The vibrant white and the colorful imagery is a sensory sensation as soon as you walk into the new Through The Flower Art Space in Belen.
As visitors step into the new space at 107 Becker Ave., they’re met with two vivid walls leading to the permanent room of photos and narration depicting the history of internationally-acclaimed artist Judy Chicago and her husband, photographer Donald Woodman, in the Hub City.
These walls are dressed with custom-made wallpaper designed by Chicago — one portraying the rising sun in the Land of Enchantment and the other the enduring sunset.
Visitors will be able to experience all this and more during the grand opening of the TTF Art Space in a weekend-filled event on Saturday and Sunday.
“My hope is what it’s intended to do — be the anchor for the economic development of Belen and for the development of the Belen Arts and Culture District,” Chicago said of the new Art Space. “We want to bring people here and introduce people to the really cool things and people of Belen.
“We need more a sense of community and models of people working together to accomplish change and positive things, and we would not have done this without the outpouring of community support.”
Formulating a plan
It’s been a whirlwind of sorts for Chicago and Woodman’s journey to open the new Art Space in Downtown Belen, but after nine months of fundraising, planning and renovating the building, the two Belenites are ready to unveil their long-awaited vision.
It was last fall when Belen Councilor Ronnie Torres and Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova asked Chicago and Woodman if they’d consider opening a museum.
“We’ve known Ronnie for so long ... and we knew he had always dreamed of reviving Becker Avenue,” Chicago said. “He was starting to make progress when he was mayor but the 2008 recession hit.”
When Chicago and Woodman were approached with the idea, they were both a little hesitant, saying they were very busy.
“We never really thought about how it would impact Belen,” Woodman said. “Ronnie came back and said we had restored the hotel and had been active in the community. Jerah said we were important in the community and he didn’t want to lose us.”
Because Through the Flower doesn’t have a lot of employees, Chicago and Woodman agreed to the idea of the Art Space and renovating the building if the city would agree to help with hiring a part-time employee. During several city council meetings at the end of last year, several community and church leaders criticized Chicago’s art — what Chicago calls the “Belen Brouhaha” — saying they didn’t want “that sort of art” displayed in the Hub City.
Chicago and Woodman were in Brazil at the time of the last meeting, watching what was being said on a live Facebook feed. Needless to say, they were beyond disappointed.
“It was actually very painful,” Chicago said. “I had just delivered a lecture at one of the major museums in Brazil to a crowd of about 600 and I got a standing ovation, and I’m watching these people say these things on Facebook. It wasn’t just what they said in the council meeting but in the comments.
“They didn’t even know me and they felt they had the right to say the most outrageous things about me and my work. That’s when we decided to rescind our offer.”
“That brouhaha kept happening — it made all the papers, it was on television, it was covered by art newspapers and magazines and it was even in the New York Times,” she said. “From what people said to us, they didn’t like that Belen was being presented like a backward town.”
But when they returned home, they were met with the most surprising and wonderful comments from different people. As soon as they got off the plane in Albuquerque and were going down an escalator, one woman who was on her way up, told them, “We want you to open your museum!”
That started happening more often — people on the streets would come up to them and offer their support and encouragement, which gave them hope for the future of the Art Space.
It was a small group of people, including Torres and Cordova, who once again convinced Chicago and Woodman of the worthiness of the project. They offered and put together a fundraiser for the TTF Art Space, which along with a GoFundMe fundraiser and Cordova’s donation of his mayoral salary was enough to renovate and now open the space.
“I talk about the power of art, and how it’s being demonstrated here and people are coming together around art,” Chicago said. “And that has been what my whole life has been about. It’s been fantastic.”
The new TTF Art Space
Chicago and Woodman say the Through the Flower Art Space can demonstrate the many ways in which art can educate, inspire and empower viewers.
The Art Space, which will serve as a cultural anchor for Belen’s burgeoning arts and culture district, will have a permanent display of works by Chicago and Woodman, as well as space for rotating art exhibitions and a study resource center, which includes books, periodicals and online access.
Not only is there a room devoted to the couple’s history, their collaborations and their devotion to the Hub City, the Art Space is filled with original work from both Chicago and Woodman.
“The small exhibition is about Donald and me and our life in Belen,” Chicago said. “The committee thought it was important that people know how long we’ve been here, and realize that we built all this ourselves and we built a life in Belen.”
Docents and volunteers have been trained to welcome and inform visitors, and they have hired Amanda Dannáe Romero as the executive director of TTF Art Space.
“I am excited to support the Through the Flower Art Space at this pivotal juncture in history, as it will lay the foundation for a thriving and inclusive arts and cultural community here in Belen,” Romero said.
One of the most striking images in the middle of the Art Space is a sculpture, “Find It In Your Heart,” made from Chicago’s model by a professional woodcarver.
The statue is the final piece in “Resolutions: A Stitch in Time,” which is a series of painted and needleworked images created by Chicago and a group of highly-accomplished needleworkers. The statue is adorned also with embroidery — a stitched heart, and a thread of Japanese gold work springing from it which winds down the body. Lettering in multiple languages emphasizes the universality of the values celebrated in the series.
And if you want to take a little piece of Chicago home with you — scarves and clothing to books and skateboard — a small but engaging gift shop has been created in the Art Space.
“We know how art spaces have been the basis for development in many cities,” Chicago said.
And with that, the TTF Art Space will be open from noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, the same hours and days as the Belen Harvey House Museum.
“We want it to have similar hours to make it convenient for visitors,” Woodman said.
The inaugural exhibition will feature a selection of Chicago’s and Woodman’s art created in New Mexico.
The Art Space will kick off its “Flower Friday,” a public lecture series on Friday, Aug. 23, with Chicago in conversation with art writer Jori Finkel, who covers art for The New York Times, from Los Angelas, and who is a correspondent for The Art Newspaper. Her new book, “It Speaks to Me,” features 50 artists on artworks they find inspiring from museums around the world.“Those are the things we’re going to do,” Chicago said. “We’re going to have changing exhibitions, we’re going to be a resource center.”
Chicago said she hopes people — especially the youth — will be able to discover there’s a big world out there, saying, “We started with nothing and they can have a big life, too.
“One of Through the Flower’s goals is to demonstrate how art can educate, empower and inspire people,” she said. “We hope that people who are interested will make their way here.”
“Judy and Donald are giving Belen a gift of art and education by helping our city build a vibrant and lasting art community around the Through the Flower Art Space,” Cordova said. “The Art Space is bringing renewed enthusiasm to our city, and we are excited to have the opportunity to share Judy and Donald’s story, including the importance of Belen to their lives and work, with our community and visitors near and far.”
The grand opening of Through the Flower Art Space this weekend, Saturday-Sunday, July 20-21, is filled with a plethora of events, including a celebration of Chicago’s birthday, who will turn 80 years old on Saturday.
A Judy Chicago wine release party, in which Jaramillo Vineyards created a special wine named for the famed feminist artist, will be unveiled on Saturday, and there will also be numerous tours of the new TTF Art Space, a screening of the documentary, “Feminist, What Were They Thinking,” featuring Chicago at the Belen Public Library, and a special fireworks performance titled, “A Birthday Bouquet for Belen,” created by Chicago, on Saturday night.
“I’ve done fireworks and smoke art since the late ’60s,” she said. “I’ve been doing them all over the country. I just did one in Miami in December. They take a year to plan.”
The cost for each event, including the tours of TTF Art Space, is a mere $5, enough, the couple said, that will ensure people will show up for the grand opening events.
The Belen Arts and Culture District will officially kick off Saturday, July 20, and Sunday, July 21.
The Pop-Up Art Show will be displayed at the Old Belen City Hall, which the interior has recently been repainted, will feature juried New Mexico artists that Chicago and Woodman chose from a group of about 21 artists who applied to exhibit their work. Artists from Tomé Art Gallery have also been invited to show their work.
The grand opening of Through the Flower Art Space is also the anchor exhibit for the opening of the Belen Arts and Cultural District, where several galleries and other venues will hold shows and other events. (See link for details.)
Through the Flower
Through the Flower is the non-profit organization founded by Chicago in 1978 to counter the erasure of women’s achievement through art. Over the years, Through the Flower has supported — and, in some cases, toured — other major projects including: the Birth Project (which celebrates women’s central role in birth and creation); and the Holocaust Project (created by Chicago and Woodman with a small group of artisans); and Resolutions (Chicago’s last collaborative project).
Since Through the Flower opened its headquarters in Belen in 2004, the organization has sponsored exhibitions, programs, initiatives (such as the New Mexico Women’s Cultural Corridor and the Through the Flower Library By and About Women at The UNM-Valencia) and other projects aimed at bringing attention to voices that have been left out of the mainstream art and cultural dialogue.
After living in the renovated Belen Hotel for several years, Chicago and Woodman, opened the Through the Flower space caddy-corner to their residence and studio.
“Through the Flower bought and renovated this building in 2004,” Woodman said.
“We closed it because we got unbelievable busy,” Chicago remembers. “That’s about the time we launched the Dinner Party’s K-12 curriculum and that took a lot of time. I also had a lot of exhibitions and we were traveling and we just couldn’t do everything.”
Chicago explained during the time TTF was open, they offered and presented numerous programs, which many people from around the state attended. However, Chicago and Woodman were disheartened because very few locals were coming.
Both Woodman and Chicago are hopeful the new Through the Flower Art Space will bring people together, be a place where locals and the youth can learn and appreciate high-end art and give the Belen Arts and Culture District a boost.
For information on Through the Flower, visit throughtheflower.org.