Part of Sep 2012 by

AHA Fest, Santa Fe’s New Art Fair for the People, by Young People

The AHA Fest was an all day event this past Sunday, September 16, starting at 11am with booths closing up just after 7pm.  It was busy and festive and if there was ever a doubt that people actually lived in Santa Fe, Sunday proved that not only do people live here, young people live here.

There was a lot going on and despite the complimentary performance schedule and seemingly endless paraphernalia siting where and when stuff was happening, I nonetheless floated around a little confused as to who was what and what was where.  It seemed best not to have a schedule and just go with the flow.  By four o’clock, artists seemed a little tired of explaining their concepts or perhaps just bewildered that I asked.  Or maybe it’s just not the kind of event where spectators inquire about the art object with vested interest.  As one booth artist confessed, it was hard to hear himself think caught in the middle of two sound stages and crowds of people.  Indeed, that is kind of the point of AHA Fest—to release enthusiastic young artists from the gallery space and into the streets were they might bare their creativity en masse.

And they certainly did.  Artists transformed their booths in ways that made it difficult to distinguish one from the other.  Without a charismatic officiate offering a way inside, it could be a little scary finding entry ways while the dread of the other side felt mildly exclusive—especially when you have to pay to cross over.  This was the case with Lara Nickel and Brianna Fristoe’s “Faux to Studi-aux” pop-up photo booth. The costumed twins looked like adorable yet manipulative Russian spies who denied entry without payment and yet refused to offer a hint as to their secret.  There were more artists who warped their identity like T. C. Mcggee’s solipsistic blogging booth that revealed and concealed the person behind the keyboard with a string of T. C. Mcggee impersonators and no, that’s not her real name.  Those who weren’t intentionally performing nonetheless had friends watching their booths, which amid the day’s chaos further blurred the boundary between authorship and the work.

Some artists did just want to show their work like good ol’ Luke Dorman, back for a second year, and then the extremely earnest Kat Dison and Julia Cizeski whose booth imagined a space where constructed owls descended onto antiquated ruffles and lace that invoked an eerie spirit animal of some small girl, an installation created from discarded objects.

In true art show style, money was everywhere.  Works may have only averaged twenty dollars but rather than just hang them on the wall with a price attached, artists found clever ways to take people’s money.  No need to inebriate the art buyer while stroking their ego and discussing market value, artist Tim Jag lets the art buyer off with a spin on his Jeopardy wheel!  Ten bucks spent on a spin and won, any “original work of art” on the wall is yours.  Ten bucks spent on a spin and lost, you go home a loser.  Brilliant.  Why doesn’t Gerald Peters do this?  Cannupa Hanska set up a dart game with “original” toy prizes.  Of course, it all costs money.

To assure sufficient glue to bind all these unfamiliar booth applicants, every art collective in Santa Fe was invited to bolster the energy, to showcase the community goods and offer familiar faces.  Unfortunately, AHA turned down some applicants, myself included (bummer!), in favor of invitation only spots for Santa Fe-mous artists like Scuba Hi.  Yes we want them there and yes a nascent enterprise like AHA Fest needs to assure success but is that progressive?  Regardless, participants walked around donning floating collars around their neck from SquirrelMart in mockup black-tie style à la Alice’s Mad Tea Party.  Meow Wolf’s installation debuted in the Railyard gardens with sticks protruding from the ground covered in neon paint, ready to glow at night with the helps of black light spots.  Axle Contemporary’s truck blew Michael Schippling’s flurry of pastel colored packing peanuts behind its closed walls in We Are Experiencing Some Turbulence.

The long hours of grueling work by unpaid volunteers must be congratulated and thanked but it does seem that AHA Fest is having a bit of an identity crisis.  Sure, it’s supposed to be dynamic but when it comes to the art, what does the AHA committee look for in their artists and who on the committee is serious about visual arts? What is AHA Fest? In true art fair style, it was full of fanfare. Is it progressive, is it supposed to be and does it matter? Yes it’s great for the artists and certainly great for the community and yes, we want to see AHA Fest become what it should be.

Editor’s Note: AdobeAirstream was not aware at the time the article was assigned or the immediate time it was published that the writer had applied for inclusion in the AHA Fest and had been turned down. The comment string was under way when I learned this and asked the writer to make the disclosure in the text above, and so I further decided not to unpublish the post but to let it stand. Readers below have commented widely as to their points-of-view and additional readers can read the string as desired (newest comments appear first last.) I stand by the post and the writer. As a matter of policy, AdobeAirstream makes strict efforts to discern writers’ real conflicts of interest before assignments are made.

Write us your thoughts about this post. Play nice.
  1. Alexis B says:

    I find this quite offensive: “artists found clever ways to take people’s money.” You do realize, I hope, that artists don’t just give their work away for free, right? You do understand that artists should be paid for their work, right? I think the artists found clever ways to display and sell their art while engaging visitors.

    You also seem to not understand what AHA or the fest is about. That could have been easily resolved by visiting the Info booth. AHA is a collaborative project among many art collectives in town, all which have different mission, vision, aesthetic. AHA was founded in 2010 to identify creative ways that music and arts promoters could work together to elevate Santa Fe’s music scene. The festival is a way for the different collectives to all work together, and create a fun community event. I’m not sure why you think there is an identity crisis…since the festival is doing exactly what the participating members set out to do, and this was only its second year.

    “Is it progressive, is it supposed to be and does it matter?” I’m not sure where you got the idea that AHA or the fest is progressive. It celebrates the young artists in Santa Fe, many of whom are progressive. Or, do you mean that the event should aim to improve every year? In that sense of progress, I sure hope so, and I think year two improved upon what was done in year one.

    You seem to have many issues with the event, and you definitely have an idea of what the event SHOULD be. Maybe you should do a follow up blog post and actually share your ideas.

  2. Ellen Berkovitch says:

    This comment makes me reflect on a conversation that I had Monday at an ARTSpark event in Albuquerque (Aspiration Tech, a digital trainer from San Francisco, was also there.) The ARTSpark organizer asked people – of whom many were artists – to move to physical poles in the room to reflect how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement that “art can be sustainable without money. Money is not necessary in the pursuit of art.”
    I was pretty much at the completely-disagree pole but stayed quiet long enough to hear what everybody else said. A dancer reflected on audiences. An artist commented that he’d feel like even if he were starving creativity would still be a tool for him. Finally I said my piece, which included (as I reflect) that artists tend to be asked (are asked) more than any other group to give away things, often in service of fundraising efforts by organizations they then have to compete for inclusion in. I see that as a problem that’s endemic to the organizational system. I also see another problem that is more pernicious which is that art and money tend to get posited as distinct opposites: art is pure, money is polluted. Hash.
    This is a really valuable conversation to have. Clearly I am commenting here as the editor of AdobeAirstream and thus the editor of this piece, which I encouraged the writer to write as she saw it. I hope more people will weigh in on the idea that seems to have irked Alexis B. regarding a critique of money strategies. Perhaps the issue lies in whether the “gamesmanship,” such as it were, were seen as necessary to getting people to buy art for art’s sake. More voices welcome.

  3. Danae says:

    Thanks for posting a review of Aha. I went and was unimpressed. It’s fine if young artists want to have a festival, but money for work, and attendance, is a symbol of relevance. Personally I find the cliche of the starving “pure” artist old and tired. You kids (and elder kids) go on ahead, but don’t presume a loyal or built in audience, or sustainability, unless Aha has some Aha to it.

    • Alexis B says:

      Would care to explain why you were unimpressed? How do you see the format as unsustainable? True feedback might help the coordinators improve the event next year.

      The event was free to attend, and this included 8+ hours of free music. So, I am confused as to why people are so hung up on the artists wanting to sell their work. Do people go to Spanish Market and then complain when they are charged to purchase something? What about a gallery? What about any other art fair in existence any where?

  4. Lucy M. says:

    Very interesting. I do note, that shortly after the author mentions “clever ways of taking money,” she sites one way as brilliant, and not sarcastically, I don’t think. I’m not sure there’s an (intended?)i nsult in “clever ways of taking money.” I agree with Ellen, about artists being asked to do things for free or being expected to give away their work.

    I would like to ask the author how she imagine a more progressive AHA, in terms of things costing money, “of course.” Artist sponsorship, free work?

  5. Bob says:

    In response to the article itself, it is a shame that the author has written with such an insulting tone, carelessly critiquing all the hard work that was put in to this festival with words of indolence.
    In regards to the topic of money, it seems irrational to complain about artists wanting money for their art when that is their livelihood and they are trying to get their art off the ground.
    Sorry the red carpet was not rolled out for the author who was throwing around her entitlement, declaring, “I’m Press, what do I get for free?” This artwork did not fall out of the sky. Money was put into it to create it. “Of course, It all costs money,” — you couldn’t have said it better.
    It’s really too bad that this article was not written objectively, but with a slant of negativity because the author didn’t make it into the show. Sorry AA but this author has no ethos as far as I’m concerned.

  6. I don’t think this author is relevant. Let’s get that out of the way. Art critics are irrelevant until they have attempted (and most likely failed) to create and showcase work to a general audience. You cannot have a relevant arts & culture voice unless that voice is experienced in the world of manifestation and cultural influence.

    If she was, she would have been able to dig a bit deeper into the event. Anyone with with relevant skills in event production, art installation, music promotion, social organization, or city planning would have come away with at least a basis of ‘ Wow, something big is happening here’ and gone from there.

    But when you are a consumer, and have no relevant experience as a producer, then of course you see things as a consumer would: ‘This should be better! This must satisfy my needs! I like chocolate ice cream! Whaa-whaa-whaa’. :)

    With that said, and as someone who has successfully and (more times than not) unsuccessfully produced large events intended for cultural change, I first would like to say ‘Wow, something big is happening here’. A couple thousand young adults wandering Santa Fe on a Sunday afternoon, in the new culture district of town that rarely sees much activity, is an accomplishment in and of itself. Believe me, I have tried to centralize this kind of crowd, and it is incredibly difficult in our sleepy and measly-populated city.

    All-day music featuring some of Santa Fe’s best local acts? Brilliant. Nice work AHA. Do I have issues with some of the curatorial choices of acts? Sure, but guess what? I chose not to involve myself directly with the fest. And in this universe, and in our generation, griping without participation just looks weak. And it looks consumerist. Hannah Hoel, your article makes you look like a bratty consumerist. And, funny enough, that is the culture we are trying to shift. Bratty consumerists be gone! Active makers and participants, come forth!

    As for the art, I think the intention is incredible, and I think the seed that has been planted is ultimately fruitful. Of course, I can only have this perspective because I have relevant producer credentials that allow me to see the bigger picture, the extended arc, the symbolism and the energetic and the invisible property of momentum. It is no surprise to me that Hannah missed this because, well, she has no relevant experience with these sorts of elements.

    Does the artwork need more of a curatorial encouragement? I’d say so. Something a bit more than just ‘Here’s your booth’? Yeah, lets work towards that. Grow little plant, grow.

    And finally, on the topic of selling art, it actually dumbfounds me that this is the author’s centerpiece concern. She comes across sounding so young, inexperienced, idealistic, and embarrassingly out-of-touch. Again, someone who talks but does not do. Without relevance. Our generation of artists have taken on the task of reshaping the art industry. It is an elite, exclusive, esoteric, expensive and dull world, laughably caught up in its own abstractions. We believe that there are different markets for art, and through those different markets arise the potentiality for the expression through new medium and new venue.

    For instance, many involved in the ‘art world’ denounced the idea of paying $10 to see The Due Return. But without that model, without that market, an exhibit like ‘The Due Return’ cannot exist. Thankfully, the ‘art world’ is such a small percentage of the potential art-going public and The Due Return welcomed many visitors who happily paid $10 to see the ship. This allowed Meow Wolf the freedom to continue down the path of immersive installation art, knowing that there is a market and model for its success.

    AHA Fest, and the artists participating, are attempting to find a market and model that works for their medium and venue. That market and model involves games, it involves entry fees, it involves experimentation. And as it is with all experimentation, sometimes it does not work. You then keep searching.

    Hannah, your ignorance (as in ignoring) of the deeper issues and bigger pictures of the AHA Fest represents your level of relevance as an art critic. And honestly, Adobe Airstream’s choice to print your review represents its level of relevance as a source for art review. Had I been editor of this piece, I would have marked in big red letters at the top of your draft ‘This is shallow, especially considering the many deeper issues that AHA is representing. Try again.’

    In my mind, the author’s perspective, the subsequent piece, and the blog that decided to publish this piece are simply irrelevant.

  7. Jorm says:

    oh she went to St. Johns… makes sense

  8. o says:

    It seems strange to me that an article like this could get past the editor. Where are the facts? Where is the critique? This is pure OPINION and lacks any substance as a piece of journalism.
    It seems that the editor is trying to save a bad article by elevating the subject of money strategies + art, when the author herself only shallowly complains about this issue- about clever ways to take people’s money. Was Hannah Hoel paid to write this article? Can anyone honestly expect anyone to do anything for free?
    Oh yes, the volunteers! All of which are involved in Santa Fe’s art world or are interested enough to spend endless, unpaid hours to help this event- the author would have found this out if she had done any homework or simply visited the Information booth.
    Regarding money, (since there is absolutely nothing to actually discuss with this article) I am surprised that the author felt she was entitled to anything for free, since, as she declared at the festival, she was “press”. Are artists supposed to kiss the press’ ass- even when the “press” fails to identify who she is press for- and asks in a way as if she is already completely unimpressed by this silly event?
    I am sorry to say, but the author’s own sentence, “Unfortunately, AHA turned down some applicants, myself included (bummer!)…”, completely discredits her entire article…and explains her attitude toward the event.
    If you are going to write a critique you had better offer constructive, objective criticism and facts. Even with the artists the author did like she doesn’t explain how or why, instead using phrases such as “good ol’ Luke” or “extremely earnest Kat”. Where are the author’s own thoughts?
    This article sure has “generated a lot of thoughts” but not by the author- rather by those who have left comments, including the editor. The author only briefly poses questions at the end such as, “who on the committee is serious about visual arts? What is AHA Fest?…Is it progressive, is it supposed to be and does it matter?…we want to see AHA Fest become what it should be.” Well…what are Hannah Hoel’s actual constructive thoughts?
    I am sure that anyone who participated in the AHA Fest would welcome a professional critique- because frankly, as a journalist, you were not very curious.

  9. Todd says:

    Has anyone experienced the other art fairs in Santa Fe, SOFA, or the contemporary art fair? These are events that you must pay to enter, contain no affordable work, offer little to nothing in the way of entertainment. And there presence here in Santa Fe, brings very little attention to Art except for those already deeply involved in the art world.

    AHA is the answer the opposite of the traditional art fair formula, and deserves to be considered “progressive” in those terms.

    Much of the work that can be shown is not dictated by money but the fact that it is an event that only exists for 10 hours, outside! That means you have to be able to hang and break down in an hour. Well what kind of work can you show with those constraints? Obviously, some people where able to create incredible installations, but for the drawing and painting artist, this is probably not the time to bring out the huge works. It’s a time to show smaller works, and then hopefully find a way to engage your audience.

    I think much of the observations are done in humor and as a reader I can appreciate those clever comments. But I think this fair deserves to be reviewed in the context of the other art fairs in Santa Fe. In that respect it accomplishes more for our artists and community then any other fair. It delivers a fresh perspective on our city and offers the chance to connect to each other, when so many of our cultural events are really about tourism, not about us.

  10. Alice says:

    I am a bit confused as to why people think the author did not appreciate the efforts of AHA fest. The first lines of the story emphatically support what I understand to be one of the key objectives of the festival. I also understand that she interviewed a key organizer of the event so there is little chance she was uninformed. The insertion of the full disclosure line means that she has also seen first hand the materials provided by the festival to potential participants. Clearly she attended and spoke with several of the exhibiting artists.

    Money is not mentioned until the 5th paragraph so I am unclear how this is read as the centerpiece of the article.

    I have to agree that paying for the privilege of spinning a ‘wheel of fortune’ without being presented the option to purchase work – in other words the money was a bet at a roulette table and the artist pockets it without applying the funds to a purchase – seems a bit mercenary and not in a good way. If on the other hand a losing spin of the wheel entitled the consumer to apply the funds to the purchase of a piece of art at full price instead of perhaps a discount, more art would have been sold and visitors may have felt more engaged in supporting the artist. It is hard to deny that this particular method of marketing is very akin to a coin toss at a fair in hopes of winning a cheezie stuffed animal. I think it is worth discussing the equating of art with a carnie. Is that a goal of AHAfest?

    I am curious about the comments regarding invited participants who may have replaced young artists looking for exactly this sort of opportunity. There is only so much space in the rail yard. If a portion of the booths were given to invited artists versus applying artists in need of exposure does this contradict another key objective of the festival? If so, it was appropriate for the author to point this out.

    ! am familiar with the author’s experience outside her bio. She has been an event planner and coordinator in New York City. She has worked with town councils in New England to produce town arts festivals. She has exhibited paintings in multiple group shows on the east coast. The work was for sale and was sold. She has attended arts festivals around the country and throughout Europe. Assumptions about her experience and background are truly naive.

  11. Peter Holt says:

    Let me tell you a story:
    When I first moved to Santa Fe 25 years ago, I stayed with a friend on mine. She had retired from the corporate world and taken up art as a living. She made cute little key rings and did a little beading and made belt buckles and did some collages and hand colored photos.
    Basically it was finger painting but she was in love with her innocence and wanted to share it with the world.
    I spent much of my Sunday at the AHA festival and I read Ms. Hoel’s critique and I have read the responses to her article. I think she expected a grown up art festival and didn’t ooh and aah enough for your tastes. So what?
    You’re whining like she said you have an ugly baby.
    Maybe it is an ugly baby.
    Maybe it’s finger painting and we feel so special and in love with ourselves in Santa Fe that we want to believe that every one of our baby efforts is the most adorable and a lovable little thing you ever-did-see.
    Maybe we’re full of ourselves.
    I thought that the art part of the AHA festival was supporting the Santa Fe art scene. I didn’t realize that it was actually a subsidized outlet for a few handpicked artists to make a few bucks.
    I felt personally cheapened and regretted the money I had contributed.
    I wanted to see some non-commercial and stimulating art by people who were given a free platform to reach a big audience.
    Have a little class, guys: show your art and if someone wants to buy a piece, give them a card and invite them to your studio.
    And if artists/ craft-people are there to cash in, let them pay a fee and use that money (and my donation) to support non-commercial art and the broader underground art scene. Mr. Porter: I utterly agree with you that Raven Chacon’s bird in a cage last year was sublime and mature.
    I see Meow Wolf making a big name for themselves. I like their finger painting. My kid thinks it’s really fun. I like that people can be playful. I think people are in love with their innocence. Cool but bad art.
    AHA festival: cool but bad art.

    • Alexis B says:

      My initial response to you was a string of curse words. You just managed to discredit every young art collective in Santa Fe, some of whom have been curating shows and making art here for over a decade, most of whom have high levels of training and skill. Your attitude is exactly why AHA needs to exist: because the condescension towards young artists in this town is debilitating towards their work and towards a scene young people can enjoy. Next year, keep your donation and use it towards something you like. Maybe a nice coyote sculpture or landscape is more to your liking. As for me, I’ll keep supporting art that thinks out side of the box. I’ll keep supporting artists who have fun with their art. I’ll keep working to make this a town where it is not impossible for a young person to survive and thrive.

      As to your comment about “a few hand picked artists”….IT’S A JURIED SHOW JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER ONE IN THIS TOWN.

  12. Katherine says:

    This review disappoints me. Not because it’s negative. I would welcome concise constructive criticism. But it is scattered and misinformed. Let me first address the most glaring instance of misinformation. Hoel writes “unfortunately, AHA turned down some applicants, myself included (bummer!), in favor of invitation only spots for Santa Fe-mous artists like Scuba Hi.” SCUBA went through the application process and the curatorial committee discussed their proposal just as they did with Hannah Hoel’s proposal. The only difference is they were excepted and she was not.

     In fact no artist was turned down in favor of a invitation only artist. One example of a booths that got invited was Meow Wolf publishing. They had curated the poetry component of last year’s festival and were asked to play a similar role this year.

    Now to address Hoel’s claim that “In true art show style, money was everywhere.” In a typical art show (craft show, Indian market, Spanish market, ect.) Close to all the artists are selling their work. At the AHA festival less than 50% were. Out of 32 Artists in booths and around the festival grounds only 15 of the artists booths were selling work.

     Hoel takes umbrage with artists Tim Jag and Cannupa Hanska carnival games. What she does not take the time to note is that you are still welcome to buy the pieces. In the case of Cannupa Hanska work you could buy one of his “prizes” for $100 or try your luck for $20. And win a beautifully hand crafted ceramic face sound onto a stuffed animal. As someone that has followed and loves Cannupa work but never been able to pay for it. I was more than willing to risk $20+ and have to chance to own one of his beautiful pieces. I saw it as a bargain not a scam.

    At the end of her piece Hoel proposes that the AHA festival is having a identity crisis. Let me reiterate this is only the second year of the AHA festival. How can it have an identity crisis when its identity is not fully formed? 

  13. Bob Bobby says:

    Shameless lazy criticism for your own reflected self revery is never enjoyable to read…

  14. Alexis B says:

    I still have not seen any of the naysayers – the author included – provide any CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Peter says that all those who commented in support of AHA are “whining.” No, we’re just reacting to the list of insults. If you knew how to provide constructive criticism, then we would all benefit. As it is, you just look like assholes.

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