The Sanitary Tortilla Factory, located a block north from Homewise’s Orpheum Community Hub, is not what it appears to be. It’s not actually a “tortilla factory” as the name might suggest. The Sanitary Tortilla Factory is an artist space, including a gallery and studios owned by artist, Sheri Crider. Sheri kept the name, “Sanitary Tortilla Factory” to honor the building’s history. From 1974 to 2004, the building housed the M & J Sanitary Tortilla Factory, a restaurant and tortilla making operation. The name “Sanitary” came from having the first mechanized tortilla-making machine in the city. Owned by Bea and Jake Montoya, it was an institution in Albuquerque and served the likes of former President Bill Clinton, and was featured in publications such as The New York Times and Cosmopolitan. I spoke with Sheri to talk about the space and the exhibit currently on display, “Love, Art, & Tortillas,” paying homage to the building’s predecessor.
How did the Sanitary Tortilla Factory come to exist in its present state?
I purchased it based out of frustration in 2014. I was running a space since 2006, SCA Contemporary Art, and I was leasing the building. The landlord was terrible and it was a disaster. Sanitary Tortilla Factory grew from my coming of age as a business owner. I had the idea that if I didn’t own a place, equity would be gone. I bought a piece of land downtown at Ninth Street and Tijeras. It was the most contentious piece of land in the historic neighborhood. It was new construction in a historic neighborhood, and per the City of Albuquerque, all designs had to be approved by the LUCC (Landmarks & Urban Conservation Commission). I was frustrated so I started calling vacant building owners, but the reception from realtors was poor. Then I spoke to Tim Townes. His family owned the Sanitary Tortilla Factory building for years. He helped me create a lease with the option to purchase and I used the piece of land at Ninth and Tijeras as down payment for the building. I felt like once we came to this space, it was where we were supposed to be. I found artwork in the cooler, which was the archeological remains of the Sanitary Tortilla Factory and its connection to the arts. As it exists now, we have 13 artists, two arts and social justice administrators, and A Good Sign printing service. We are in our third complete year and I try to strategically support a large spectrum of artists and agencies in the community (i.e. Working Classroom, Young Women United, ACLU). I ran the first iteration of the Artist in Residence program in 2017 and in 2020 we’re running a new residency with prestigious curators and community members. It’s a work in progress.
Tell me about the current exhibit, “Love, Art, & Tortillas”?
In the 70’s there was a vibrant art scene in Albuquerque. Frank McCulloch, a legend in the Albuquerque art community, lived in the Gertrude Zachary building across the street and artist Tina Fuentes was also across the street with a studio at the Orpheum. Both are featured artists in this exhibit. They would take breaks in between work and eat at the M & J Sanitary Tortilla Factory. The exhibition combines artists that showed their art at the restaurant, historic images of the restaurant, as well as artwork created at 21 steps, a waterless lithography studio, which was located down the street from the Sanitary Tortilla Factory. The exhibition is a huge affirmation that we are right where we are supposed to be.
Other artists in the exhibition include Kim Arthun, Paul Akmajian, Inez Foose, Larry Smith, Susan Ricker, Jeanette Williams, Wes Mills, and David Levinthal.
If you missed the opening of “Love, Art & Tortillas”, there’s still time! The exhibition closes on July 26th. The Sanitary Tortilla Factory is at 401 Second Street SW and the gallery has walk-in hours Thursdays and Fridays from 12pm-5pm and by appointment. It’s a great walk down memory lane in Homewise’s new (old) neighborhood. For more information visit www.sanitarytortillafactory.org, find them on Facebook, or Instagram: @sanitarytortillafactory.