“If you look at a lot of communities across the country,” says Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova, “art is revitalizing.” Faced with a historic downtown area that had a high vacancy rate, creating an Arts and Culture District on Becker Street in Belen seemed like a natural fit, Cordova says.
Arts and Cultural Districts are established by the New Mexico Arts Commission, and the program is managed by New Mexico Main Street, an arm of the Department of Cultural Affairs. The state Arts and Historic Preservation and Tourism departments also contribute to the success of the 13 established districts which extend from Farmington to Artesia and Raton to Silver City.
The legislation creating the districts was approved by the State Legislature in 2007, and Belen which certainly has the features necessary to qualify. One can start at the historic Harvey House Museum beside the always busy Belen railyard and proceed west past two historic hotels which frequently are used as movie sets.
“This is one of the most filmed locations in New Mexico,” Cordova says, admitting that he is a fan of cinema.
Women’s Cultural Corridor
Belen is one of the destinations of New Mexico’s Women’s Cultural Corridor, a project of acclaimed artist Judy Chicago and her non-profit feminist art organization, Through the Flower. The corridor recognizes female contributions to the arts from Abiquiu and Taos to Belen. Agnes Martin, Millicent Rogers, Mabel Dodge Luhan and Georgia O’Keeffe are among those honored, as well as Chicago who opened the Through the Flower Art Space in Belen as part of the Arts and Culture District grand opening during the summer of 2019. Lena Malcom, the art space manager, says 400 people attended the grand opening in July.
Throughout an exemplary career, the 80-year-old Chicago has fought for women to be given recognition and appreciation of their achievements. In addition to painting, writing and sculpting immense presentations, Chicago has incorporated the work of quilters and needlepoint artists into projects displayed from New York to California, and now right here in Belen.
A gift shop in the art space sells Judy Chicago books, t-shirts, table runners and dishes from Chicago’s famed installation, “The Dinner Party.”
Complementing Chicago’s work in the art space is the photography of her husband, Donald Woodman. His images of the West – bison, rodeo cowboys, pilgrims on Tome Hill – should make New Mexicans feel right at home. Chicago and Woodman also feel at home because the historic Belen Hotel, right across the street, is their residence. The interpretive plaque describing their romance includes an interlude at Zozobra, and you can’t get more New Mexican than that!
Visit Through the Flower Art Space at 107 Becker Ave. in Belen, or online at www.throughtheflower.org.
Farther west at 509 Becker Ave. is the Belen Art League, featuring the art of dozens of artists working in pottery, sculpture, painting, jewelry, wood, leather, metal and photography. Classes are available if you are feeling the urge to create. Learn more at www.belenartleaguegalleryandgifts.com.
The Arts and Culture District also offers New Mexicans who have spent more than a few winters in Albuquerque the chance to visit one of the city’s most storied Christmas displays. The Bugg Lights, one family’s effort to not be outdone during the holidays, were forced out of Albuquerque for drawing too big of a crowd to a residential neighborhood. Now they are on permanent display at 525 Becker Ave.
The lights did a stint at Budaghers off I-25, and then at Menaul School in the city. Six years ago, the lights were adopted by the Harvey House Museum in Belen. Unfortunately, after decades of being assembled and taken down again and again, the famed lights were showing some wear.
“They started to break,” says Belen city councilor Ronnie Torres. “The mechanical parts were not working and the penguins were falling apart. We didn’t want to be known as the city that destroyed the Bugg Lights.”
The new permanent home can’t hold the entire display, but closer to Christmas volunteers will put out additional lights at their permanent year-round home. The crew also spent six months replacing bulbs and mechanical pieces, like electric motors. “It’s nice to see them working again,” says Torres. “There are new eyes on the penguins.”
The art of the vintner also is represented on Becker Ave. by Jaramillo Vineyard, a Belen establishment owned and operated by Robert and Barbara Jaramillo. Robert says they chose to grow grapes because they use only 20 percent of the water needed to produce alfalfa, another stalwart crops of the frequently arid Rio Grande Valley.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Robert comes from a grape-growing family. His grandfather, Leopoldo Jaramillo, was the largest producer of wine in the valley prior to prohibition in the 1930s.
There are 10,000 vines of 20 varieties growing at Jaramillo Vineyards, including Norton Cythiana, a grape used by Thomas Jefferson to produce good wine. Visit the Jaramillo Vineyards tasting room at 114 Becker Ave. in Belen. Find out more at www.jaramillovineyards.com.
The art of living in New Mexico is appreciated here whether you drink it in with your eyes or with your lips. Be sure to check websites for the hours these Becker Avenue establishments are open, and stay up to date with event information at www.explorebelen.org. Visitors can also ride the New Mexico Rail Runner Express to its southern most station in Belen - all of these sites and more are a short walk from the train.
Story by: Martin Frentzel