One of the best examples of public art in Albuquerque is the Convention Center Mosaic. I think most people who have seen it would agree. However, not only is the mosaic a stunning example of public art, which truly enhances the building it adorns, it is a community-based project that has also enhanced the lives of those who have worked on it. That number has surpassed 150 individuals over the course of 13 years!
The City of Albuquerque Public Art Urban Enhancement Program has helped fund the creation of this extraordinary mosaic, via The Mayor's Art Summer Institute at Harwood Art Center, and with additional funding from the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps and others, since the inception.
The funding provides paid apprenticeships to youth who wish to learn the art form. Each year, apprentices collaborate with Lead Artists to design a section of the mosaic, fabricate and glaze all of the tiles by hand, and finally, to install the mosaic on the Convention Center using glue and grout. Imagine that - a summer job that pays youth to make art!
Entry-level Apprentices advance to Lead Apprentices and to Lead Artists through mentorship and increased experience. Several youth have participated for numerous years, and many Art Summer Institute graduates have gone on to become full time career artists and university art faculty around the country.
There is not enough room here to describe the intricate designs throughout the mosaic. However, each vignette (13 in total) was heavily researched by the apprentices to display the rich and varied cultural history of New Mexico. The designs, which incorporate Mesoamerican, Aztec, ancient Mimbres, Pueblo Indian, Spanish Colonial, Roman, Celtic and Islamic motifs, are rich and intricate.
The themes of regional flora and fauna, the changing seasons, and constellations, are all incorporated into the overall design too. Each portion of the mosaic blends with the next, creating a richly connected storyline. It is almost impossible to tell where one vignette ends and the next one starts. Vibrant colors create interest from afar. The hand-made tiles offer depth to the wall, and they are so beautiful and shiny that it's difficult not to touch them when you get up close (don't worry, you are allowed to touch this public art!).
After 13 years of progress, the Convention Center mosaic is monumental in scope and unique to the region. The project has been so successful, both as a piece of art, and as a mentorship program for local youth, that the City of Albuquerque Arts Board recently agreed to contribute funds to another round of mosaics for the southern facing wall of the newly renovated western Convention Center building. Look for the mosaic process to start in the spring of 2015, and watch one of Albuquerque's public art treasures grow right before your eyes.
Phase two, completed August 2015.