Lowriders, Art and Community: Southside Summer Wheels Block Party on June 24

On June 24, Meow Wolf and the City of Santa Fe present Southside Summer Wheels, a lowrider show and block party in Siler/Rufina neighborhood.

Carlos Muñoz organizes lowrider shows through SouthWest Promotionz; pictured here on the Plaza in 2016.

Carlos Muñoz was 10 years old when he saw his first lowrider: a blue car with custom designs. “It just caught my eye,” he says. “At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a lowrider when I grew up.”

His first lowrider, a Thunderbird, included a custom-paint job and reverse-hinged trunk, the so-called “suicide” treatment sometimes featured in lowrider doors, trunks and hoods, along with a variety of other interior, exterior and hydraulic modifications.

Painting and working on cars comes naturally to Muñoz. “My whole family is car crazy,” he says. “I have several cousins into lowriders and some others that were into hot rods and muscle cars. My dad has been doing paint and body for about 45 years; he’s the one that brought me into the paint and body business.”

That 13-year-old business, Muñoz Customs Paint & Body on Clark Road, is part of the Siler Rufina Nexus, a burgeoning area of business and creation in the center of Santa Fe.

On June 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Meow Wolf and the City of Santa Fe, along with a slew of sponsors and participating businesses, will host Southside Summer Wheels, a lowrider/custom-car show and neighborhood event showcasing the diversity, innovation and community of the midtown district. SouthWest Promotionz, which Muñoz runs with partner Sin Vargas, will mount the lowrider portion of the show and was behind the successful Lowrider Day on Santa Fe’s Plaza last May. They started the shows approximately three years ago and will have another July 14 at the Santa Fe Downs.

Muñoz and Vargas see the lowrider shows both as a chance to celebrate the artistry, skill and culture of lowriders, while building community and opportunities for youth.The planning for the Siler/Rufina event began in January in collaboration with Meow Wolf photographer Kate Russell.

“I just wanted to be able to reach out to the lowrider community and get those artists to know us as artists,” Russell says. She initially envisioned a smaller event with lowriders cruising the Meow Wolf parking lot in exchange for free passes to the House of Eternal Return, which joined the neighborhood in 2015. But the event quickly grew into a full-on free multi-block party that will also include a motorcycle show, musical acts, circus performances and more.

The motorcycle show—Motofina—will be hosted at Second Street’s latest and third location on Rufina. Mounting a motorcycle show has been a long-time dream of Second Street Brewery President and Brewmaster Rod Tweet, and the new location’s vast backroom space provides a perfect area to gather pre-1974 vintage motorcycles (yes, attendees can drink their beers in the back while perusing the bikes). A motorcycle show dovetails well with the lowrider event, Tweet notes, as both mix “aesthetics with mechanics.”

“I’ve always loved machines that are beautiful,” he says. “I’ve always loved British bikes in particular, and around town there are a lot of bikes worth showing.”

With some organizational help from Motorado, Eldorado’s motorcycle club, Tweet pulled together a vintage show that will share some of those bikes with the public, including a 1929 BSA, a 1952 Vincent Black Lightening, and a JAWA, a motorcycle manufactured in Czechoslovakia. “I’ve never seen one of those,” Tweet says. The show will also feature several nice BMWs, he says, although his own bike won’t be part of the show. “Maybe next year,” he adds.

Motofina will take place from noon to 5 p.m., with a People’s Choice Award announced at the end of the show. Tweet also is brewing a specialty beer for the night. “Pedalhead Pale Ale,” he says, when put on the spot for a name. Second Street also will offer a free night of music from Escape on a Horse.

Free music will abound throughout the Southside Summer Wheels event, including live music at Duel Brewing, a Frogville showcase at Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery, and free music (along with artists’ booths) at Tortilla Flats. On site in the Meow Wolf parking lot, music starts at noon with performances by El Trio Los Vaqueros, DJ Garronteed, Yung tat, Noetic and Lil Mic.

Musician and comedian Carlos Medina of El Trio Los Vaqueros says his band will perform traditional Mexican music.“It’s the music you’d hear in any good bar in Juarez,” he says. Medina has performed at previous events produced by Muñoz and Vargas and sees overlap between Medina’s comedy fan-base (for his persona Graviel de la Plaga) and the lowrider community. “They relate to it for sure,” he says.

Wise Fool New Mexico has made its home in the Siler Rufina area since 2003. The group will offer free performances at Southside Summer Wheels June 24.

In addition to an afternoon of music, attendees onsite can engage in art-making, face-painting and a bounce house. And just down the road, Wise Fool New Mexico will host an open house between 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. with free circus shows at 15 to 20-minute intervals, as well as circus workshops in juggling, unicycling, hula hooping and, possibly, some aerials. A Frito pie sale will benefit the Wise Fool Teen Social Circus Exchange. Detailed listings of on and off-site evens are available online.

The event’s panoply of diverse offerings embodies the unique and evolving character of the Siler/Rufina neighborhood. Once roughly considered an industrial cluster on the edge of town, shifting demographics across a spectrum of socio-economic factors in the city overall have shifted both the reality and impressions of the thriving area.

“Wise Fool has been in this area for a very long time,” Programs Director Ilana Blankman says—the organization has had its studio in the area since 2003. “Before it was the Siler district, just when it was a place where there were warehouses and people doing the things you do in warehouses. It’s always been a special place for us.”

The Southside Summer Wheels event exemplifies the type of community building Wise Fool engages in through its numerous programs and initiatives. “We love having all different parts of our Santa Fe community and northern New Mexico community come hang out in this zone that has been home to us for so long,” Blankman says. “We think it’s going to be a really vibrant and multigenerational diverse event.”

For Meow Wolf’s Russell, showcasing the area's diversity as well as its unifying character grew out of work she embarked upon a few years ago documenting the neighborhood as part of an ongoing redevelopment project, the Siler Yard Arts & Creativity Center. That plan aims to transform a portion of 53 acres of city-owned land into much-needed affordable housing along with live-work space for artists and makers. In addition to the photographic documentation, the project also produced an oral history of the area.

While the Siler Yard project is still unfolding fiscally, the sense of community in the area is palpable.

The Siler Rufina Nextus has been identified as an optimum neighborhood for the Siler Yard Arts & Creativity Center.

“From my point of view, what’s really awesome is the benefits of the work toward this affordable housing project are already being seen,” Daniel Werwath, chief operating officer of the affordable housing group Inter-Faith Housing New Mexico, which is a partner in the Siler Yard project along with the City of Santa Fe and Creative Santa Fe, says. “Our goal was to connect people in the neighborhood so that people have an increased buy-in in the project, and to help new people connect with people who have been there a long time.”

The event also is part of the City of Santa Fe’s Southside Summer series, an initiative Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber, elected to office in March, says grew out of conversations about upcoming summer programming. “We do music on the Plaza and movies on the Railyard, but all our families live on the southside,” Webber says. “So we said, ‘we need to take family programming to the parts of the city where our families and children are.’” That mission is still “version 1.0,” Webber notes, but also has included a free night at the southside Genoveva Chavez Community Center and plans for southside movie nights this summer.

While the Siler/Rufina area geographically represents Santa Fe’s center, its arterial roads provide accessibility to the southside. Showcasing its distinct blend of industrial, residential and commercial residents represents a cultural shift for participants in the June 24 event. “It expands the horizon,” Muñoz says, “of not just having the downtown area but having a place where people on the southside can go and enjoy this culture. The most beautiful thing about Santa Fe is that we are a very diverse city and one of Southwest Promotionz’ goals is to unite people.”

Muñoz and Russell first met during her Siler Yard documentation project and have continued discussing issues of art and community. Subsequently, Russell embarked upon photographing lowrider events. “I’m not a car junkie,” Russell says, “I just appreciate it. It’s art, what they do with the cars is art, and I appreciate any trade that elevates to the art form."

Through her conversations with Muñoz, Russell says, they realized "we wanted to create a connection between art and lowriding and the car community because there are a lot of opportunities there.”

Those opportunities center on bridging connections between the different types of artists, makers, craftspeople and businesses who populate the area.

Muñoz, Vargas and Russell hope to inspire other artists with the artistry of lowrider creativity.

As for Muñoz, he says he didn’t initially view himself as an artist when he began this work many years ago, but he always appreciated the custom paint jobs on lowriders, particularly the work of Rob Vanderslice, whom Muñoz describes as both his hero and inspiration for his own in-demand designs.

Muñoz sees Meow Wolf as helping to spur more opportunities for younger artists and broaden the definition of art. “What Meow Wolf did was bring a lot of modern art into Santa Fe, and into our community. This community really needed that. We have a lot of young, talented artists and it’s fair: We need to give them that exposure so they can feel like their art is worth something.”

Viewing the cars in lowrider shows, Muñoz says, may help show people with a talent for graffiti, airbrush or any other type of artistic endeavor that there are opportunities for them. This is particularly important for Muñoz and Vargas, who say finding ways to help youth flourish and avoid drugs is one of their highest priorities.

As he talks about art, Santa Fe and lowriding, Muñoz’ phone buzzes incessantly. He’s not sure he’ll have time to finish one of his Cadillacs for the June 24 event, but he shares a peek of the ’82 car painted Sunrise pearl with variegated leaf design. His first lowrider may have been a Thunderbird, but Muñoz says he’s a Cadillac guy.

“I remember my dad having a Cadillac that my brother and I used to play in as kids,” Muñoz says. “We used to sit there and pretend we were driving it …” Muñoz’ father ended up trading his Cadillac for a compressor so he could start working. “I’ve always had a love for Cadillacs,” Muñoz says, “not just because of the way they look but because I remember my dad had one that he sacrificed to keep our family going.”

Custom-made awards by Meow Wolf artist Quinn Tincher will be presented at Southside Summer Wheels.

Whether he finishes one of his own cars in time for the event, attendees will see Muñoz’ work on other cars in the show. And awards, custom-made by Meow Wolf artist Quinn Tincher, will be given out for a variety of categories, including best lowrider, best custom car, best paint job, best interior and…best car in which to take a ride in the multiverse.

Southside Summer Wheels 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, June 24

Meow Wolf parking at Rufina CircleFor a full list of participating businesses, specials, events and more information, visit meowwolf.com/carsHouse of Eternal Return ticket holders: The Meow Wolf parking lot will be busy on June 24. Please park in the neighborhood and join the Summer Wheels event before or after your visit. Use this handy map for your visit.