Interplanetary Festival coincides unique June events

Flying saucers seem to descend on the Santa Fe Railyard Plaza in a tilt-shift drone capture by Stephen Guerin and composite image by Laura Egley Taylor for the inaugural Interplanetary Festival. Courtesy Santa Fe Institute

If extraterrestrials decide to revisit New Mexico to check out what’s been happening since they buzzed Roswell in 1947, Santa Fe in early June might be the perfect time.

The Santa Fe Institute’s inaugural Interplanetary Festival, a decidedly UFO-friendly celebration of art, ideas and science surrounding the challenges of space travel, will be just one of an unprecedented convergence of major events, exhibitions and happenings centered on science fact and fiction, new-media art, and technology that are expected to lure thousands of visitors and locals to the Railyard and beyond during the first weekend of June.

Also landing around the city during what is ordinarily a low-key time will be the first-ever Nation of Makers Conference (NOMCON), which will make Santa Fe a focal point for a movement empowered by increasingly affordable digital tools like 3-D printers, laser cutters and computer-controlled cutting machines called computer numerical control (CNC) routers that make cheap prototyping and manufacturing accessible.

The calendar also includes the ninth annual Currents New Media Festival, which showcases interactive and multimedia works, virtual reality and augmented reality environments, video, animation, experimental documentaries and robotics.

Finally, Santa Fe will host a cutting-edge professional graphic design conclave called the Motion Festival at the New Mexico History Museum from June 6 to 8.

Together, all of these events are spinning off a long list of related installations, screenings, concerts and parties at venues ranging from Meow Wolf to SITE Santa Fe.

“It’s this weird synergy, but it makes perfect sense what’s going on,” says the Santa Fe Institute’s Caitlin McShea, director of the Interplanetary Festival. “There’s a burgeoning network of future tech experts and new media artists here, and there is this moment when all of this stuff is becoming just as definitive of what Santa Fe is as the traditional touristic image. And it’s just funny that it’s all happening in June.”

The long-running Currents New Media Festival, starting June 8, has grown dramatically in recent years while earning an international reputation as a curator of cutting-edge art. Co-founders Mariannah Amster and Frank Ragano report that they received more than 580 submissions from around the world for the 2018 festival, which will present the work of 75 artists at the Railyard, El Museo Cultural, form & concept, Art House, Violet Crown Cinema and other venues.

In 2017, after the Santa Fe Institute launched its Interplanetary Project, an initiative to explore the technological, human and futuristic challenges of space travel, the institute approached Currents New Media with the idea of scheduling its first Interplanetary Festival to coincide with the start of the Currents event.

“We thought it was a great idea,” says Amster.

Centered on the Railyard Plaza Mainstage and embracing the weird, the whimsical and the seriously scientific, Interplanetary will offer panel discussions and talks (on topics like “Autonomous Ecosystems” and “Designing the Impossible”), along with concerts and screenings of sci-fi classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Forbidden Planet at the Violet Crown and Jean Cocteau theaters. SITE Santa Fe has extended its ambitious current exhibition, Future Shock, through June 10 as a thematic adjunct to the festival.

A few months after the Interplanetary Festival announcement, Santa Fe pitched the Nation of Makers, a brand-new alliance of educators, activists and entrepreneurs involved in the ever-expanding new-technology DIY maker movement, in a national competition to become the host city of the inaugural NOMCOM meet-up — also planned for the first weekend in June. Currents New Media wrote a letter of support and then cheered when it was announced last November that Santa Fe had won, adding a third major overlapping event, this one to be held June 9-10 at the downtown Santa Fe Community Convention Center.

“Everybody’s excited that everything’s happening on one weekend,” says Amster.

“June in Santa Fe has always been kind of a slow shoulder season, before the opera and high summer art events,” the Santa Fe Institute’s McShea observes. “It’s amazing to me that all these things are suddenly coming together.”

Landing the Nation of Makers gathering is a reflection of the energy and commitment of the extraordinarily diverse local makers community. Over the past decade and a half, the movement to create collaborative “makerspaces” has inspired a renaissance of design and invention; during that time, an estimated 2.3 million people globally have attended “Maker Faires” and other events.

In New Mexico, Zane Fischer, the CEO of Santa Fe-based Extraordinary Structures, a design-build manufacturing and tiny-house startup, has been a longtime leader of the local maker scene. He is on the board of the nonprofit MAKE Santa Fe, which was founded by Ginger Richardson, the former vice president of education at the Santa Fe Institute, and has a thriving makerspace on All Trades Road.

In Washington, President Barack Obama’s administration had become a strong proponent of the movement, and in 2016 Fischer was invited to a White House meeting convened by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Senior adviser Andrew Coy, Obama’s liaison to the maker community, went on to help create the Nation of Makers organization and take the lead in planning the inaugural NOMCON event. Fischer, together with fellow maker enthusiasts Katrina Mendoza and Shannon Murphy, gained the support of Santa Fe city government and wrote the successful proposal to bring NOMCOM to Santa Fe.

In addition to MAKE Santa Fe, there are a number of other local makerspaces and programs, including Archimedes Fab Lab at the Santa Fe Business Incubator, Make Time in Eldorado and the Santa Fe Community College Innovation Center’s own Fab Lab. The Institute of American Indian Art has installed an advanced fabrication lab, while students at Santa Fe High and the Rio Grande School have benefited from maker tools and training.

The June events will be a welcome boon for Santa Fe’s tourism economy, but the alliance of the emerging-media arts, science and technology communities behind the events may be energizing a broad and enduring expansion of the city’s cultural capital while developing and attracting a younger-trending demographic of visionaries and entrepreneurs.

As Meow Wolf founder Vince Kadlubek recently told a PBS interviewer, his immersive-art powerhouse, having created 400 jobs and welcomed over 300,000 visitors, is “telling the outside world that New Mexico is fun, we’re weird, we’re creative, we’re positive, we have really interesting things happening.”

One sign of interesting things happening in this new facet of Santa Fe is the plan by Creative Santa Fe — a partner with the Santa Fe Institute in the Interplanetary Festival — to build the Siler Yard Arts + Creativity Center, incorporating 60 units of live-work rental housing, a MAKE Santa Fe workshop and commercial micro-retail space. The group hopes to break ground in 2019, with a 2020 completion date.

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