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"Lost + Found" art exhibit in Albuquerque documents the experiences of everyday residents during the pandemic

A collection of stories placed in a suitcase
Gino Gutierrez
A collection of stories placed in a suitcase

Located in Alpaca Galley nestled in the Barrales neighborhood in Southwest Albuquerque is a small art exhibit titled “Lost + Found”, which showcases the stories and experiences of everyday citizens during the past two years of the pandemic. Elsa Menendez, who is the Deputy Director for the city's department of Arts and Culture said the project began after an idea was presented to archive the experiences of Albuquerque residents during the pandemic.

“It started off as a curiosity and a desire to really work with people in the community to understand their experience of the pandemic and to offer a place for them to process some of that experience.”

From there, Menendez said the project grew into what the exhibit now showcases. On the walls are stories that people from the community have submitted, detailing stories ranging from personal experiences and stories of loss, to children writing about what school was like as they transition from the classroom to zoom, then back to classrooms. There are also mad libs strung all across the exhibit, each with sharing the story of an individual.

Community Outreach Coordinator for the department of Arts and Culture Diana Delgado helped spearhead this exhibit and the collection effort for this project as well, and said visitors to this exhibit can expect to see a wide range of experiences.

“What visitors can expect when they come here is a plethora of stories, we actually had several different ways and and several different evolutions of this project when it started. The project started with a call for visual artists to submit papel picado inspired images that would be turned into flags. You’ll see those original nine images by the first nine artists, as well as about 750 other stories that we’re able to display in this room. And they’re not just written down stories, they’re typed stories, handwritten, mad libs, and a large collection of visual art as well.”

Assisting Delgado in arranging the artwork is a team of young artists from around the city, each of whom is aiming to pursue art as a professional. Talis Frouge is one of those young artists, and said the process of piecing together this gallery was memorable.

“It’s been really incredible just figuring out how to format and display this vast collection that the Arts and Culture department has gotten over the last year, it’s been really cool just reading through all this material and seeing all the different perspectives that are being shared.”

Another young artist, Sophia Varoz echoed that same sediment.

“Sorting through the stories to put up and figure out where we’re going to put them. You’d be laughing with people about a funny story someone would tell in a mad lib, then the next minute you’d be kinda sitting there trying to take in an impactful story about losing a family member or losing different emotions and feelings. It was very back and forth in terms of the emotional rollercoaster.”

For Dante Manocchio, the memories of 2020 are distant for him, but present in the drawings he collected for the binders in the exhibit.

“I think for me, I was one of the people who put together these drawings, mostly done by kids, but also by seniors that we have in binders. And some of the drawings the kids did of the virus or getting stuck in their room are just really impactful and really and really horrifying. Going through that and reliving frankly how horrifying and traumatizing 2020 was globally or at least for the city was really something.”

Camryn Wharff said one question in particular on their mad lib sheets stuck with her.

“Our mad libs have a question, ‘it has been 550 days since blank, and there were so many stories I came across that said, ‘since I had a drink’, and I just felt like that was really powerful emotion that I’m recalling going through this, but definitely the whiplash was intense.”

Anaya Gonzalez said she feels really proud for the residents of the city and their contributions to this project.

“I feel very proud of the citizens of Albuquerque for being able to stay here and share their stories with us, that was a good feeling for me.”

People will still be able to view the exhibit this week, by emailing lostandfound@cabq.gov for a private viewing, the closing reception will be held this Friday from 6:00-9:00pm, the gallery is located at 1415 Fourth Street SW. Delgado hopes those who do come to view the exhibit have a sense of reflection.

“This is a space for people to come in a reflection and for people to come and pause and hopefully read a story and see stuff that they can connect to and resonate with. But it’s also not about sadness, for me, being in this room and especially setting up this room was very overwhelming at times and emotional, but also I feel like I need to say something about celebrating all of these stories that we were to collect and the fact that Elsa pointed out earlier, this was really born from a need to document everyday people’s experiences. Just having this documented is really important.”