Santa Fe is fast on its way to becoming one big arts district. OK, not really, but wouldn’t it be great? Already, though, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Santa Fe has a lot more art neighborhoods than most cities and probably the most for a city of its size. It seems as though the art community takes over another neighborhood off Cerrillos Road each year. The Baca Street Arts District, an area that’s slowly giving way to art galleries, design stores, vintage clothing stores, and art studios, is situated between downtown and the Siler Road Arts District. With the forthcoming opening of the Meow Wolf Art Complex, the Siler neighborhood has already gained traction — and Baca is only a hop, skip, and a jump from Second Street, another Cerrillos-adjacent district where artists have dug in.
In September, the city presented plans to the public for the construction of a tunnel beneath St. Francis Drive, intended to provide safe passage for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing the six-lane highway. The nearly $4 million project connects the Railyard with the Acequia Trail Easement at the intersection of St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road. The Acequia Trail abuts Flagman Way, off Baca Street, at the southern end of the Railyard. But there’s enough distance between the Railyard proper and Baca Street, underpass or no underpass, that the Baca Street Arts District feels like its own unique creative center. However, “under the radar” is a historically apt description for Baca Street, home to a growing number of funky establishments springing up amid longtime businesses like the also-funky Counter Culture Café (930 Baca St.).
Baca is in a unique position in relation to other local arts districts, existing at a nexus between the other districts. Recently established businesses in the area such as Artifact (930 Baca St.), a hip vintage clothing store and gallery next door to Counter Culture, and Yares Art Projects (1222 Flagman Way), recently relocated from Grant Avenue downtown, couldn’t be happier. “We had no hesitation coming down here because of what’s already been happening here with the arts,” Yares’ director Manuel Garcia told Pasatiempo. The gallery needed to vacate its former address, where it had been situated for 22 years, when the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which owns the building, announced it would be taking the space over for its Education Annex. “Another reason for the move is that we wanted to create a space that is conducive to the art we represent and we wanted to able to start from the ground up,” Garcia said. “Everybody passes by here. Everybody uses Cerrillos Road as an artery to get from point A to point B. The amount of foot traffic has far exceeded our expectations.” The gallery, which houses works by Helen Frankenthaler, Hans Hofmann, and Joan Mitchell, and represents the Milton Avery estate, boasts a newly designed interior furnished with contemporary metalwork by Gabe Rippel, co-owner of Santa Fe Modern, located in the same building.
Artifact, which offers an eclectic mix of high- and low-end fashion and accessories, celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. Owners Michael Gullberg and Jennifer Rowland maintain a small art space in back of the shop called Artifactory, providing a venue for younger artists and collectives. “We opened an art gallery in Los Angeles in 2001,” Rowland told Pasatiempo. The gallery, which opened four days after 9/11, also featured younger artists. “But we weren’t selling any art; we were selling merchandise,” she said. Now, operating Artifact with a small space reserved for exhibits has thus far been sustainable for their business. “And it allows us to just put artists in that we like,” she said. “It’s not about selling art; it’s about showing interesting art, art that wouldn’t normally get shown in a high-rent district.” Recent shows include No Land by the Strangers Art Collective, a group of emerging local artists and writers, and From Virtual to Reality, an Instagram photo exhibit. The shop has also hosted salons where young artists and writers come together to discuss art and ideas. The exhibit Observing the Withdrawn, an installation by Todd Christensen, opens at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14. “In Santa Fe, there’s the old-school art world and now there’s this new — I don’t want to call it underground — but it’s an alternative kind of scene,” Gullberg said. “There’s an audience for more contemporary work and stuff that’s pushing boundaries a little more.”
Artifact and other businesses benefit from the popularity of Counter Culture Café. “If you’re in the Railyard already, it’s in walking distance,” Rowland said. Artifact also helmed the first Baca Street Bash festival in July, which had the participation of local small businesses, artists, and musicians, and drew hundreds of people, thus ensuring a return of the festival next year. “In at least the last 30 years of its history, this has always been an arts neighborhood, and it’s just come and gone in terms of being recognized as such,” Rowland said. “There’s a new group of young people looking for a place to plug in — and that’s a good thing.”
The Baca Arts District is home to other shops that sell handmade objects of art, as well as jewelry, pottery, and contemporary furnishings. There’s Reflective Images Jewelry at 912 Baca St., Molecule Design at 1226 Flagman Way, and Gray Matter at 926 Baca St., which offers vintage objects as well as original works of art. Pop-up shows and short-term exhibits organized by Baca Art Projects (922 Baca St.), a collaborative effort between artists Michael Lujan, Tim Jag, Ann Jag, and Chace Haynes, have also enlivened the neighborhood.
Located at 926 Baca St., next to Gray Matter, is Liquid Light Glass, a hot shop and showroom owned by glass artist Elodie Holmes. “I bought the building in 2000 and Mark Choyt, at Reflective Images, which is three doors down, and I are sort of co-chairs of what we deemed the Baca Street Arts District. I soon discovered there were many artists up and down the street. We called a meeting and we thought we could do something together. The first thing we did was an open studio tour.” Fifteen years on, the district is still hosting annual holiday tours. The next one takes place over the first weekend of December.
Holmes sells her work nationally. She does glass-blowing demonstrations, teaches classes, and hosts international artists who also come to do demonstrations organized in conjunction with Glass Alliance New Mexico. Holmes rents shop time to other artists at Prairie Dog Glass, a studio she co-owns on-site at Jackalope (2820 Cerrillos Road). “If our classes are full here, I can send them over there to work, too.”
Years before opening Liquid Light Glass, a car accident left Holmes unable to work. She didn’t know if she would ever be able to blow glass again. “During my recovery period, I discovered I could do flame-worked glass, which is where you have a propane oxygen torch and you can shape rods and tubes of glass in the flame.” It was the beginning of a return to glass-blowing. “Discovering all the other artists up and down the street was an added bonus,” she said.
Baca Street today is a hub of creativity. The district known as “the SoHo of Santa Fe” is entrenched, and there are signs that nearby neighborhoods are getting in on the action. City of Mud at 1114-A Hickox St. is a gallery and shop specializing in vintage artifacts, wearables, and home décor that has also exhibited prominent local artists such as Paul Shapiro. The gallery celebrated its grand opening this fall. Maybe we really are on our way to becoming one big arts district, but I, for one, am A-OK with that. ◀