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The story behind the Urban Enhancement Trust Fund

Of all the different departments run by the City of Albuquerque, no one seems to talk enough about the incredible work done by the Urban Enhancement Trust Fund (UETF). As one of the largest supporters of cultural projects started by non-profit organizations, the UETF has been making dreams come true from the shadows by supporting projects that enhance and enrich culture for city residents. I recently spoke to Sherri Brueggemann, the manager of the public art urban enhancement division and the way these funds were first obtained is actually quite interesting! Today I’d like to share the origin of UETF and how this program has made a difference in the community ever since.

It all started about 38 years ago during a construction project for the Sandia Kirtland Airforce base. The contractors hadn’t been paying the gross income taxes on their sales receipts. It was a long legal process, but by the time everything was settled those contractors ended up paying back around $8 million to the state of New Mexico. With such a large sum of money, the city council used a fourth of it to start the construction of the Monroe Bridge, while the other $6 million was invested into a trust fund in 1983, which was only the beginning of UETF. The money in that fund would naturally collect interest and every year, the council would put 10% of the interest back into the fund so that it will keep growing, and the other 90% would be used to support projects that enhance and enrich culture for city residents. Brueggemann said that the fund has grown to nearly $9 million since its inception and it will only continue to grow each year.

“Funding arts and culture programs in any community in any place on this planet is so important because the arts are what fuels our soul, Brueggemann said. “It gives us insights to how people are, from different cultures, from different places and it gives us ways of having our own artistic creative expression.”

Artists are able to apply for residency projects through a non-profit organization to receive funding from UETF for the cultural projects they are pursuing. The trust fund covers things related to art, music, theater, dance, history, or literature. This can include things like community workshops for schools or other public venues, free performances, festivals, or exhibits, and audio or video productions, along with many other eligible routes.

For example, one of the organizations currently receiving a grant from UETF for 2022-2023 is Katharsis Media to help fund the production of a reality tv show called Broadway Bound Live. The show is a musical theater competition that trains passionate contestants in singing, dancing, and acting in order to send four talented winners to New York with a scholarship to AMDA College of performing arts.

Some of the other projects funded by UETF in the past include the Cine Magnifico Film Festival from Instituto Cervantes, The Manoa Project from Tricklock Company, The New Mexico Shakespeare Festival from Vortex Inc, and many more. Each year the UETF selects around 30-35 programs to distribute their funds.

“These organizations are applying, it’s competitive, and the quality of their programs are really outstanding,” Brueggemann said. “Sometimes it’s only five or six thousand dollars, but for those organizations, those funds are critical for them to be able to provide those programs that the citizens of Albuquerque can enjoy.”

Bruggemann said they also recently started selecting five different sponsors to fund individual artists through the resiliency residency project. There were so many different artists whose projects were funded through this subsection of UETF and there will be a resiliency residency project celebration event happening on the evening of June 30th at FUSION in Albuquerque. It will be an opportunity for all the artists that were funded to showcase their projects and share their culture.

On May 15th, 2023, the city council approved a change of ordinance for the Urban Enhancement division to now implement new criteria that encourages diversity, equity, inclusion, and access to the organizations that apply and get awarded a grant from the trust fund. “We want to make sure that some of our most underserved communities, particularly artists of color are able to apply and receive these funds,” Brueggemann said.

For anyone interested in getting involved with UETF, Brueggemann encourages them to apply for some of the vacant positions on the board of committee to help make the decisions and review applications of new organizations applying. You could also help by spreading the word to organizations that would benefit from some of the funds available. If you personally have a cultural project that needs funding, or are part of an artistic group of sorts but not working with a specific organization for it, she said you can reach out to the UETF and they can help connect you to an appropriate organization to partner with for eligibility.

The Urban Enhancement Trust Fund (UETF) stands as a hidden gem within the City of Albuquerque, often overlooked despite its remarkable contributions to the community. As the UETF continues to grow and evolve, its impact on the arts and culture remains indispensable. By nurturing creative expression, promoting community engagement, and supporting diverse voices, it serves as a catalyst for a vibrant and inclusive cultural environment.

Daniel Ward is an actor, writer, and contestant finalist of Broadway Bound Live Season 2 and can be contacted on Twitter @wordsofward34 or Instagram and Youtube @wardledorp

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