Being a artist isn’t about how much money you can make or even how much you can produce. It’s about bringing your vision to life — creating pottery, a painting or even papier-mâché.
The economy of art in Valencia County is flourishing, allowing local artists to be as creative as possible while giving consumers an abundance of variety.
Although few local artists can make a living through their artwork, many do it simply for the love of their craft while being able to supplement their income. But together, they’ve been able to accomplish great things in Valencia County for many years and contribute to the local economy.
Businesses like the Tomé Art Gallery and the Belen Art League Gallery and Gifts have provided artists a venue not only to show their art but to also sell it.
While the Valencia County art community can’t demand the high prices like Santa Fe, Albuquerque or even Taos, the quality is just as good and at a much lower price.
“Almost all of our business is local,” said potter Jan Pacifico, one of seven member managers of Tomé Art Gallery. “We tried going online with an online store, but we never sold anything. It’s not like we didn’t have people looking at it; it’s just didn’t work for us.”
Pacifico said a lot of their business comes from local residents who bring their out-of-town guests to the quaint gallery located between Belen and Los Lunas on N.M. 47. The gallery, Pacifico says, has gained a very good reputation for quality art.
Heidi Snell, another member manager, said tourist destinations in Northern New Mexico have a built-in marketing scheme.
“Valencia County doesn’t have that,” Snell said. “We would love to get those higher prices, but the reality is that we would never sell anything if we put too high a price on it.”
When an artist comes in asking to join the gallery, they ask what price they’re wanting for their art.
“One of the things we ask is to see their art and if it fits in with our work, in general, and what is the price,” she said. “If they have an exceedingly high price, we tell them if they can’t drop the price a little bit because it won’t sell because our clients aren’t affluent.”
Jo’l Moore, the president of the Belen Art League Gallery and Gifts, and CeCe Aragon, the past president of the league, understand all too well the challenges as well as the joys of the art business in Valencia County.
The small gallery on Becker Avenue in Belen is situated in a city-owned building, which members have renovated into a space to show, relish and to purchase art.
“It’s a wonderful place for people to gather and show their work,” Aragon said. “A lot of times, artists want to come in and sell everything. Because of the demographics of the area, we’re not going to get rich here. But you’re going to learn a lot.”
There are a few artists, such as Jim Anderson and Susan Brooks, Aragon said, who are outstanding artists who show not only in New Mexico, but throughout the country.
Aragon, who served as president for four and a half years, said if members go to meetings with other artists and attend classes, they’re more likely to expand their creative side and learn about other mediums.
“The majority of people started painting as a hobby or something they did after they retired. A lot of them use the money they make to buy the supplies they need,” Aragon said.
Moore said art makes an important impact on the economy in the community, saying people will move into a town that has an art scene, whether it’s theater, music or visual art.
“Here, in Valencia County, we have a lot of retired people, and the majority of art league members are older and retired,” Moore said. “This is a social outlet for a lot of them.
“We all need a purpose in our lives; we need to know we’re important and that we have to have a reason to live. For a lot of people, art does that,” she said. “We ask our members to volunteer, so it gives them a sense of community, a purpose in life and a reason to stay here.”
The interaction between the art league and other entities, such as the Belen Harvey House Museum , has also grown over the years. They help each other with a variety of enterprises, such as art shows and artist collaborations.
When entities work together on a project or a show, it brings people to Valencia County, Moore said, and will also attract people to other sites in town. The art league is also preparing to paint a mural on the city’s Veterans Memorial information center building, which is a way to help pay for the rent for the building.
Tomé Art Gallery is a limited liability company, which operates as a co-op.
“We’re technically partners — seven member managers,” Pacifico said. “We pay dues every month, we pay bills out of the account and work the days we have to. We each have a job doing something.”
The member managers include Pacifico, Snell, Pati Woodard, Bob and Diana Dow, Chris Lunsford and Alisa Salinas. They get 80 percent of their sales, while members working three days a month at the gallery receive 70 percent of their sales. Those who work two days a month will get 60 percent.
The gallery also offers plain consignment for artists who just display their art and aren’t required to work at the gallery. They receive 50 percent of the sales. The rest, Pacifico says, goes back into the gallery.
“It’s really kind of a hybrid business model — it’s not anything that fits into a box,” said Pacifico, who also teaches art at the University of New Mexico-Valencia. “It’s structured to make it work for everyone and it’s been going pretty well.”
Both Tomé Art Gallery and the Belen Art Gallery also makes it a point to organize unique shows about every other month. It’s these art shows that draws in crowds and gets local art into the hands of the community.
“It has to be creative and catchy and people need to want to come in for it to be successful,” Pacifico said. “The Day of the Dead show is one of those shows that people look forward to. People get dressed up; and it’s not just for the kids.”
The advantage of having different types of shows is its a way to push artists to do different things, to force them to do something other than they normally do.
“I think you grow by doing different things and spread out,” Snell said. “That’s the beauty of being in our co-op because we feed off of each other’s ideas. We push each other with the shows to do something different.”
At the Belen Art Gallery, they will invite the public, or non-members, to participate in different shows. Aragon said it’s a way to bring new people in and to foster their creative side.
“We’re getting a little better known,” Aragon said. “We even have people from Santa Fe come down, but they say the price is too low.”
With about 140 members, the Belen Art League has a plethora of artists and volunteers working to make art an economic success and relevant in Valencia County. The same holds true for the Tome Art Gallery at its 50 or so members.
“Our whole focus is making the artist successful, not making the business successful,” Pacifico said. “Even though we have a business, at the end of the year, we never show a profit because it all gets plowed back in and given back to the artists in some way. Either we improve the gallery with new shelving or lighting, or we raise the percentage in someway.”