May 27, 2016
Getting acquainted with Strangers Collective
Santa Fe New Mexican Pasatiempo
May 27, 2016
Michael Abatemarco

If the road to opportunity is too narrow, you can do what Strangers Collective, one of Santa Fe’s hottest emerging art groups, did, and widen the gap. In under two years, Strangers grew from living room salons to mounting exhibits at major galleries, and recently opened Narrows, its largest show yet, at the Santa Fe Community Gallery. The collective has a number of dynamic pop-up exhibitions under its belt, including shows at David Richard Gallery and Caldera, the artist-run space started by the two-person collective SCUBA. “It grew organically from a small group of friends,” Strangers co-founder Kyle Farrell told Pasatiempo. The group began exhibiting its artwork at presentations in the living room of fellow member Erikka James, lacking a space of its own (which it still does not have). Since then, Strangers has grown, and Narrows is its largest show yet, including the work of over 35 artists. There’s a buzz about not only Strangers, but other homegrown collaboratives as well, including SCUBA, Meow Wolf, Illumine, and Hydra Collective. The emerging scene is adding a more art-centric — rather than business-centric — model to the Santa Fe art world, and the collectives are giving voice to a generation of young artists and writers who, perhaps due to a growing sense of community support, are not leaving. “It seems like, even outside of our group, in the larger community, that the alternative art scene has hit some sort of tipping point,” said co-founder Jordan Eddy. “A lot of the people we are exhibiting now were previously working alone in their living rooms and never showing their work.” The title Narrows references small living and work spaces, where many artists, unable to procure studios, produce their creations — along with the limited range of opportunities that exist for such projects to be seen.

The Strangers members fund themselves, and volunteer their time to mount exhibits. “That’s important for building the community,” Eddy said. “It’s more than just showing the work in a gallery space. It’s also sharing resources, skills, and information. We’re doing something totally different from what happens in traditional art districts in town, but we’re just as serious about it, and we’re working maybe even twice as hard because we don’t have a lot of funding to do it.” Members’ commitments to the larger group keep costs down, allowing Strangers to mount shows for less than $200. “The shows keep getting bigger and bigger,” Farrell said. “Something we’re facing now is, how do we start having a little bit of funding to produce these shows? We know we can do it on nothing at this point, but it would be more comfortable to have a little bit of money. So now we’re looking into grants to fund the collective for a certain number of months or the whole year.” For now, Strangers remains unincorporated, with no standing as a for-profit business or non-profit organization.

Narrows is a multimedia exhibition with works on paper, photography, painting, and sculpture. Visual artists include Farrell, James, Shannon Latham, and Katherine Lee. Strangers also produces zines. “Erikka and I are visual artists and Jordan is a writer and we knew a lot of writers,” Farell said. “It’s even harder for them to get their work out there and get published. At least with the art scene there are so many different art spaces and opportunities, like at the Community Gallery. But I think the writing scene hasn’t really built that infrastructure at all for young writers.” Participating writers include Daniel Bohnhorst, Austin Eichelberger, and Kelly Skeen. Strangers plans a zine workshop at the Community Gallery on Saturday, May 28, and artist talks on Wednesday, June 1.

It can be argued that the collectives operating in Santa Fe today are, in fact, keeping a certain tradition alive. Even the lauded movements and grassroots collaboratives of the past, such as the Taos Society of Artists, and other regional groups and movements, began in much the same way as Strangers: as a small group of friends organizing what were essentially pop-up, and not necessarily curated, exhibitions. What is welcome is the recognition of contemporary collectives of young artists by established galleries like David Richard Gallery, which hosted Happy Birthday Meow Wolf! in February, a benefit exhibition on the occasion of the group’s eighth anniversary. The gallery also held a salon that month with Strangers. Art.i.fact, a consignment shop in the Baca Street arts district, hosted a Strangers’ pop-up last summer. The Community Gallery, where anyone can pitch a show, seemed like a logical next step for the group.

“One of our goals is to bridge gaps between the emerging or alternative art scene and the more established art scene,” Eddy said. “We did a small pop-up at Caldera and one of our artists, Marcus Zuniga, did two projections in the courtyard and from that show, he was invited to do a piece for opening night of the Currents New Media Festival. He’d been trying to get into Currents for years, and this show totally turned it around. That’s what we want — to build exposure and get people the opportunities they deserve. You can make things happen in a large group. When you think about the community that Meow Wolf supports and cultivates and keeps here, a lot of those artists are young, emerging artists in their own rights.”

Eddy views having an exhibit of 35-plus young artists in downtown Santa Fe as an intervention of sorts. It’s a moment where you see the work produced by the artists you’ve never heard of before, but who have been here, working steadily. “We’re hoping that proves to people that you can carve out a space,” Eddy said. “We’re really growing. We’re at a point where art spaces are approaching us. That wasn’t happening a year ago.”

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