"We never intended it to be a retail gallery space forever," Sasha Pyle tells SFR. The artist-curator and founder of City of Mud recently announced the gallery at 1114A Hickox St. would relinquish its brick and mortar space to tackle a new digital model. The Oasis Theater Company will buy the building.
"Our goal was to provide exposure to local talent, people who don't typically work in the regional aesthetic," Pyle continues. "We were trying to shine a spotlight on locals while invoking the links between Santa Fe and other parts of the world we're culturally inspired by."
Since 2015, City of Mud has done a bang-up job of just that. Between Pyle's vision and that of her partner Jamie Chase, an illustrator, painter and graphic novel creator (and many others), the gallery eschewed things like landscapes and big New Mexico skies in favor of stranger events, for lack of a better word. Chase's 2017 show Illustrated, for example, sought to demonstrate the link between graphic novels and comic books and fine art. Even the gallery name drew lines between Santa Fe and a wider, more global viewpoint.
"It was meant to connote kinship with other places of the world where people have indigenous architecture," Pyle explains, "and long traditions merging with modern movements. There was a hint of subversion there—we were trying to expand the dialogue about what a gallery can look like and what it can do with a community of creative people; the Southwestern thing…all of us love good Southwestern art, there's no doubt, but it's been over-represented and a cliché to the point that not all of it is good."
That foundation of covert subversion continues with City of Mud's new web-based platform. Artists who've long worked with the gallery and newcomers can sell originals and high-quality reproductions—plus other various and sundry merch items such as posters, T-shirts, mugs and who-even-knows-what-else-yet—all while raising money for causes of their choice. In simpler terms, a percentage of each sale will go to a cause or charity championed by each artist.
"We have an opportunity to launch something we've envisioned for a while," Pyle continues. "A nationally marketed business that really goes into artist representation in a fresh way. Our goal is to create opportunity and, hopefully, sales and money, but that offers a more democratic way to approach buying art. Each artist is supporting a cause, and who knows—it could be anything."
Of course, this doesn't mean the end of City of Mud as we know it in the physical realm.
"We're more interested in finding spaces and doing pop-up shows," Chase tells SFR. "We wanted to do some curated shows where, if we find the right venue, we might do a month or two."
The rollout for the new and improved site (cityofmud.com) will be gradual, anyway, according to Pyle. As far as she knows, she says, there is no other web business with a similar model. Further, while the artist roster won't (or can't, let's just be real here) possibly be 100% local, that's still an important factor for Pyle and Chase.
"There's still going to be a preponderance of local talent," Pyle points out, "although we're hoping to get out more nationally."
As for the Oasis Theater Company, the timing couldn't have been better. According to artistic director Brenda Bynum, the troupe had been looking for a dedicated space for well over a year, and the day before City of Mud went on the market, the seller of another space had backed out. Bynum's idea is to create a for-profit partner as a sort of extension of the nonprofit theater. In addition to live theater productions, the space can also house pop-up events, visual arts shows, live music, corporate events and more.
"It's a combination of good old Santa Fe neighborhood and up-and-coming," she tells SFR. "I think it's the hot new neighborhood, and we want to be at the center of that transformation, but we still want to be part of the community, much like Aranda's Plumbing."
It's early in the transition (City of Mud still has the rest of February in the space), but Bynum is already awash in ideas.
"One of the things I'd really like to do is have a week where it's like a summer camp for children, where they can try photography, music, theater, and then maybe the people repping those art forms have a full week camp in their own space; we're introducing that to the kids, and they can decide what art form they want to do."
Bynum also envisions pop-ups with local artists and/or craftspeople, as well as a broader scope than just Santa Fe.
"What's happening here is important, and by that I also mean the surrounding areas of Northern New Mexico," she says.
As for Pyle, Chase and City of Mud, they'll close things out with a last hurrah party on Valentine's Day.
"I know I'm going to miss the building, but I really wanted someone else to have a turn," Pyle says, only the faintest trace of wistfulness in her tone. "Yes, we're nervous because no one has really done this before, but we feel -extremely positive it can succeed. We've done our homework."
Valentine's Valedictory Victory Party:
6 pm Friday Feb. 14. Free.
City of Mud Gallery,
1114A Hickox St.,