What do Beirut, Minus The Bear, Old Man Gloom, ISIS, and Meow Wolf have in common? A little teen center in Santa Fe, NM.
The creative legacy of Warehouse 21 from 1996–2006
On a dusty plot of land next the railroad tracks stood a diminutive cinder block building that wouldn’t look out of place in any town’s industrial area. From the front entrance, you were greeted with a small front-desk/waiting area with offices behind the window. Passing a long hallway was a large performance space painted mostly black, but punctuated by colorful wood-panelled artwork that gradually accumulated and overwhelmed the room. The floor spiralled orange, red, and green like the beginning path in the Wizard of Oz. This is where many dreams, friendships, and creative careers began, and it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for a group of deeply talented and understanding adults that first established and cultivated the activities within.
From the beginnings as the CCA Teen Arts Center, Ana Gallegos y Reinhardt and her cohorts created a space for teens 13–18 to learn, create, and eventually run as a fully functioning arts and events center. Regular workshops on art, photography, silk-screening, theatre, music and video production were provided. There was a kid-hosted and produced weekly radio show called Ground Zero Radio, and most importantly for me, a number of concerts were booked and run from within its walls.
Off the top of my head, here is a small selection of out-of-town bands/artists who performed at Warehouse 21 or an adjacent venue: Flake Music (The Shins), Cave In, Botch, The Faint, Dr. Dog, Limbeck, The Locust, Blood Brothers, The Stereo, Piebald, Discount, The Dismemberment Plan, Mustard Plug, Skankin’ Pickle, MU330, The Velvet Teen, Neurosis, Thursday, Matt Sharp (Weezer), Jonah’s OneLineDrawing, Make Believe.
What happens when teens are given a space to create on their own and immediately see the fruits of their creation? What happens when you see a band that you love on stage that is just a few inches higher than where you are standing? I think something crucial and special happens. You become aware of what is possible if you simply try to do something and don’t ask permission to do it. I think “asking permission” is the greatest stumbling block that many people have when trying to do anything creative. The initiative learned in that worn down building is priceless.
Here are just a handful of people from that era that have found professional success:
- Zach Condon — Musician / Songwriter — Beirut, Alaska In Winter, A Hawk and A Hacksaw
- Tahlia Harbour — Musician / Songwriter — Sonny & The Sunsets, The Dry Spells
- Mark Heyman — Screenwriter / Producer — Black Swan, The Skeleton Twins, Strange Angel
- Vince Kadlubek — CEO/Co-founder — Meow Wolf
- Anna Merlan — Journalist / Author — Vice, Jezebel, Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power
- Santos Montaño — Musician / Writer / Set Decorator — Old Man Gloom, Pitchfork, Girls
- Cory Murchy — Musician / Artist — Minus The Bear
- Liz Prince — Author / Comic Creator — Tomboy, Coady and the Creepies
- Alex Rose — Musician / Songwriter / Recording Engineer & Producer — Minus The Bear
- Hester Sunshine — Fashion Designer — Project Runway
- Aaron Turner — Musician / Label Owner — ISIS, Old Man Gloom, Hydrahead Records
- Jessie Wender — Photo Editor — New York Times, National Geographic
- Kyle Wilson — Musician / Composer — Milagres, The Swamp, The Clinton Affair
My friend Kneeko Constantino and I, recently came up with a graph that illustrates just how far-reaching and interconnected that period has been. I might be burying the lede here, but it’s really cool and remarkable.
My memories from that time directly coincide with the 10 year period that the original Warehouse 21 stood. Eventually, another more grand version took its place (until very recently). For my money, I think the original version was uniquely special. The same concept as Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” applies to that ramshackle DIY building, with its peeling paint and its huge wall of stickers and graffiti. It was an act of resourceful creation to establish and keep that space going, and in so doing, it reinforced the act of creation from within. It was by ourselves for ourselves. I believe any future iteration should keep that thought in mind.
Final thought: I’m no journalist, but I think there is an interesting story here that deserves to be told. If this piques your interest in any way, I’d be happy to introduce you to some folks.