Kim Arthun Looks Ahead with Thirsty Eye Brewing Company
By Michael Dax · Photos by Stacey M. Adams
When Kim Arthun opened Exhibit 208 in Albuquerque twenty years ago on Central, the twentieth-century rules dictating the art market were still very much in effect. Artists largely depended on their work appearing in gallery exhibits in order to develop a following and generate interest among established and burgeoning collectors whose purchases were often driven by art openings. The gallery scene could be fickle, with its share of politics and favoritism, which is why Arthun and his two partners wanted a space of their own to display their work.
Exhibit 208 gained a following among local New Mexico artists for showcasing a wide variety of artistic genres and themes, and by working with a range of artists from the well-established to MFA students at the University of New Mexico. But following the recession of 2008, Arthun and his partners were forced to leave their space on Central and were temporarily without a home until fortuitously stumbling upon their current east downtown location at 208 Broadway Boulevard.
The gallery reopened with its stable of roughly forty artists excited for the opportunity to display their work once again, but since the gallery’s founding, the art market had experienced a notable shift. More and more, younger people don’t connect with the traditional brick-and-mortar galleries that have long been the industry’s backbone.
According to Arthun, the recession has played some role in this phenomenon, but soaring student debt, declining wages, and other factors have colluded to relegate the young art collector a thing of the past. Today, when younger people do purchase art, it’s often from friends, and is not necessarily tied to a gallery. Outdoor art markets have become increasingly common and can often appear more accessible and less intimidating to millennials purchasing art for the first time.
At the same time Arthun witnessed this sea change, he also saw the increasing popularity of Albuquerque’s craft brewing scene. From the beginning, he has been a loyal customer to some of the city’s earliest microbreweries, but more recently he started taking note of the business potential they represent. When his neighbor and landlord, David Mahlman, decided to retire as an architect, Arthun saw an opportunity to open a brewery next door and capitalize on the synergy to be gained by such a dual identity.
Mahlman was excited by the idea and signed on as partner, lending his architectural skills to the brewery’s design and layout. Along with their third partner, Shawn Turung, an artist who has worked with the gallery for years, they spent two years building out the brewery, eventually opening early last year.
In just that short time, Thirsty Eye Brewing Company has successfully established a niche for itself—serving as a general arts facility as well as a neighborhood brewery. Backed by a lineup of standard and innovative beers like the Biscochito Liquido, a winter ale featuring spices like anise and cinnamon, Thirsty Eye frequently hosts artist talks, poetry readings, and live music. “We’re open to using this vessel for anything like that,” says Arthun.
And of course, the walls of the brewery feature art he has curated. “There are breweries that have tried to become galleries,” Arthun notes. “We’re a gallery that became a brewery.”
In addition to the fact that all of their servers are well-versed and educated about the art on display, for Arthun, the distinction lies in the care that is given to what works are shown and how they appear in the space—ensuring that each work contributes to the desired aesthetic. Whereas the gallery continues to be the twentieth-century space that caters to a more traditional art crowd, the brewery is the twenty-first century space that appeals to a younger crowd through a more multi-disciplinary approach.
But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some crossover. Exhibit 208 continues to host monthly openings, which Arthun acknowledges are less vehicles for sales and more socially-focused events. But naturally, each opening features beer from Thirsty Eye as well as a number of New Mexico–made wines.
As Thirsty Eye continues to build its following and learns how best to cater to its customer base, the focus remains on brewing good beer as well as new and distinctive recipes. Arthun hopes that, over time, other artists will follow their lead.
“I’d like to see more creatives be entrepreneurs, because creativity is the one thing most entrepreneurs lack in a lot of ways,” observes Arthun. “I think that we have the passion and ability to see through the mind’s eye and build toward that and build something that’s unique.” Adding, “I would just like to show other artists there’s another way forward.”
206 Broadway SE, Albuquerque, 505-639-5831, thirstyeyebrew.com