• Regional economic development group to spotlight Downtown at March event
  • Vicki Bolen, the artist behind a Mountain Road gallery and popular soup bowl fundraiser, is dead at 66
  • Detective DAN: Why are so many of those special lamp posts on Fourth in Barelas not working?
Economic development group to spotlight Downtown at March event
The usual day-to-day job of the Albuquerque Regional Economic Alliance (AREA) is to convince companies to expand within or move to our metropolitan area. Their website is basically a rolled-out red carpet in digital form, with tips on how to find property, talent, and tax incentives.

But on March 16, the group will host an event dedicated to a very small part of the region they cover that nonetheless looms large. Called "The Case for Downtown," the event will feature experts involved in downtown redevelopment efforts in Memphis and Gilbert, Arizona, along with "a fireside chat about innovative downtown ideas from three local property owners."

"Downtown Albuquerque, in our opinion, matters to everyone in the region," said Danielle Casey, the AREA president and CEO. 

The reasons it matters, however, go beyond mere civic pride. Downtown areas can be a key selling point both to companies looking to move here and future residents who might wind up working for those companies one day. Businesses think very hard about such important decisions, and as part of that homework, "they're going to drive through our Downtown," Casey said. "We really need a Downtown that is activated and has energy."

The event follows a series of city-led efforts last year aimed at focusing attention on Downtown and jumpstarting revitalization work. That included an event last June at the KiMo Theatre called "For the Love of Downtown," a wide-ranging study about the value of Downtown, and the Downtown Forward Plan, a major funding component of which is presently working its way through the state legislature (DAN, 2/22/23).

The Case for Downtown event, by contrast, is led by the business community, which could play an especially critical role in revitalization, particularly if it takes a cue from other cities and organizes around a business improvement district (BID). BIDs typically involve some sort of special property tax levy or other assessment and a set program of improvements that the money pays for with an eye toward boosting property values and economic activity.

Negotiations about a BID are said to be happening behind the scenes (DAN, 11/14/22) but neither it nor a discussion of a formal business-authored plan for Downtown are on the schedule for March 16. Still, Casey is hoping that the event and other efforts will help to catalyze ideas into something like a consensus agenda.

IF YOU GO: The Case for Downtown is happening March 16 from 3:30-5:30 p.m. at 500 Marquette Avenue NW (15th floor). Tickets start at $45 for AREA contributors, $60 for everyone else. Details here.
Vicki Bolen, the artist behind a Mountain Road gallery and popular soup bowl fundraiser, is dead at 66
Bolen, pictured here in front of the Little Bird de Papel gallery (Mountain and Twelfth), which featured an outdoor mural to match the name.
Vicki Bolen, the proprietor of the Little Bird de Papel gallery at Mountain and Twelfth and the organizer of a major recurring fundraiser for OFFCenter Community Arts Project, died on February 6 in Albuquerque. She was 66. Richard Wolfson, her partner of 16 years, confirmed the death and said the cause was cancer.

Victoria Joy Bolen was born on May 30, 1956 in Sacramento, California and grew up on her family's rice farm in the nearby city of Carmichael. After graduating from California State University (Sacramento), she worked for Cost Plus World Market, becoming a manager who the company deployed to a number of locations both in California and Washington state.

Bolen later moved to Galveston, Texas, where for six years she ran a Pilates studio and an art gallery focused on the work of others. She moved to Albuquerque in 2000 to pursue her own art career and for several years managed that business out of her house before opening Little Bird de Papel in 2012.

Bolen's career flourished in Albuquerque, where her work ranged from pottery to bookbinding to printmaking and origami. Her enduring fascination with origami cranes was a source of inspiration for the gallery's name. So far as Wolfson can tell, she is the only artist in the world to make them not just out of paper but out of Tyvek-brand house wrapping material - the better for the birds to roll with the punches of outdoor weather.

Birds have also featured prominently on the Mountain gallery's exterior: Bolen commissioned muralist Andrew Fearnside to create a kind of colorful wall-sized field guide to local avian life, a project that wrapped up in 2020 (DAN, 10/7/20).

Bolen's art has been included or exclusively featured in a number of exhibitions, including ones located at Mariposa Gallery (Nob Hill), Artichoke Cafe, the Albuquerque Country Club, and Mountain Road neighbor The Next Best Thing to Being There. Internationally, her work is in the permanent collections of museums in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and at Wolverhampton College in the United Kingdom. 

For a few years before the pandemic, Bolen also organized an annual fundraiser for OffCenter Community Arts Project called "Soup is Love," which involved shepherding area residents through the process of creating hundreds of ceramic bowls. The creations would then be fired in her kiln and auctioned off to benefit the arts center, which is on Park Avenue just west of the Central-and-Eighth roundabout.

"She had an amazing impact on whatever community she went to," Wolfson said.

Bolen and Wolfson would sometimes travel to as many as 20 weekend art shows per year, but in their spare time the couple liked to take in local theater, and their favorite company was the now-defunct Tricklock, based at Second and Gold. The couple would also attend frequent open mic comedy nights at which Wolfson performed. During summers, they made a tradition out of attending Santa Fe Opera shows for five evenings in a row, something they called an "op-cation."

Little Bird will continue as an arts studio and will also host small theatrical productions, Wolfson said.

Bolen is survived by her mother, Margaret Bolen, and brothers Butch and Steve Bolen. She was preceded in death by her father, Elmer Bolen.

A memorial is planned for this spring and details will be posted on the Little Bird de Papel Facebook page.
Detective DAN: Why are so many of those special lamp posts on Fourth in Barelas not working?
Some lamps, particularly between Atlantic and Cesar Chavez, are still lit, but it's much less common north of Atlantic.
Alert Reader Anthony writes in to ask:

Do you know why the city has not been turning on the street lights on Fourth? Aside from anything else, it is encouraging people to vandalize properties on the street. Someone recently ripped a picket off my fence and I've seen broken glass all over the sidewalk in front of Coronado Elementary. No doubt there is plenty of other nonsense up and down Fourth. 

City spokesman Scott Cilke responded: "This had not been reported to the city as of yet. We are looking into the issue and will restore the lights to working order as quickly as possible."

That was on February 2, but as of last week, Anthony reported, the situation had not changed.

The lights in question are also notable for their design: Rather than the usual tall overhead version, these more closely resemble old-fashioned lamp posts. The lights run roughly between Coal and César Chávez.
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