Roughly four years to the day since SFR featured Santa Fe’s Alas de Agua Art Collective on our cover, and things are still an uphill battle for the ragtag group of artists, designers, writers, performers, grant writers, etc., and its co-founder, the artist Israel Francisco Haros Lopez. No matter how much Haros Lopez tries to shine a light on the collective’s myriad other members—like his wife Isabel Ribe, artist JP Granillo and any number of local youths—he’s still become somewhat of a de facto leader. It’s likely something to do with his own prolific practice as a writer, poet, performer, director, painter, illustrator, muralist, educator and activist, but he’s still always shifting focus to the other people who work within the nonprofit.
“That’s the cool part about who comes through here,” he says. “It’s prayer-centered, healing-centered, and sometimes that’s really sensitive, really vulnerable work, but we wanted to give people the space to do that work.”
The broader point is that Alas de Agua is doing meaningful things on a shoestring budget from a too-small storage space off Airport Road. From workshops and gatherings to sign-making parties, readings, open mics and more, it’s the kind of place we all needed growing up—and still need. During the pandemic, for example, Alas de Agua handed out hundreds of meals to folks in need, and it helped found the Full Circle Farm, a plot of land adjacent to Reunity Resources Farm through which Alas de Agua and Indigenous activist group Three Sisters Collective can help educate and feed any interested Santa Feans. This is all a very abridged explanation of the work Alas does on the regular—we could easily fill another cover story—and though Haros Lopez, who came to Santa Fe from Los Angeles in 2009, says the collective is on the lookout for a larger space to better house the artistic goings-on, they make do.
Still, that they even have to fight so hard for help at all begs the question: Why is it so difficult for such a valuable and hardworking organization to get proper space, funding and support? Why do Santa Fe’s governing bodies, donors and nonprofits that fund arts spend so much time crafting hoops to jump through, especially for an outfit like Alas de Agua? Just kidding, that’s all rhetorical—it’s harder for a predominately Brown arts organization to get funding because of racism, obviously, but also because most organizations that hand out funds for arts like to do so when there are already constant eyes on the recipients; or when it creates a feel-good social media post that people can scroll past briefly, note that something good happened without looking any deeper, and then move on forever.
Yes, funding would be a godsend, but Alas members are a little too busy creating opportunities for BIPOC and youth artists to worry about filling out applications with countless pages or competing for a few measly bucks by promising they’ll constantly report every single move they make. According to collective member and grant writer Katy Medley, the broad strokes of finding funding are challenging. Some funders, for example, require labyrinthian applications for paltry sums, and preparing painstakingly detailed demographic info seems more burdensome than not, especially for a smaller organization like Alas de Agua that mostly runs on volunteers.
They’ve had better luck with out-of-state opportunities, Haroz Lopez and Medley say, with Pennsylvania’s Mural Arts Philadelphia kicking in $94,000 over two years for both a series of community murals and Alas’ involvement with the Full Circle Farm; and $25,000 from the Andrus Family Fund in New York City. Compare that to a $5,230 grant from New Mexico Arts and $10,000 grants respectively from the New Mexico Foundation and the Kindle Project, according to Medley, and one wonders why out-of-state donors seem more interested. Credit where credit is due, yes, and the local orgs deserve thanks for backing Alas de Agua as they have—plus we all know New Mexico isn’t exactly super-rich outside of certain Santa Fe neighborhoods. Still, we can do better, andwithout calling anyone out, newer arts nonprofits in Santa Fe seem to have a much easier time finding money.
“I’m at a point where I’m trying to inspire the rest of our collective and anybody in O’gah Po’Geh to know there’s bigger art appreciation at the national level,” Haros Lopez says, using the original Tewa name for Santa Fe. “That the art scene in Santa Fe seems to cater to tourists can really stifle our artistic vision.”
Yes, results-based funding makes sense on paper, and it can be a big ask to fund an organization with a decentralized style of leadership. But Alas de Agua’s work continues to speak for itself, from new murals at the Salvador Perez pool and Cesar Chavez Elementary School, to its enduring workshops, gathering and events. Haros Lopez himself shows twice per year, including the upcoming Water Songs opening at the Alas space. We’re talking new paintings that tap into Chicano and Indigenous identity, that showcase a sort of light and dark dichotomy and that highlight the importance of working with one’s own hands. Some are dense and symbolist, others more urgent and humanist; all are worth a deeper look. You’ll also find members cutting the ribbon at the Salvador Perez mural this week, then celebrating San Ysidro Day (San Ysidro being the patron saint of farmers) at Full Circle Farm this weekend.
“The part I keep finding out is that artists are the ones who come in to help their communities,” Haros Lopez says. “We’re the ones who get left out of lots of things, but we’re already engaged in the community anyway, always.”
Alas de Agua Mural Ribbon Cutting: 3 pm Thursday, May 12. Free. Salvador Perez Swimming Pool, 601 Alta Vista St., (505) 955-2607
Water Songs: New Works by Israel Haros: 5 pm Friday, May 13. Free. Alas de Agua, 1520 Center Drive #2, alasdeagua.com
San Ysidro Day: 10 am-5 pm Sunday, May 15. Free. Full Circle Farm, 2080 San Ysidro Crossing