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What does it look like when a city doesn’t just embrace diversity and foster inclusivity, but rather, grounds its very identity and way of life in those themes?
Albuquerque does just that. Its many different communities and organizations work together to support each other’s growth, because the city evolved in the American Southwest as a cultural crossroads for centuries.
Meeting planners and conference organizers can easily tap into this spirit of collaboration in Albuquerque because it’s baked into the city’s cultural DNA.
From the 17th to 19th centuries, the legendary Camino Real Trail was the main route from Mexico City to what’s now New Mexico. Albuquerque was also the primary Southwestern hub on America’s historic Route 66 highway. Meaning, the city has a long legacy of hosting travelers from different places. This has provided the city with a foundation for strong cross-cultural community bonds and a fusion of influences in art, architecture, food, music, and pretty much everything else.
New Mexican cuisine is unique, for example, because it evolved in fairly isolated circumstances that helped it maintain its indigenous Spanish and Mexican identities unlike any other Latin-inspired food in the U.S.
“We have the best food in the country without a doubt –– especially anything with New Mexican chile peppers,” said Dr. Shelle Sanchez, director of the City of Albuquerque’s Cultural Services Department. “Culture is central to everything we do in Albuquerque because there are so many different communities and there’s a lot of individuality here. We’re a really interesting crossroads of cultures because we’ve been a very literal physical crossroads for centuries.”
Today, Visit Albuquerque works extensively with local cultural institutions and influencers to connect meeting planners with the wellspring of culture and creativity across the city. And because of Albuquerque’s size, everything is within close proximity between the Albuquerque Convention Center, group hotels, and trendy neighborhoods from Nob Hill to Barelas.
“’Culture’ is often an overused buzzword, but we feel we can really deliver on that for meeting planners and attendees in Albuquerque,” said Tania Armenta, president and CEO of Visit Albuquerque. “Much of the country looks pretty homogenous today, but as soon as you get off the plane here, you recognize that this is a very different and distinct place compared to anywhere else. Our ethnic tapestry is really at the heart of what makes Albuquerque unique, along with the many opportunities and easy access for visitors to immerse themselves in our diverse neighborhoods.”
The Voices of Albuquerque
There are numerous nationally recognized cultural centers and educational facilities in Albuquerque where planners can integrate that ethnic tapestry into their programming.
The indigenous Pueblo people of New Mexico are the original inhabitants of the state whose ancestry dates back thousands of years. Their legacy is protected and promoted at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center located on 80 acres of tribal land inside the city limits.
The museum and educational venue contains more than 2,500 pieces of pottery, jewelry, textiles, baskets, photographs, prints, paintings, and archaeological artifacts, as well as 20 murals painted by local Pueblo artists. It can also host events for up to 250 people with food prepared by the onsite Pueblo Harvest café, including dishes such as buffalo carpaccio and juniper-smoked salmon.
“Our mission is to perpetuate the Pueblo culture and educate visitors by providing a living history delivered with our voices and our perspectives,” said Michael Canfield, president and CEO of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. “It’s a chance to learn how America has developed from the beginning of time, and why and who we are today as a country.”
According to Canfield, the Pueblo culture epitomizes the local way of life in Albuquerque where people work together well based on the understanding that collaboration is in the best interest of everyone.
“Pueblo people are very community-based, so it’s always community first, and then family, and self second,” he said. “Pueblo culture revolves around collaboration and support for one another, which is what I cherish most about living here, and I think that also provides a lot of takeaways for organizations meeting in Albuquerque.”
There’s a similar message shared throughout the local Hispanic community, too.
Rebecca Avitia, executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, asserts that people from different cultures with different perspectives can live and work together in harmony when they understand each other’s histories.
“We exist to preserve, promote, and enhance Hispanic culture, arts, and humanities, and we’re dedicated to helping people in our community here and around the world get to know each other through culture,” she said. “However, we also uphold all of the many different traditions and histories around us from other cultures, because we try to draw similarities so that people can see how we are all actually quite similar.”
Located on a 20-acre campus in Albuquerque’s Barelas neighborhood south of downtown, the National Hispanic Cultural Center comprises three theaters, a museum and educational complex, and a vast library chronicling the influence of Latin culture around the world. The campus boasts stunning architectural and artistic elements, including the artist Frederico Vigil’s “Mundos de Mestizaje,” one of North America’s largest concave frescos. The painting depicts over 3,000 years of Hispanic history and is located inside a large tower, the Torreón, which architecturally echoes the structures built in New Mexico by Spanish settlers.
The National Hispanic Cultural Center also hosts more than 700 events during the year, most of which are free, so planners have a turn-key group experience they can provide their attendees. For Albuquerque Convention Center groups unable to visit the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the artist behind “Mundos de Mestizaje” will soon have an installation at the Convention Center, providing visitors with an opportunity to experience his culturally significant works.
“Meeting planners love coming here when we have our events, so they don’t have to plan every single part of their program,” said Avitia. “We don’t really look at this as if we’re just providing catering and entertainment for a visiting group. It’s more of a sense of co-ownership with planners to bring together the best of our food, art, and culture to create an event that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the country.”
Modern, Creative, and Quirky Albuquerque
Growing the local arts scene has been a priority for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller since taking office last year. According to Sanchez, the mayor’s office is supporting local artists and creative organizations more intentionally to elevate the city’s independent maker spirit, because “that’s what gives neighborhoods their unique identity,” she says.
“It’s important for planners to know that not only do we have this amazing historic tapestry, but we also have all this modern artistic expression coming out of all that culture,” Sanchez explained. “Albuquerque Museum, for example, is both a history museum and an art museum –– and everything’s related to our shared culture, so it’s all very inclusive.”
Albuquerque Museum is located in the Historic Old Town district in the heart of the city, and planners can sign up for group tours of the area led by the museum. Founded in 1706, Old Town is the city’s cultural center, home to numerous other museums and more than 100 shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Two of the highlights in and around downtown especially illustrate the diversity of arts and culture in Albuquerque. One is the innovative ARTECHOUSE art space, dedicated to showcasing experiential, technology-driven artwork. The facility’s mission is “to stimulate interest in the limitless possibilities of technology, science, and creativity.”
The second is the landmark KiMo Theatre. Open since 1927, the Pueblo Deco “picture palace” today hosts a wide spectrum of educational and entertaining content celebrating creativity, innovation, and cultural innovation. KiMo is also available for private rental for 600 people.
With the University of New Mexico (UNM) such a dominant figure in Albuquerque’s urban landscape, there’s generally a youthful vibe and modern perspective across all of the different neighborhoods. Furthermore, everything is 15 minutes from anywhere in Albuquerque, so it’s easy for attendees to find a neighborhood that aligns with their interests.
Located adjacent to UNM, for example, Nob Hill is ground zero for the local creative and culinary community, filled with Route 66-era architecture and vintage neon signs lining the city’s original Main Street. Or, south of downtown in the Barelas/South Valley district, the South Broadway Cultural Center positions itself as “a multicultural, visual, performing, and literary art center that promotes, preserves, and educates the community about the cultures and ethnicities that define Albuquerque.”
You don’t have to spend much time in Albuquerque to pick up on the shared passion for community here. “What’s interesting now is that people in Albuquerque are starting to figure out how special and different it is here because of our community make-up,” said Canfield. “Maybe we’ve taken it for granted somewhat, but when you start to have a better respect for what’s here, then you start to want to promote it a little more. Albuquerque is perhaps a bit of an unknown from a national perspective, but I think that’s changing.”
Connecting Creativity and Innovation
SOMOS ABQ is a downtown festival in Albuquerque that brings the local Hispanic, Pueblo, Anglo, and many other ethnicities together for a convergence of innovation in art, culture, food, music, and technology.
While many people know Albuquerque for its vivid natural landscape and mountain vistas, celebrated during events like the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, SOMOS is designed to showcase the cohesion of the local social, cultural, and business communities.
“The collaboration bringing SOMOS to life sets us apart from other festivals,” said Julia Mandeville, artistic director and co-founder of SOMOS ABQ. “The goal is to bring the local innovation economy and downtown maker community together with a wide cross-section of local residents.”
SOMOS ABQ is one example of the collective grassroots energy working to elevate Albuquerque on the national stage. Likewise, the new Muros ABQ initiative is an effort to catalogue and promote all of the vivid street art across the city, which shows the full diversity of community life in Albuquerque in a very visceral way. The website geotags all of the artwork, so people can create their own tour through the city’s neighborhoods to explore yet another type of cultural crossroads.
Growing out of that, Mural Fest is a fall event when locals and visitors gather to learn about urban art and attend events ranging from the Nob Hill Block Party to TEDxABQ. The theme for Mural Fest 2018, When Nature Calls, centers around climate change and the need to “bring our world community together through murals, music, and culinary arts to highlight solutions we can all play a part in moving forward.”
Getting around to explore the local street art scene will soon be easier with the new electric Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) bus line, which just attracted $75 million in new federal financing this year to initiate operations.
“Meeting attendees will be able to connect to all of our main entertainment districts in Albuquerque with the ART line very quickly,” said Armenta. “I think that speaks to one of our city’s great value propositions about how easy it is to access everything and everyone here.”
Avitia agrees. “You can pretty much pick up a phone and call anyone in Albuquerque, who will connect you with whatever you need,” she said. “Meeting planners should know that Albuquerque is a deeply connected, big small town. We all know each other, and we all really focus on helping each other.”
There’s more to it than that, though. Avitia uses restaurants as an analogy to really make her point to planners when they first visit.
“It’s like, in other cities, restaurants always have their daily specials, and that’s what they’re good at,” she said. “But in Albuquerque, it’s like walking into your mom’s kitchen. When she asks, ‘What can I make you?’ she really does mean, ‘What can I make you?’ I think that says a lot about who we are.”