December 2016

Tiaso Artist Cooperative Mixes Art and Community


Many have argued that art has the power to change the world, and the Albuquerque-based Tiaso Artist Cooperative believes that their members do just that. Founded in the spring of this year, the cooperative is a member-owned, member-run organization that supports artists working to create positive community change.


The cooperative has attracted artists from all over the spectrum—from performing artists to poets, painters, sculptors and even textile artists. A couple of Tiaso’s artists you might know are Hakim Bellamy, Albuquerque’s first poet laureate, and Valerie Martínez, Pulitzer Prize- nominated poet and collaborative artist. 


The co-op provides support and professional services the artists need. “Tiaso does not believe in the starving artist,” says program coordinator Shelle VanEtten Sánchez. “All professionals need support services and access to resources to make their work stronger and expand what they are able to accomplish. Artists are no exception, especially when they are working on large-scale community projects that need the support of other artists, event coordinators, bookkeepers, contract managers, marketers, etc.” The cooperative makes those things more available and affordable. Tiaso helps support the sustainability of artists’ businesses and links members to a multidisciplinary network.


“Community work is the backbone of Tiaso,” Sanchez explained. “Many artists are able to bring personal expression, hands-on making, creative connections and collaboration to their work; things that help build, shape and strengthen communities.”


Tiaso’s founding members are currently participating in Community Table, a collaborative project that is redesigning and reinvigorating public spaces in the South Valley. This includes building tables that organizations can use as part of a community space—to eat, cook, share stories and meet around. The goal is to have a city filled with safe—and beautiful—gathering spaces.


Tiaso’s group of artists acts as supporters, entrepreneurs, networkers and directors of their own projects. In November, Carlos Contreras hosted Just Speak, Just Listen, Just Move, a 3-part show focused on local art, poetry and music. Another member organization, Kei and Molly Textiles, works with refugee resettlement programs to generate jobs with health and education benefits for immigrants in the International District who create signature hand-printed fabrics. ALMA, led by Cassandra Reid, recently dedicated another section of the monumental mosaic mural on the outside of the Albuquerque Convention Center. The multi-year project provides paid apprenticeships to Albuquerque youth through a partnership with the Mayor’s Summer Art Institute. Hakim Bellamy recently wrote poetry for an Emmy Award winning documentary on teen pregnancy for KNME’s New Mexico in Focus.


“Tiaso’s founding artists decided that a cooperative structure both reflected the way they want to work with each other and with the community,” saidSanchez. “We wanted to move away from the nonprofit structure, which requires an executive director and board of trustees, toward something that could be co-owned and co-directed by the artists.”


In August, Tiaso hosted Jane Chu, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, to share stories of art and community in the South Valley, eat paletas and discuss Tiaso. The event was a great honor for a cooperative in its first year.


To learn more about Tiaso or become a member, visit




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