Thursday, April 3, 2008

Art community provides model for city growth

For models of the best ways to grow, look to the arts

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — With the growing pains and problems that come with rapid growth, it’s important to remember the perks that pop up, too, especially if we have creative role models to inspire us.
While making plans to entertain visitors recently, it hit me that we have lots of new stuff to show off these days.
A friend from New York who moved away only a year ago, thought I was making it up when I told her Las Cruces now has a jazz club, several wine tasting places and its own “tea district” (three places where you can get a cuppa within a few blocks: Victorian Tea Room, Funky Karma and Enchanted Gardens).
It seems like just a couple of years ago when I was longing for hot places to hear some cool jazz. And that’s because it WAS just a couple of years ago. Check out today’s SunLife feature to see how the jazz scene has exploded in recent years to include regular venues, festivals and even a jazz society and intimate jazz club.
Now I don’t have to wait for jazz fiestas to get my live jazz fix, or even juggle my schedule to catch jazz nights at Lorenzo’s or El Patio. Meson de Mesilla’s latest incarnation as a jazz-friendly site expands options in Mesilla. I celebrated my birthday this year at a yummy Sunday bunch at Meson de Mesilla, listening to the house band Smoke and Cali McCord singing “The Best Is Yet to Come.”
And some of the best is already here, or visited recently.
Who would have thought, a few years back, that Doc Severinson, billed as the world greatest trumpet player during his years with “The Tonight Show,” would chose Las Cruces as the site for his farewell concert with a symphony orchestra?
That decision was directly related to something that started the year I moved here: The Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference. The conference is now one of the world’s largest of its kind, and Doc is a friend of world-renowned Mariachi Cobre, who have been with us from the first conference in 1994. That connection led to Doc’s adios performance with Cobre and the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra.
Las Cruces was culturally rich long before the population explosion of the last decade, with its own symphony, ballet and opera companies, deep roots in the visual and performing arts and enthusiastic audiences that attracted big names.
And the arts just keep getting better. Our eclectic music community produces stars in fields ranging from country, rock and Western Swing to salsa, folk, jazz, opera and classical music. We’re attracting national and international notice in the world of dance, from Jose Tena’s Ballet Folklorico de la Tierra del Encanto, to Debra Knapp’s award- winning NMSU dance groups. There’s a lot of community dance outreach, too, with the new Pan American Dance Institute and a growing number of dance academies and centers.
Our theater community is thriving, with new venues and world premieres of musicals and dramas, building on traditions started by the likes of Hershel Zohn and Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff.
The Creative Media Institute at NMSU and the Film Tech Training Programs at Doña Ana Community College and around the state are helping to attract major movie productions here, including “The Transformers” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” “The Burning Plain” brought over $7 million to the local economy and work for nearly 800 Las Crucens. We’re building a solid foundation for a new generation to realistically strive for status as Hollywood on the Rio Grande.
And speaking of the Rio Grande, we boast what is reportedly the oldest adobe theater in the state. The renovated Rio Grande Theatre is now hosting regular productions and has become the cornerstone of a showplace block on the Downtown Mall. New venues are in the works, like a $25 million, 80,000-square-foot convention center and a $75 million for the Center for the Arts at NMSU that will combine theater, music, dance, visual and performing arts.
The shabby old downtown area that was once described as “a graveyard of high hopes” is now well on its way to becoming a cultural corridor.
Las Sunday’s Alameda District Artist’s Studios Tours, the Downtown Ramble the first Friday of each month and the upcoming Symphony Guild Mesquite National Historic District Tour reveal that the city’s historic downtown community is nurturing galleries, theaters, historic restoration efforts and a quietly burgeoning artists’ colony. Four city museums are breaking attendance records and we’ve hosted major exhibitions focusing on King Tut, Salvador Dali and Ansel Adams, with an exhibit on world-renowned sculptor Auguste Rodin opening in May. In the works are a new museum in the 1866 Amador Hotel, a reopening of Mesilla’s Gadsden Museum, and a new exhibit space in the Mesilla Vistor’s Center opening April 24. Major clusters of art galleries and museums are growing at NMSU, downtown, Hadley Center and in Mesilla, where the new 9,000-square-foot Preston Contemporary Art Center is slated for a July opening.
It will take planning, judgment and wisdom to manage growth and hopefully maintain what we love most about life in our desert querencia. For models and inspiration, we might look to the arts community, which continues to demonstrate that growth can be cooperative, creative, artistic, enlightened and even entertaining.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news.com

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steve said...

We saw Ernie Watts at the Rio Grande Theatre last night. I hope it is just the beginning for music at this location, as it is perfectly suited for jazz. Ernie was great! It was sad to leave afterward and see that there was absolutely no place downtown for all the people to get a drink or a bite to eat after the concert. Downtown LOOKS better, but there is really nothing there except for the one block stretch anchored by Coas Bookstore. When they close in the evenings, that's it!

The city council seems lost in the dark on how to fix things, despite all their trumpeted plans. Who would want to open a business there? Congratulations to the folks who are making an attempt to make this area happen, but it is looking more and more like LC's Alamo.

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