Interview: Julianna Kirwin and the Doors For The Arts

Julianna Kirwin has worked in the arts all her life. As a child, she loved drawing. She worked as an art teacher for twelve years, inspiring the youth of Bernalillo Public Schools to follow their hearts, grow their own inner worlds, and even make art, as she did. Printmaking, and especially serigraphy (silkscreening), was the medium she spent the most time with. Six years ago, she began traveling to Mexico each summer to study papier mache techniques with Maestro Felipe Olmos. She is bringing her particular love for color, folk art and street life to Mountain Road with her new project, the Doors For The Arts. With fourteen doors, Kirwin is able to transform the side of her beautiful adobe house at 8th and Mountain into a gallery. At the event, car traffic turns into foot traffic, and passersby become neighbors, members of what is already a vibrant arts corridor in the heart of old Albuquerque.

I spoke to Julianna last week, and learned about her vision for the Doors, for Mountain Road, and for the arts in Albuquerque in general.

What are you working on in your studio? 

Currently, I am working on a large panel ( 4’ x 5’) using cut-out fragments from my prints and repurposing them into something new. It has landscape elements, and it has some 3D paper mache elements. I like combining printmaking with paper mache now and this piece reflects that. The paper mache part are chairs that are drifting toward the sky in an otherwise tranquil rural New Mexico setting-two houses, plants, mountains etc.

What are your goals for Doors For The Arts? 

I would like to show a variety of works by visual artists in and around my neighborhood…AND I would like to show written works by poets-especially poets/writers who may be describing life in our area of town or in Albuquerque.

How would you characterize the Mountain Road area as an arts destination today?

Currently, Mountain Road is a sleepy byway with a lot of hidden history. Big trucks speed down its narrow road and there are no visual reminders of its original role as the road that connected the mountain settlements of Carnuel to what is now called Old Town. With a little encouragement, it could become a more walkable corridor with interesting places to stop and view art or have a coffee on your way to the museum. The road needs visual reminders of the identity that it once had. No one knows that the area is actually zoned “Arts and Crafts” with lower speeds set for bicyclists and pedestrians.

How do see the Mountain Road arts area in ten years? 

I envision colorfully painted houses and art studios all along the road. There would be benches for people to sit as they wind their way down the road on a weekend or evening. Eventually it could become an attractive, vital part of our city–an arts corridor, much like Canyon Road in Santa Fe. There are plenty of wider roads such as Lomas Blvd for more efficient traffic flow. Mountain Road has so much history that would be interesting to both tourists and residents of NM.

What does visual art do for you, personally? How does it work in your life?

I love doing hands-on work, and here in NM we are connected to a rich legacy of artists and craftspeople. My favorite medium is printmaking. With that skill, I can create the kind of images that reflect my environment and travels. For example, I have always lived along the old roads in New Mexico, and traveling those roads has taken me on a personal journey that I like to share with others through my art. When I lived in Bernalillo, my studio was on the Camino Real-the oldest road linking Old Mexico with New Mexico. The study of that history and the traveling of the road has become a big part of my artistic expressions.

How do the visual arts serve the people of Albuquerque?

Albuquerque has a very vital arts scene. A recent show at the Albuquerque Museum called “On the Map” showcased artists all around the city. We need a lot more exposure and attention drawn to our arts/poetry/theatre venues. Studies show that art brings down crime in cities and enhances quality of life.

Are you looking for artists for future shows? Any guidelines for folks who’d like to participate?

Yes. The street exhibit is a lot of fun and I would like to get the word out so that we can keep the ball rolling with new and different artists each time. I have a simple application process and an info sheet that includes everything you would want to know about the show. I’ll be glad to email it to artists who are interested (contact me at Artwork that can be shown outside is the main criteria. 

Do you have other ideas for more pop-up events? What would you like to see other artists create for our community? 

Yes! I have lots of ideas for the pop-up street exhibit that would include more interaction and engagement of the community in large creations on the doors. As an art teacher, I learned how to manage all kinds of large group projects. We are just getting started now, but as the logistics of the exhibit become easier, we’ll have these pop-up exhibits more frequently. Everyone who has been a part of it so far has helped to move it along. It takes a lot of skills and vision to make the whole thing work. The participants in each show have done a lot more than just hang their work–and that’s what it takes to grow a vision.

The Doors For The Arts will pop up on Saturday, November 21, 2015, transforming the north sidewalk of Mountain Road at 8th Street into a 60’ long gallery space. Come down, enjoy coffee from the Boiler Monkey, and get inspired by the work of six Albuquerque artists, including Julianna Kirwin. Contact Julianna at and visit her website at    

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