Trapdoor Projects, an art gallery near downtown Albuquerque, caught fire twice in under two weeks. Gallery owner Katie Doyle suspects arson. Albuquerque Fire Rescue is investigating.
Trapdoor Projects, a gallery near downtown Albuquerque, suffered not one, but two fires within ten days in April and May 2021, and Albuquerque Fire Rescue is currently investigating.
Trapdoor director Katie Doyle, whose house is on the same property as the gallery at 1120 Tijeras Ave. NW, says the first fire began in the early hours of April 24. She woke at seven in the morning to the sounds of sirens and looked out her window at the small barn that houses the gallery. Built over a century ago, it was ablaze.
Doyle also saw a firefighter attempting to climb the five-foot blue stucco wall in front. “I was shocked, but relieved to see the firefighters there so quickly,” Doyle recalls in an interview at her home. With AFR responders on the scene, Doyle’s partner Marion Carillo began taking pictures.
Doyle explains that three fires were lit early that morning: one in the alleyway behind her house, another at the corner of the property, and a third in the house next door, “which did not take,” she says. The fire burned along the fence, reached the electrical box, and jumped to the roof of the gallery. It charred the roof and destroyed the rear wall, making the building structurally unsound.
Doyle and the artist mk, a graduate student in photography at the University of New Mexico, had recently installed a show of fourteen of mk’s seven by seven-foot self-portraits. She called the artist, who lived nearby, to come to the house.
“It was strange to see the ashes of the work. Strange to see the markers of what had been,” says mk, who had been working on the series since 2017.
The second Trapdoor Projects fire began on May 3 at 5:30 am, according to Doyle. This time, she woke to crackling sounds and saw an orange glow from the fence near the alley.
This second fire damaged the fence. Still another fire was found in the alley dumpster. But the gallery remained untouched by the flames.
Doyle is working with a separate investigator in AFR’s fire/arson investigation division for each blaze. (“Both very kind,” she says.) Joseph A. Lopez, who is scrutinizing the second fire, says, “We don’t give statements or interviews for ongoing investigations.”
Meanwhile, Doyle doesn’t think Trapdoor was singled out for displaying experimental and conceptual pieces by artists from marginalized groups.
“I wondered about that, but I think if this were a hate crime, the perpetrator would want us to know,” says Doyle, who adds that she doesn’t believe that mk was targeted.
The artist mk—an Alabama native who identifies as queer, Black, and non-binary, and uses they/them pronouns—agrees.
“I don’t think I’m important enough. I think this is someone who likes to set fires,” they say. “At the same time, it’s almost invalidating. I would have liked to show that work. It was the first time I was going to show work about myself.”
Although shaken by the initial fire and the destruction of their work, mk decided to make a piece for the burnt gallery. Fortunately, when the second fire occurred, the new piece was still in mk’s studio and it was spared damage from the water hoses and smoke.
The new artwork, which Doyle and mk installed during gallery openings but then took down due to a fear of another fire, centered around mk’s parents’ experience of dealing with a house fire. Sometimes I Just Listen to the Birds Sing, which closed June 4, included voicemails and family photos. Visitors were asked to look at the installation through the open barn doors due to the structure’s unsound roof.
As far as the future of Trapdoor Projects, Doyle is reevaluating. Trapdoor’s existing fire insurance only covers half of the repair costs.
“It’s scary and it’s hard, but I don’t want this to stop Trapdoor or me. I have to be innovative going forward,” says Doyle, who’s meeting with architects next week. “After something like this, it changes everything. I have to think about how to protect this place and the people it serves.”
“In a perfect world, I’d like a new building, but at least a new roof, sprinkler systems, and an alarm,” Doyle continues. “I watched it burn and knew it could come back better and be more of a place, a hub where artists can be welcome, and have conversations that don’t have to be institutional. It’s my home and I want people to feel welcome, where they can be themselves.”