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Plans for Proposed Sawmill Center for the Arts Unveiled

Outpost and 516 Arts Join Forces for Venue


Outpost Performance Space is a University-area nonprofit performance space dedicated to "a uniquely eclectic mix of performances ranging from jazz to experimental to international to folk and roots and more." Downtown Albuquerque's 516 Arts is a contemporary art museum that "celebrates thought-provoking art in the here and now." Together, these organizations are at the forefront of Albuquerque's art scene: Music on the one hand, visual arts on the other. Now these two groups have found a way to combine their talents, collaborating on a proposed $10 million 31,600-square-foot arts center in Albuquerque's up-and-coming Sawmill neighborhood.

Sawmill, located between historic Old Town and the Museum District, is already home to the popular indoor/outdoor dining hub the Sawmill Market and to the upscale mini-mall Spur Line Supply Co. The new Sawmill Center for the Arts would solidify the area, alongside Nob Hill, as one of Albuquerque's hippest destination neighborhoods.

The Seattle-based architecture firm of Olson Kundig has mapped out plans for the center, which include an interdisciplinary arts space, a film/lecture hall, a café, a music education classroom, a performance space, an art studio, a gallery and "an incubator space for arts-related businesses." The facility would be roughly broken into three areas, one controlled by Outpost for music, one by 516 Arts for art and the final third given over to a new nonprofit called Sawmill Center, Inc. for "a variety of public uses."

The main organizers of the project—516 Arts Founder/Executive Director Suzanne Sbarge and Outpost Performance Space Executive Director Tom Guralnick—have remained mostly mum on the project. (Both declined to comment for this article.) The Sawmill Center is still in the preliminary fundraising phase. Funding is planned to come from a mix of foundations, government, corporations and individual donors. The Sawmill District is also controlled by a community land trust, and any projects must be approved by residents. That approval is expected to take place next month. In the meantime the organizers released a six-minute video detailing the initial aspects of the project. In the video Sbarge praises the Sawmill neighborhood, calling it a "hotbed of creative thinking and learning." Guralnick, meanwhile, highlights the teamwork behind this meeting of artistic minds. "This is an uncommon idea in our country: To have these organizations come together under one roof. But 516 Arts and Outpost have a long history of collaborating. And I think, for Albuquerque, both our organizations have been meaningful."

The midst (or, at best, the tail end) of a global pandemic seems like a difficult time to start a major fundraising and construction endeavor. Despite the fact that the doors were shut on countless museums, concert venues and other artistic endeavors over the last year, the Sawmill Center for the Arts is progressing apace. Organizers are working with Chad Rennaker of Portland-based PacifiCap Properties Group, the developer behind the innovative renovation of Albuquerque's El Vado Motel and the construction of the Sawmill Village Apartments. In addition to the public arts portion of the project, PacifiCap will build 40 private residential apartments on the property for an additional 28,400 square feet. Rennaker believes the current economic climate—including low interest rates and a dormant local construction industry—has made it an advantageous time to tackle something of this size. The capital campaign for the public art space is expected to take three years.


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