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Soulful Summit in the West

Updated: Feb 20, 2019

By Andrea Orlando

Community Director,

The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking


Eat. Pray. Dance. Weep. Tell Stories. No, it’s not the title of a new book. It’s what happened at one of our most soulful Summits yet. At the West Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit we explored the complex challenges that infuse creative placemaking in the Southwestern and Rocky Mountain states.


For three days, approximately 200 summit attendees gathered at the Albuquerque Convention Center to immerse themselves in sharing the hurdles and triumphs of addressing community development challenges through arts and culture. Zuni Pueblo Leader Norman Cooeyate set the tone and direction of the gathering with a prayer, and the next few days were spent in deep discussions that evoked laughter, tears and forged new connections across disciplines and states.


"I have been raving about the summit to my staff and board," wrote Theresa Sweetland, Executive Director of Forecast Public Art. "[T]he curation of sessions was inspiring and impressive."


Artplace America, the City of Albuquerque, and the University of New Mexico and co-produced the event with The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking. Sherri Brueggeman, who works for the Public Art Urban Enhancement Division of the city organized the first-ever panel discussion on creative placemaking in the cosmos. Brueggeman is also primary co-founder of the Inter Galactic Cultural Relations Institute. Anyone who expected a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek respite from the weighty conversations of the first day was in for a surprise. Virgin Galactic representative Jason Lazich presented on the new Spaceport America, which will launch civilians into space and back from a remote part of the state between Albuquerque and Las Cruces. The conversation went deeper with a discussion of the work of the fictitious character, Dr. Howard, played by artist Adrian Pijoan. And Afrofuturist playwright, Karen Jones Meadows, took the room to a whole other dimension through her dramatic reading of a play that imagines the persistence of the soul of Harriet Tubman somewhere in outer space.


At our summits, we strip away the titles that connote hierarchy in everyday life so that everyone feels comfortable enough to ask a question or share a thought. Indeed, our summit photographer, Albuquerque High School senior Jacob Anthony Olaguir, felt enough at ease to ask a question of one of our plenary instructors.


Michaela Shirley of the University of New Mexico’s Indigenous Design and Planning Institute organized a panel discussion that evoked tears. Her guest speakers told of the work they do with some of the most marginalized populations; victims of sex trafficking, trans-gendered

Michaela Shirley, left, leads a panel discussion

people, undocumented immigrants, incarcerated people, and indigenous women.

Members of the Utah Diné Bikéya taught a seminar based on their work organizing five indigenous tribes in the effort to designate a large swath of Southeastern Utah as Bears Ears National Monument. At times, the session felt like a gathering of extended family, as members of numerous tribes attended, took notes and engaged in a frank discussion of the joys, the triumphs, the vision as well as the tricky politics required to sustain such an effort.


Mary Ellen Strom of Mountain Time Arts of Montana told a triumphant tale of employing art to build momentum in changing the name of a river back to its indigenous name. Hakim Bellamy and Darryl DeLoach shared their method of role-playing traffic stops to help both law enforcement officers and young men of color better understand each others' points of view and ultimately make those encounters safer. Sarah Brin of Meow Wolf busted myths about play and whimsy and discussed the role of play in bringing marginalized voices to the fore.

Summit photographer and Albuquerque High School Senior Jacob Anthony Olaguir

Instructors from Austin, Texas workshopped their methods of choreographing performance pieces intended to lift up the voices of those who are the end users of public spaces and services.


Participants mingled over wine and snacks at two social events. The Space Returns Social event simulated a gently floating spaceship, as artist Pijoan circulated throughout the crowd in character as Dr. Howard, the scientist seeking answers to his survey on attitudes and experiences with extra-terrestrial life. Cristina Rogers, a graduate of the Certificate in Creative Placemaking program and New Mexico resident, organized a social at the National Hispanic Cultural Center that celebrated Flamenco music and dance.



For photos and a full list of the organizations they work for, please visit our summit recap page at cpcommunities.org/recap . We thank our supporters and partners: The National Endowment for the Arts, McClure, Virgin Galactic, Dekker Perich Sabatini, Story Lab Interactive, and the Inter Galactic Cultural Relations Institute, Meow Wolf, The Education Foundation of America, Academy for the Love of Learning, the Levitt Foundation, Colorado Creative Industries, Cultural Planning Group, VisitABQ, and Garcia Automotive Group.





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Board Chair: Colleen Finnegan Kahl

Founding Director: Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP

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