New space a long-held dream for owner Karen Ellsbury

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FARMINGTON — Downtown art gallery owner Karen Ellsbury figures she would have been done with her pocket park project behind her business weeks ago if not for one issue.

"People kept donating stuff to me," she said with a laugh Thursday afternoon as she scrambled to put the finishing touches on the project in preparation for tonight's Summer Stroll and Art Walk.

The new park features a large stage, a pergola, a covered patio, planters and various other amenities, all in a large space that used to serve as a parking lot, and is enclosed by a black, wrought-iron fence. The space, which is bordered by a large municipal parking lot on the north, will be open to the public during business hours, and will be available for private parties and other functions after hours.

Ellsbury and her husband, photographer Patrick Hazen, owners of Studio 116 at 116 W. Main St., always had the idea of creating a small park in the space behind their building when they opened the gallery five years ago. But the idea remained a dream until last year, when Ellsbury presented the notion to city of Farmington downtown coordinator Michael Bulloch.

Bulloch was receptive to the idea, as he had been trying for a couple of years to generate some money to promote that kind of project, especially with the city's Complete Streets program kicking into high gear and downtown merchants being encouraged to spruce up their property.

He knew the New Mexico Resiliency Alliance, in partnership with the state MainStreet program, already had a grant program in place called the Resilient Communities Fund for locally driven economic development projects in rural or underserved communities. Bulloch tailored an application for what Ellsbury had in mind and succeeded in landing a $3,500 grant for the project that Downtown Farmington would administer in partnership with the Northwest New Mexico Arts Council.

Work on the park began last fall and resumed this spring. Ellsbury and Hazen say they have more than matched the $3,500 they received from the Resilient Communities Fund with their own money they have poured into the project, along with their labor and that of dozens of volunteers.

The result is a first-class outdoor event space that will make its debut tonight during the Art Walk. Ellsbury will have five artists showing their work — Dale Latta, Gilmore Scott, Michael Billie, Rob Rocket and Roswell — and live music by Eric Campbell.

Bulloch said the space Ellsbury has created has exceeded his expectations.

"I thought it was going to be nice," he said. "But it's just phenomenal."

He said he was impressed by the willingness of Ellsbury and Hazen to invest their own money and their "sweat equity" into the project.

"It shows pride of ownership in her property and her business," he said. "It shows they're willing to have some skin in the game, as well."

Ellsbury could hardly contain her delight Thursday at seeing the project nearly finished. Once the streetscaping work planned for the city's Complete Streets project gets going and access to Main Street is severely restricted, the pocket park will become the primary entrance to Studio 116.

Work on the $12 million Complete Streets project is expected to begin next year. That looming deadline motivated Ellsbury to build the pocket park now, she said.

"I think I would have still done it, but I think it would have been longer," Ellsbury said. "They really gave us that push start."

The park's main features are the pergola, a semi-covered space featuring lights and ceiling fans hung from its 2-inch-by-12-inch beams; a 10-foot-by-19-foot stage backed by a false wall featuring lights and artwork by Cortez, Colorado, artist Katherine Lea and Ellsbury; a hanging bell created by Bill Diers; and four planters made of such recycled material as bed headboards and ceiling tiles, all filled with soil and newly planted tomatoes and chiles. There are also several pieces of outdoor furniture and a fire box.

"We have been gifted most of the outdoor furniture," she said. "A couple of cans of spray paint, and it's all new."

Ellsbury envisions the space being used not just for her art openings, but for musical performances, poetry readings and other gatherings, including private parties and meetings of community groups.

The space was created in agreement with the Christian Science Reading Room, which shares the lot with Studio 116. And the wall on the west side of the park, part of the Brown's Shoe Fit Co. store, already has been chosen to serve as the site of a mural to be painted by artist Jamie Fairchild as part of the Art in the Alley project.

Bulloch hopes that what Ellsbury and Hazen have done, with the help of their many volunteers, inspires other downtown merchants to take an imaginative approach to making their property more appealing and versatile. He said the recent additions of the Studio 116 pocket park, the indoor events space at the Artifacts Gallery and the North Allen Coworking and Venue have been a big plus for downtown.

"I think it's important to our economy to have that diversity in spaces and uses," he said.

Ellsbury hopes the new space inspires other downtown merchants to follow her lead.

"We are part of Farmington, and we feel like we are stakeholders. We believe in this dream of downtown Farmington becoming a living room instead of a hallway," she said, conveying a philosophy repeated by Complete Streets supporters who argue the district can become a destination for tourists rather than just a part of the city they pass through.

Tonight's Art Walk also features the opening of the new Museum of Navajo Art and Culture at 301 W. Main St. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned at 6 p.m., and a Navajo weaving demonstration will take place. There also will be live entertainment and refreshments.

The Artifacts Gallery at 302 E. Main St. will showcase work by members of the Four Corners Photographic Society during the Art Walk. Participating artists include Anna Bouren, Jim Davis, Mickey Ginn, Stacy Harris, Meredith Lee-Mike, Kerry Meier, Phyllis Meier, Janelle Schilz-Winbray and Christina VanMersbergen.

The Art Walk takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. Postcard maps can be picked up at any participating venue.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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