Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

The Mothership Alumni (TMA), a gallery and studio space for local Albuquerque artists, has established itself as a center for local artists over the last year. The gallery and workspace offer artists a place to sell their work and a space to create and connect with other local artists. 

The gallery came into being after Joel Brandon and Stephanie Jamison took over the lease on a historical building on Fourth St. and Central Ave. According to Brandon the space has traditionally been a studio space since 1996 but was only partially used in that capacity before TMA moved in. Much of the space was rented out as offices. Brandon, a digital artist and organizer among Albuquerque’s creatives, decided to change that in October 2020. The previous owners of the floor that the gallery operates on leased out the space to Brandon, who had already been using one of the offices, along with three other friends, as an art studio and retail shop since 2018.

Since Brandon and Jamison took over, they have transformed the hodgepodge of different offices into one cohesive and productive creative space for Albuquerque artists. In an interview with The Paper. Brandon and Jamison discussed how far the space has come in the last year and the challenges that COVID posed to the new business. 

“That’s how we started—seeing all of our friends, who are such good artists, keeping their canvasses in their closets. Now all they have to do is give us their art, and we’ll take care of it,” Brandon said. It was the couple’s love for creating and their community of creatives that inspired them to take on the challenge of running and maintaining a sustainable and profitable gallery and creative space in the heart of Downtown.

Brandon and Jamison also never expected it to be a full-time job. They understood the risk of running such an operation, especially under the increased pressure that the pandemic placed on small businesses. They have managed to not only survive the trials of the pandemic but have expanded in their first year of operation and continue to grow their space. 

Before making The Mothership Alumni their full-time occupation, Jamison was a teacher at Albuquerque Public Schools. She taught special education for five years before taking a position as an art teacher. “I had a cushy job with APS,” Jamison remarked. But both Jamison and Brandon felt the pull of their creative roots and fully embraced the challenge of running the art space. Brandon had previously been a freelance digital artist and screen printer, working with a host of local musicians on video projects, before founding TMA in 2016.

Now they’re a bulwark of the Downtown and creative community. The Mothership Alumni currently has 10 interns who help with day-to-day operations. The interns are part of a work-study deal through Youth Development Inc. (YDI) NM, a youth and family development organization that provides alternative education and job training, among other services. 

When asked about their focus on artists rather than focusing strictly on the money, Brandon and Jamison emphasized that they are in it for the community. “We could have kept all these rooms and rented them out and made thousands of dollars more each month. But we wanted to take them over because of the long-term potential and helping more people through a shared space.”

They noted that many artists struggled with, and what they had also struggled with when starting out, was the need for a space for their work with a platform to be discovered and sold at a competitive price. The combination of a store within the gallery and the extensive network opportunities has given many artists the foundation to launch their careers from.

“A lot of people don’t realize how expensive it is in other places. That’s why I think we’re having success and having more success to realize the potential that artists have to make money off of their art,” Brandon said. 

“It’s one of the best opportunities Downtown. I’m trying to get some of my people my age who are on the streets here,” local hip hop artist Kyree said. “It’s definitely a place for self-expression. It’s a place where I can come to express myself and do what I want to regarding my feelings,” he added.

Mothership’s location and the building’s history as the host to a string of art galleries Downtown has also put the gallery in a highly lucrative position. “This is the most centralized location that you can be in,” Brandon said. Mothership’s address right in the heart of Downtown has spared the gallery from having to compete with already established and saturated markets such as Old Town and Nob Hill. Mothership also provides artists who don’t have a space to present their art an audience and support they wouldn’t otherwise receive. Both Brandon and Jamison referred to one of Mothership’s role as an educational workspace for new artists first embarking on their creative careers.

Brandon and Jamison commended the art community in Albuquerque, especially in the Downtown neighborhood. “People aren’t as pretentious. It’s not oversaturated. A lot of good artists here are humble.” Mothership has yet to release any formal advertisements, but as Brandon noted, they have managed to succeed, even in a pandemic, thanks solely to word of mouth within the local art community. “We are for Albuquerque artists. We’re not judgemental. We just want a place for artists to show their work,” Brandon said.

Mothership Alumni is open Thursday through Sunday. Jamison hopes to host most workshops during the day as COVID restrictions ease and as the gallery continues to expand. Their next show will feature Ras Elijah, whose work will explore the legacy of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I on November 5. The gallery will also host a concert to coincide with Art Walk that Friday.

To receive updates on The Mothership Alumni (105 Fourth St. SW), visit their website (mothershipalumni.com) or their Instagram page (instagram.com/mothershipalumni).