At its very best, contemporary art fosters a feeling of communal ownership over space, strengthens neighborhood ties, and allows locals to see and appreciate what is represented within the emotions of their cities. 516 ARTS — Albuquerque’s select contemporary art museum now in its 17th year — sends a clear message: contemporary art is good for everyone.
And when the team at 516 ARTS, 516 Central Ave., thinks about a city that is vibrant, artistic, and thriving, they think of a city that has art right at the center, in the middle, and on the inside.
“We’ve been at the heart of downtown Albuquerque since 2006 and it’s always interesting,” said 516 ARTS Education and Engagement Coordinator, Daniel Ulibarri. “We’ve got a prime location, with a good mix of tourists and locals visiting us. We have a big bash opening reception three times a year, which brings somewhere between 600 to 1,000 people.”
“Contemporary art is for everyone and that’s reflected in our being in a location that is in such a central place, in a hub of a lot of activity,” added JC González, 516 ARTS Program and Marketing Manager.
Benefits of Art for Youth
Part of the museum’s aim is to help direct emotional and spiritual investments in arts and culture across local neighborhoods — and young minds are a big part of that process.
It is no surprise that art ignites growth while providing a host of benefits for kids, including confidence-building that can negate feelings of anxiety and social isolation. Art helps young people to establish a sense of their own individuality, a sense of self-respect, and an appreciation for others’ work. These are just some of the positive results that Ulibarri said he has seen while working with students who come to workshops at the museum, of all ages from various parts of the state.
“We provide art knowledge and skills, as well as raise awareness about important issues,” said Ulibarri. “Teaching art to young people is very rewarding. It’s a celebration of learning.”
516 ARTS: A Fluid Art Space
One of the advantages of 516 ARTS being a non-collecting contemporary art museum (no rotating archives, no permanent collections, no selling) is that it can focus on functioning as a fluid art space, where timely topics can be tackled in the moment, and quickly evolving and relevant socio-political issues can be explored.
The museum rotates a mix of local, regional, and even some national and international artists, spanning emerging, mid-career, and established. Sometimes the work on display tackles serious subject matter rooted in challenging cultural and societal issues, while always celebrating artistic expression and creative experimentation. “We are committed to fostering dialogue between artists and communities,” said Ulibarri. “516 ARTS is a platform for artists to communicate and raise consciousness. We pride ourselves on being independent, showing cutting-edge work, giving voice to artists from diverse backgrounds.”
Free Access to Contemporary Art
Perhaps the most obvious way that 516 ARTS enables wider access to the arts is that it never charges an admission fee. One of the effects of a free museum is that it welcomes people from all walks of life. It is a space that makes contemporary art accessible and open to all. 516 ARTS builds community, awareness, and a sense of belonging.
The museum proudly embraces and shares the accomplishments of New Mexico artists within a national and global context, and is receptive to the grassroots, the uninitiated, and the unconventional. For example, last year, 516 ARTS presented an exhibition of the street photography by local photographer Nathaniel Tetsuro Paolinelli, exhibiting a collection of images that he photographed in and around Downtown Albuquerque between 2017 and 2022.
“Nathaniel is a great example of the process of discovery that can happen for an artist and for audiences,” said Ulibarri. “He is a local artist whose solo exhibition was celebrated locally while also getting national and international attention. We’re all about making Albuquerque more connected to the rest of the world.”
Ulibarri said that Tetsuro Paolinell’s exhibition and the workshops with young people are part and parcel of the museum’s commitment to nurturing the arts in people’s daily lives. Both are examples of the educational, social, and relational benefits of widespread cultural access.
“I always say that art is what makes life worth living,” said Ulibarri. “It is very rewarding to be surrounded by art and to share it with audiences.”
Story Brian D’Ambrosio