International District redefines itself through art

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – An Albuquerque neighborhood with a bad rap is trying one more way to transform itself. The International District will soon be home to a lot more art.

The non-profit group Littleglobe is trying to bring new life to the International District by helping the community tell its story.

It’s a part of town, many steer clear of.

“For a long time, it had sort of a negative reputation and that’s really sort of not the correct view,” says Stories of Route 66 Project Director Valerie Martinez.

Once known as the “War Zone,” the International District is a four-square-mile area that’s home to 47 different languages from Vietnamese to Arabic.

Stories of Route 66 is a program designed to shed new light on the area through the universal language of art.

“This project is meant for people to kind of understand who lives in the district and re-imagine sort of the people and place of it,” says Martinez.

Every Sunday, close to 100 people from the community come together to make art.

“Sometimes it’s singing, sometimes it’s drawing, sometimes it’s painting,” explains participant Hanh Nguyen.

The program kicked off in January, but what started small promises to culminate in a festival set for July – three big works of art, enhancing three vacant lots throughout the district.

Yet, the program is not just about art; participants say it’s about building community and breaking the ice.

“It’s created an opportunity for people to connect who wouldn’t otherwise connect because they’re from different nationalities, different languages,” says participant Enrique Cardiel.

For people like Riazullah Alkozai, it’s been a way to learn the language and more about the American culture. Six months ago, he moved to the district from Afghanistan.

“I know too (many) people now. When I come here, I didn’t speak English. Now I can speak a little bit,” explains Alkozai.

It’s eight different languages with one common bond.

“Art has it’s own special language,” says Martinez.

This is the first phase of Littleglobe’s Stories of Route 66 project. Participants will soon begin to work on those three lots – likely city properties – for their premiere in a festival planned for July. Those abandoned lots have yet to be identified.

The project is set to continue through the fall of 2015.

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