OT CIRCUS: WHERE THE ARTS, OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY, & A SENSE OF HOME COME TOGETHER
Introduction by Two Way Street Editorial Team
One local organization that Two Way Street has been meaning to interview for a long time now is OT Circus – a quaint, accessible, and inviting art gallery/home of its founder, Victoria Van Dame, located on the northwest corner of 7th St. and Central Ave. While Van Dame brings expertise in occupational therapy to the space, her business partner, Jennifer DeSantis, brings expertise in the arts, event planning, and event promotions to the space. Together, they make a dynamic duo that is not only supporting the economic and social health of their clients, but is also improving public safety in the Downtown area for residents, business owners, and visitors. In preparation for ABQ Art Walk October 5, Two Way Street took some time to connect with Van Dame and DeSantis to hear their story…
- How does offering of occupational therapy services differentiate OT Circus from other community arts programs like OffCenter and Art Street?
In terms of differentiating, we are not necessarily an open art studio, although we are open to all artists for opportunities to show their work. We are a space that is available for OT clients to come and create arts and crafts, and there is always an opportunity for them to show in the gallery. Off Center and Art Street are open during the week for ALL to come and create art. Our space is more intimate and clients come in with their OTs to create arts and crafts in an environment that is not stressful or distracting to them.
- Where do you see OT Circus fitting within the continuum of artistic community spaces available in Albuquerque, including everything from more contemporary, high brow art galleries like 516 Arts more inclusive spaces like Art Street housed under service providers like ABQ Healthcare for the Homeless?
I think we offer a unique business model, in that we host pop up shows for one night, thus hosting a different show every weekend, which keeps things fresh and exciting each week. This model also gives us the ability to give more artists an opportunity to show. We also offer a low commission on sales, and really want the artists to make a profit. Our space is small, and intimate. It is a home. We emphasize the homey vibe with warm and welcoming energy.
- What is the importance (and value) of (regularly) holding community events that bring together individuals with and without disabilities? How about people of different socioeconomic backgrounds?
We want to be known as an inclusive gallery that encourages all levels of artistry, from the emerging to established, and everything in between. We think it is important not to pigeonhole ourselves as a space that solely works with people that are disabled both physically and mentally. We want to be open to creating opportunities for everyone. We have become a stepping stone for many artists by hosting and facilitating their first show. This fills our hearts, knowing that we have truly helped people get over the fear of that first exhibit, and we also value continuing to encourage and motivate them to pursue their artistic path. With this philosophy, we are able to afford the opportunity to all socioeconomic backgrounds.
- What do you feel OT Circus contributes to the neighborhood surrounding 7th St. and Central Ave.? What are the challenges/opportunities for holding more pop up gallery events at night?
We feel that since we began producing pop up shows every weekend, that we have enhanced Central between 7th and 8th with vibrant, creative, and perpetual energy that extends out into the downtown ABQ community. We have been honored to have our building painted bright and beautiful colors, featuring local flora and fauna by two local artists, courtesy of the Makeshift Grant (via the ACD), Joseph Arnoux and Lynnette Haozous. This mural has literally brightened up Central Ave between 7th and 8th. It is our goal to continue to perpetuate this fresh, creative energy by having a different event, and different art to ingest every single weekend. We believe, as stated before, that we are able to give more artists more opportunities to show by having these pop ups. We feel the challenges are getting people to come each weekend. There’s always so much to do in downtown Albuquerque every weekend, and our location being not on the main strip, has made it somewhat of a challenge to get people to come and pop in every weekend. At the same time, we are fairly young, it now being our second year of producing pop ups, so we are excited about growing our audience, and becoming a destination spot for unique and accessible art by different local artists.
- How does OT Circus’ Pop Up Galleries, the Downtown Growers Market, and the Humble Downtown Get Down events create a stronger sense of place and belonging in the Downtown area (that makes the place “stickier”)? Was there coordination between these three functions in terms of timing, etc.? Is there room for future coordination?
I think having all of these specific events going on at the same time truly shows people the diverse art microeconomy. That is, there are SO many skilled and passionate artists and creators of handmade goods in Albuquerque. It gives the community the opportunity to meet all of these artists and support each entity that creates opportunities for the artists to show and sell their creations. We began our artist markets on May 27 last year. We aimed to coincide with the last two hours of the grower’s market, so as to not make them feel like we are trying to take anything away from an established market. When we began our bi-weekly markets, one of the reasons was we found so many artists were maybe on a wait list, or maybe didn’t get approved through an application for a larger market. We, again, aim to be that space that will give anyone we can the opportunity to show and sell their work. Although we have not really spoken to or collaborated with either of those aforementioned, we are certainly open to collaboration. We believe communities are the primary social unit capable of progressive change, and working together rather than competing truly supports progress.
- What challenges/opportunities are there for integrating Two Way Street release parties with OT Circus Pop Up Galleries?
The main challenge, and really only challenge, is the size of our space. We are a roughly 550 square foot space. However, we do have the lot outside, which allows for many more people to fit. The other challenge that really came about halfway through this year, is that we are getting booked quickly, and far in advance. For instance, we are booked for First Friday ABQ Art Walk events through June 2019. In terms of opportunities, there is ALWAYS an opportunity to work together with Two Way Street!
- What do you feel is OT Circus’ role is in events like ABQ Art Walk and Mural Fest? What are you doing specifically for Mural Fest?
We are excited about ABQ Art Walk and how much and how quickly it has grown into bringing people downtown to enjoy art and music. We were one of the first galleries to “sign on” with ABQ Art Walk, and we love this collaboration not only with ABQ Art Walk, but with all of the participating businesses and galleries on First Friday.
We were and are, excited to be a hub for MuralFest 2018! This past Sunday, we hosted the opening of the Fresco Exchange exhibit inside our gallery, which is an international art tour featuring artists from Latin America, South America, and the United States. Two of the artists in the Fresco Exchange are also painting murals. We are blessed to have local abstract artist, Tara Massarsky producing a mural on our wall with the help of Media Arts Students, as well as Jeannie McDowell, and Davetta Wilson. These collaborations are beneficial not only to us, but also to these artists, and ABQ Art Walk and MuralFest.
- How has participating in events like ABQ Art Walk (rather than ABQ Artscrawl) helped market OT Circus’ gallery and attracted a different demographic of customers that are looking for more affordable art to sell?
We have the utmost respect for both ABQ Art Walk and ArtScrawl. As we are a non profit entity, whose mission it is to help artists with and without disabilities, we were unable to afford the membership with Artscrawl. ABQ Art Walk does not offer the same business model, and has worked tirelessly, as have the people behind Artscrawl, to create a vibrant, artistic atmosphere in downtown Albuquerque, which strives to become a destination for ALL of Albuquerque to visit the local businesses and galleries in downtown ABQ. With ABQ Art Walk being more accessible for small businesses and galleries to participate and be a part of, it has certainly opened up possibilities for more people to support local artists in the downtown community. We have certainly gained lots of new followers and patrons due to ABQ Art Walk.
- Has OT Circus been able to participate/complement the Sunday cruise nights? What opportunity is there for future collaboration here?
Thus far, we have not really participated as far as being open and housing an exhibit, with the exception of this past Sunday. We are always open to discussing any opportunities for collaboration. With that being said, we are a two woman run operation. There are two of us that are doing the work here, so collaboration is key.
- Much of your promotions focuses on the arts/play & work/community integration – how can Two Way Street help tell/promote/elevate stories surrounding OT Circus’ other “areas of occupation” like activities of daily living, rest & sleep, etc.? Same with your “areas of practice”?
There are so many pieces to the puzzle here – so many performers in the Circus – perhaps a separate one-on-one interview with the owner of the space, the OT, that is Ms. Victoria Van Dame would be best suited to expound on the Occupational Therapy aspects of The OT Circus 🙂
- How can Two Way Street start referring its vendor applicants (who participate in events like Brick Light Nights and ABQ Art Walk) to start exhibiting their work at OT Circus and/or receive some of OT Circus’ other services (depending on the individual)?
For OT services, definitely contact Ms. Van Dame, as she is the ringleader of the OT. For art opportunities, you can contact Jennifer DeSantis, the curator and coordinator of events at the gallery. That is I, 😉 We have already, and will continue to do so, have artists from Brick Light Nights and ABQ Art Walk come and participate in our markets, and pop ups.