Sunday, June 4, 2023

¡Globalquerque! Goes Away

World Music Festival Cancelled at National Hispanic Cultural Center After 18 Years


For 18 years ¡Globalquerque! has been one of the brightest and most hidden gems of the Albuquerque art scene. Held each September since 2005 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, this annual celebration of world music and culture has featured music concerts, workshops, films, presentations, educational activities and live performances. The “Global Village” of craft, culture and cuisine, open throughout the festival, spotlights international food, art and crafts. ¡Globalquerque! has brought musicians, artists, artisans and audience members from around the globe to the Duke City. Over the years, the event has always been a collaboration between Avokado Artists, a not-for-profit 360˚ arts organization, and the NHCC. But earlier this month came the distressing news that ¡Globalquerque! would not be happening in Albuquerque this year.

Executive director of Avokado Artists and founder, curator and director of ¡Globalquerque! Tom Frouge issued a public statement on April 3. “In all of my decades in the music business, including the past two in New Mexico, I have never experienced anything quite like what I have experienced with the National Hispanic Cultural Center under their leadership of the past year or so.” Since August of 2022, Frouge said, he had been trying to confirm dates for the 2023 festival. In January of this year, the administrators finally called Frouge in for a meeting, where he says, “We were informed that the NHCC would no longer be partnering with Avokado Artists to present ¡Globalquerque!. There was no discussion allowed.”

In the few months since, Frouge has spoken to N.M. Department of Cultural Affairs Cabinet Secretary Debra Garcia y Griego and contacted the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff Diego Arencon via email, at his request. In the end, the state seemed to empathize with the situation, but the decision was made to let “current leadership’s decisions take its course.”

The NHCC has had a long and rocky history of hiring and maintaining directors. Frouge specifically called out ex-Executive Director Margie Huerta, Artistic Director Noël Merriam as well as long-time NHCC Deputy Director Alberto Cuessy for dragging their heels and showing “little interest” in ¡Globalquerque!.

“This would have been our 19th year coming up,” said Frouge in an interview with The Paper. “It was a partnership between the National Hispanic Cultural Center and us. And that partnership was seamless, really, until last year when this new leadership came in.”

According to Frouge, “The partnership was they put up the Center and some of their staff, which was significant. But we kinda took the risk financially. We obviously had to hire more than their staff to do a three-stage festival and all the other outreach that goes with it. It was a substantial amount of money we put out. But the partnership was that they got a percentage of ticket sales. And they got a percentage of ticket sales whether ¡Globalquerque! was in the black that year or not.”

According to Frouge, “¡Globalquerque! truly is a labor of love from my side. It’s the physical manifestation of what Avokado Artists’ mission statement is, which is cross cultural understanding through music and the arts.” Any profits the event made were turned back into the organization to help fund the next year’s event. Over its lifetime, ¡Globalquerque! brought in performers from Mali, India, Colombia, Ukraine, Panama, Estonia, Haiti, Mexico, Guinea, Ethiopia and Israel. (Actually, that was just the 2022 lineup.)

“Up until late spring the Center was just always our partner,” said Frouge. “There was staff there throughout the years—they’ve left now—who had worked [with ¡Globalquerque!] since its inception. Everybody understood the importance of ¡Globalquerque! and what it brought to the community. Also what it brought to the Center. They don’t have a performing arts budget of any size at all. And to jettison a partnership with one of the bigger things that happens there seems a little wacky to me.”

The process of getting the administrative staff at NHCC to commit to the 2023 program, Frouge said, was drawn out for months. ”They kept saying, ‘Oh, we’ll tell you next week or this date.' And they kept missing their own deadlines. Finally, they called me in in January, and it was literally a five- to ten-minute quote/unquote ‘meeting’ where they said, ‘We’ve reviewed the partnership, and we’ve decided that we no longer want to partner with ¡Globalquerque!.’"

“One of reasons they gave, really the only reason that would be considered, was that ¡Globalquerque! wasn’t ‘mission specific’ to them. We were ‘mission adjacent.’ Whatever that means. Yes, we're not a Latin festival, if that’s what you mean. Noël [Merriam] didn’t really go into what that meant. I said, 'But, certainly, you can’t have a world music event without having the Latin diaspora?'"

At the last minute, the NHCC did offer Frouge the option of renting the facility outright. But even this proved to be a problem, as Frouge said the staff took months to present him with a contract. Those contracts were poorly written, said Frouge, “charging for rooms I didn’t even know existed,” and would have driven the ¡Globalquerque! budget up by “tens of thousands of dollars.” By the time NHCC presented the organizers with a “rental agreement that’s actually specific to ¡Globalquerque!” in early 2023, it was far too late. ”By the time this rental agreement came to me," said Frouge, "we would have already had early-bird tickets on sale, we would have already been announcing the first acts, we would have been gathering our vendors and announcing them.”

Frouge blames the NHCC top brass for “a complete lack of understanding of what ¡Globalquerque! was.” He believes “none of the new leadership had even been to ¡Globalquerque!.”

Interestingly enough, the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs relieved Margie Huerta of her duty as interim executive director of the NHCC in late January after just over a year on the job. As of April, the NHCC has an even newer executive director in Zack Quintero—although the position is still listed as “interim.”

Since taking over the office, Quintero has had conversations with Frouge, who says the new director is “receptive” and has pledged to keep the lines of communication open.

The Paper. spoke with Quintero, who said he is more than familiar with the work of ¡Globalquerque!. “I’ve attended it, and I’ve been a huge fan of it before, and I still am."

"I reached out to Tom personally just to say hello and introduce myself and just figure out where we might be able to keep an open dialogue,” said Quintero. “I apologized to Tom and wanted to assure him that we remain open for positive dialogue and collaboration.”

Quintero blames the Center’s “old administration” for the mix-up with ¡Globalquerque! and said the NHCC is, “still very much open to outside events and being able to partner with folks that want to bring great global events to the Center. And be part of the great cultural mandate that we’re tasked with, which is advancing and promoting Hispanic arts and culture nationally and internationally.”

Quintero admitted that COVID took a heavy toll on the Center’s staff. "It hit us pretty hard." Like a lot of state and city institutions, it saw staff bled off during the pandemic lockdown to fill positions in emergency services or other health-related fields. But, says, Quintero, "We're on the rebound."

Among his other complaints about the Cultural Center, Frouge said that the diminished staff—a result of both COVID and a lack of "confidence" in past leadership—has drained the Center of the skilled technical workers needed to man a multi-day festival as large as ¡Globalquerque!.

“We have a group of different divisions that are doing the work of what mainly takes 15 or 20 people to do with three or four,” admitted Quintero. “Of course we’d love to bring on more people, and we’ve started to push from the point of state personnel and making sure they know the work that we’re doing here and showing everybody what’s happening at the Center.”

Quintero said he has reached out to “different leaders to show the critical work that we’re providing for the community to bring on more staff and to get that kind of support. So I see the focus that Tom has." Although Quintero says he is "confident" in the NHCC's core team, he is "always eager and really excited to bring on more staff, so we can be able to expand the services and increase the different stages of performance we’re able to offer to the community.”

Although the change in leadership at NHCC and the pledge from both parties to keep the lines of communication open means the partnership could be revived in the future, ¡Globalquerque! will definitely not be happening in 2023. Instead, Frouge has elected to do a truncated event, moving up to Santa Fe and partnering with Lensic 360 to present a one-night-only global concert featuring Latin American performer Lila Downs and West African singer Angelique Kidjo. That event will take place at the Santa Fe Opera on Sept. 23—the same night ¡Globalquerque! would have been happening in Albuquerque.


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