In April of 1917, a train headed to Colorado from Texas made an unexpected detour in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A passenger on this train later remarked in a letter, “There is so much more space between the ground and sky out here it is tremendous, I want to stay.” That passenger would go on to inspire people with her paintings influenced by the beauty of the New Mexican Southwest. Georgia O’Keeffe was not the only artist to be drawn to the Land of Enchantment; others include Agnes Martin, Judy Chicago and the Easy Rider himself, Dennis Hopper. These artists, and more, were introduced to the artistic inspiration that had been represented through Native American art for centuries until that point. It should come as no surprise, then, that New Mexico is also home to some of North America’s best art galleries, catering to hundreds of local artists from across the state.
Though less reported on, art galleries, like other small businesses during the pandemic, suffered hardships through a drop in customer traffic and mandatory shutdowns. “We were closed for a total of three months,” said Sheila McVeigh, owner of Weems Gallery and Framing in Albuquerque, which features wall art, sculptures, jewelry and pottery, among other things. “We are a community gallery, and our community was staying home. Not only did we lose revenue for three months, but customers have been slow to come back.” Weems, a 40-year-old Albuquerque business, was forced to adjust its business model and incorporate online services along with applying for grants and loans. “Before the pandemic, we did not sell online, but during the pandemic launched a sellable website and took many orders via the phone,” said McVeigh.
In addition to creating an online presence in response to the lockdown, The Gallery ABQ, an artist-owned gallery that features acrylics, oils, pastels and more, had to cancel several guest artist shows and shift its services to accommodate traditional customers in untraditional ways. “We only made money when the store was open,” said Patricia Cream, director of The Gallery ABQ. Eventually, the gallery began to slowly open three times per week for a few hours a day as restrictions lifted. “We offered to meet one or two people for visits to the gallery by appointments only,” Cream added.
Now galleries are looking for unique ideas in order to invite customers back and make up for a lost time (and dollars). Weems, for example, began concentrating on partnerships with nonprofit organizations for upcoming charity events. “These events will help raise money for great causes while bringing new customers to see the wonderful art of Weems” said Sheila McVeigh. Similarly, The Gallery ABQ has also taken creative steps to attract more customers. “We are starting to see a few more visitors each day,” said Cream. “But even more for our First Friday events.”
The return of art galleries provides an outlet for artists to showcase their creativity to people with an appreciative eye. They serve as hubs supporting local artists who find inspiration for their art in all corners of the Southwest. As McVeigh put it, “I think the beautiful and diverse landscape of New Mexico makes it a top place to create.”