The Personal Touch

Young artists find venues in familiar places

Nicholas Chiarella, a Santa Fe based artist and contributing faculty member at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, moved into his loft apartment on Santa Fe’s west side last November. Within five weeks, Chiarella was hosting “Sit Wherever You’d Like,” a house-show of the sort that exemplifies the heart of Santa Fe’s community of young and emerging artists.  

The show was an exhibit of artwork by Chiarella and several of his friends. It was his way of having a housewarming party that was more collaborative than simply inviting his friends over to see the various shades of childhood blue he had painted his bedroom walls; the funky fluorescent light bisected by the wall separating his bedroom from the hallway; and the small installation piece he had begun working on in his bedroom. He hung track lights to illuminate the large expanse of wall on the house's ground floor, advertised the event through Facebook and his website, and successfully hosted his first art opening.

“I was very psyched to have friends and friends of friends at my house,” Chiarella says. “I set out to create an evening that felt very comfortable and had other stuff going on like an installation in my bedroom and live music, poetry and stand-up comedy performances.”

Building on that, Chiarella is eager to continue to contribute to the personal, informal and collaborative art scene in Santa Fe that he sees as an essential supplement to more institutional settings for sharing art: On Friday, he will host an album release party for Flamingo Pink’s first studio-recorded album, Theysey, featuring what he calls “playful interactive artworks” in addition to live music played by the band and Kevin Hogan.

This type of all-inclusive DIY attitude is helping Santa Fe's younger arts community thrive. Chris Johnson, a local poet, Alibi writer and member of art collective Meow Wolf, explains that "art is a social, not an elite, function." Johnson believes that the presence of art in informal spaces is inextricable from the value of art itself.

“Art at its nucleus is a means of understanding life better,” he says. “Everything I’ve ever done has been outside of a gallery setting, which allows me to create things that I can give to a community in all walks of life.”

Meow Wolf co-founder Megan Burns—also known as Santa Fe musician Flamingo Pink—says the collective was conceived with absolute openness to collaboration and non-elitism.

The collective arose out of several conversations about art projects between Burns (pictured alongside Chiarella and fellow musician Kevin Hogan) and her friends that usually ended in, “we should just do it—all we need is a space and the interested and invested artists that we already know exist in this city.” 

According to Red Cell, a local writer and conceptual artist who began hosting house-shows under the title ‘The Process’ around the time MW was founded. “Change always happens on the edge—it’s the underrepresented people who count.”

Red Cell concedes that, when showcasing work in an informal setting, it is easy for the line between house-show and house-party to blur—he himself has certainly hosted his share of both.

“In the end,” he says, “it’s all about why you’re there. I once had a show at my house with people lined up down the street to watch the band playing through my living room window. They just stood there, in complete silence, to listen; if somebody disruptive showed up, everybody told them to be quiet or leave.”

For Chiarella, the need to share art in a way that connects people and inspires them creatively prompted him to have an opening of several people’s work at his house rather than a house-warming party that featured his own work.

“Art becomes art,” says Chiarella, “when it synthesizes inspiration and dialogue.”

7 pm Friday, April 12. Free. Radical Abacus
1226 Calle de Comercio, Ste. D, 577-6073

All images by Luke Montavon

Arianna Sullivan and Luke Montavon produced this piece as part of a Journalistic Collaborations course at SFUAD—a coordinate project with SFR. The photography and writing course is team-taught by Photography faculty member Anthony O’Brien and Creative Writing contributing faculty member Julia Goldberg, a former editor of SFR.

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