Art on the Rio brings local creatives back to the breweries

Local art is returning to the walls of our breweries, like this exhibit at Tractor Wells Park, all thanks to Art on the Rio. (All images courtesy of Carlos Contreras)

The pandemic shutdown and subsequent restrictions not only limited our craft breweries around the Albuquerque metro area, it also took a bite out of the many other creatives who utilized the taprooms for events and other showcases.

Well, Carlos Contreras is not the type to sit back and just wait for everything to blow over eventually, so he set out to create a new way to help local artists return to the breweries even without the benefit of a full-on art show.

Art on the Rio is the new project from Contreras and his fellow artists, a type of wandering show that can be anything from a single easel display to a full exhibit, all tied to a website where interested patrons can purchase the art on display or even seek out other works by the featured artists.

“Art on the Rio, pre-pandemic, it was planned to have both a gallery space and a live events presence,” Contreras said. “I’ve done so many events in breweries over the years, we were going to try to pull the brewery to us and start hosting off-site events. And then, of course, what happened happened, and we paid for an empty building for nine months. I should say my fiancee paid for an empty building for nine months.”

All Contreras had to do was come up with a Plan B, and of course he still wanted to get the breweries involved. That all led to a hybrid model where Art on the Rio was made both virtual, and in a physical location.

“So, when we’re sitting in the first nine months of the pandemic, we’re still trying to figure this thing out, what we could do,” he said. “(Breweries) were just a natural partner, man. It’s the best place to find people in Albuquerque is (at) a brewery, so we figured we would make it a place where people could find art.

“So the brick-and-mortar partner program is cool because it’s flexible. Tractor has a whole show over on their walls, but every Marble Brewery location is so sweet inside, they don’t want things hanging all over the walls, they kind of have their decor already set. All three of those and the La Cumbre main location are displaying on easels. We’ve selected sort of higher-end pieces you can see on the website, because everything at a brick-and-mortar location is on the website.”

While this amazing piece from Christopher McAfee that was on display at La Cumbre is no longer available, you can check the Art on the Rio website for additional works.

I had popped into La Cumbre one afternoon and could not help but notice an impressive piece by Christopher McAfee on prominent display, which is what ultimately led to the idea for this story.

“Yeah, and it didn’t last long,” Contreras said of that piece. “The beauty of it is the buy-local presence of people is thick at a brewery. People that are at these spots know what it’s like to support local in all things, not just the beer they’re drinking. The marriage of the opportunity to buy art has always been there. You look around at a lot of breweries, it’s already hanging on the walls. This is just sort of an extra nudge. It’s a fun concept, everything is tagged with a QR code, so the QR code goes to the website and you can see everything that’s around town. And then, we get to move our artwork around town and find people where they’re already at.”

In many ways, Art on the Rio is just another example of how to creatively adapt and survive during this pandemic.

“My show, the I’ll Drink to That show, always ended with an art auction,” Conteras said. “People had this idea of once a month at this show I can see work from a dozen artists and potentially buy something. The pandemic did away with that. This is sort of a ghost gallery, or a hybrid model of sort of a new way, in my opinion, of how to do commerce and art, an artists’ market that curates community.”

Art on the Rio is already utilizing Tractor Wells Park, La Cumbre, and all three Marble taprooms, and Contreras said he would love to add a few more breweries to the list.

“We’re not asking for a huge amount of square footage, necessarily,” he said. “In a lot of those places it’s a single easel. I can foresee it being just about anywhere people will have it. I’d love to see it in Bosque (North) in Bernalillo would be dope, just because that puts us all the way in Bernalillo. I’m still chasing Steel Bender, because they’re my neighborhood bar, too, I live just down the street. We hope these guys here at Hops (Brewery) will be involved. We have a short list right now we’re chasing, for sure.”

Art on the Rio displays are at five brewery locations, with the goal of adding more in the future.

Beyond the breweries, Contreras said he is open to almost any space that would like to help display local artwork. There are currently 10 other brick-and-mortar partners besides the five brewery locations.

“We’re open to whatever,” he said. “I’m certainly not picking and choosing (only breweries). The reality of the business model is breweries are high-traffic areas, (but) we literally have some office spaces. Places that aren’t necessarily open to the public. They do business with the public, but by appointment and stuff. They don’t have to be high-traffic areas, because everything is simultaneously on the website. It helps, but our work rotates, too. We’re aiming to put work in a space for 30 to 60 days and then rotate it. If an artist gives us a few pieces, over the course of its life with us, it can rotate through five, six, seven, eight locations. We have 15 right now.”

There will also be an online auction on June 6 at 6 p.m., enabling interested patrons the chance to bid on artwork from the comfort of home.

Contreras also wanted artists to know that Art on the Rio is open to everyone, regardless of whether or not your work adorns beer labels (like McAfee) or not.

“I always just say, if there are artists interested, too, we have a community tab on the website,” he said. “You can submit an inquiry to be involved. It’s aiming to be inclusive. I think that’s a good way to make a sense of it. It is a virtual gallery. We only sell original art, we’re not selling prints, we’re not selling stickers, we’re not doing hoodies, everything is one-on-one. We have what you would consider to be professional, experienced gallery artists to my five-year-old daughter doing art. As long as the presentation is professional, blemish and damage free, then the aesthetic, the skill level, the approach is up to the artist.”

All of us in the Crew love seeing how our breweries have become incubators for so many other creatives around town, from artists to musicians to dancers and more, and we are quite happy to see that these relationships are continuing via adaptations like Art on the Rio.

A huge thanks to Carlos for taking the time to meet up, and for sending us the images.

Now get on out there, enjoy a pint or two, and maybe take some amazing local art home with you.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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