en­trance, pro­vid­ing bet­ter flow to Camino de la Fa­milia.

The needed in­flux of vis­i­tors to the Rai­l­yard may come this spring with the open­ing of the Vi­o­let Crown (just ex­pect to pay for park­ing). In the mean­time, it couldn’t hurt to cast your bal­lot for the dis­trict on USA To­day ’s web­site (www.10best.com/ awards/travel/best-art-dis­trict/), where the vot­ing con­tin­ues through noon on March 2.

SITE Santa Fe; top, con­struc­tion site for the

Vi­o­let Crown Cinema

Op­po­site page, top left, @508 be­fore ren­o­va­tion; top

right and bot­tom, the fin­ished prod­uct

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