Thursday, April 24, 2008

My take on the state of the arts

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES —The only constant is change.
It’s the end of an era...and the beginning of one.
I’ve been searching my brain for a quote to sum up the current state of the arts in Las Cruces. I considered that old reliable Dickensian “the best of times and worst of times,” but it doesn’t really fit, when talking about the arts scene in Las Cruces.
I think we’re in the best of times, going through some adjustments.
It certainly seemed like the end of an era in April, or at least the end of some sort of five-year-cycle. That’s how long Amy Johnson Bassford, who just announced her resignation, has headed the Doña Ana Arts Council. And White Raven Studios and Patio Art Gallery both announced they were closing after five years after featuring some of our region’s top artists and most innovative art exhibits.
But even those statistics are deceiving. Johnson Bassford has been active as a board member with the DAAC for much longer than five years and told me she has not ruled out further involvement in the cultural community.
White Raven’s founders also have deep roots in the community. Sherry Doil-Carter has taught in regional schools for 25 years and been an artist and a founding member of Border Artists here. Sandy Zane, her partner, is opening her second gallery in Santa Fe in May and plans to continue her tradition of introducing top Southern New Mexico artists to the City Different. Georjeanna Feltha, also a founder of White Raven, left some time ago to open the innovative Black Gold From the Sun Gallery in Mesilla’s Old Tortilla Factory.
I’ve seen Carolyn Bunch, the guiding force behind the Patio Art Gallery cooperative of talented artists, and her husband Henry build and/or renovate a couple of galleries in the time I’ve lived here. Their beautiful former Mesilla gallery now houses Charles, Inc.
The gallery scene has been changing and evolving everywhere I’ve lived. It’s all part of the natural progression of the state of the creative arts.
What sets Las Cruces apart from other places I’ve lived, is the kind of change. It seems for every gallery that closes, another one or two or three are likely to spin off and take shape.
In the last decade, there has been explosion in both the quality and quantity of artists and venues.
When I moved here in the mid-1990s, the downtown “cultural corridor” was pretty much the Branigan Cultural Center, the library, and the Las Cruces Community Theater... and one short-lived private gallery that quickly closed. Now we have the Black Box Theatre, the restored Rio Grande Theatre (which also has gallery spaces), the Las Cruces Art Museum, the Railroad Depot, and a growing group of eclectic galleries on Main Street and surrounding areas that feature everything from Russian masters and textile arts to cutting edge contemporary art.
In surrounding downtown areas, we’re about to lose White Raven, but we’ve gained Unsettled and IN EFFECT galleries.
Galleries come and go from Picacho Avenue to Hadley Center, but there always seems to be some solid activity.
Mesilla has seen a lot of changes, but recent additions, including several interesting small galleries at the Tortilla Factory and a new venue for the Mesilla Fine Arts Gallery, have kept things interesting.
The Mercado de la Mesilla has had its share of innovations and failures, but with LuLu and the Bistro and Meson de Mesilla’s jazz club in the ‘hood, now, and the new 9,000-square-foot Preston Contemporary art and workshop center opening up soon, it could be well on its way to becoming the artists’ colony envisioned by the late Ben Boldt and his grandson Jon. I loved their idea of mom ‘n pop art galleries, with artists living upstairs and having storefront art studio and exhibit spaces. I lived to see the last of that sort of Athenian ideal on Santa Fe’s Canyon Road and it isn’t too far-fetched to think it could be born again in areas of Las Cruces.
Another quiet development has been the number of world class artists who are living here, while exhibiting and selling most of their wares elsewhere.
They have come from New York and New England, Florida and California and Santa Fe, Mexico, Europe, Asia, New Zealand and South America. The world knows who they are, but many of their local neighbors and visiting tourists do not.
The truth is, we now have some world class stuff going on here in both the visual and performing arts.
And we need some world class marketing tools and campaigns to get the word out. That concept is nothing new, but there is a burgeoning critical mass right now of ideas that include a widely-distributed artist and gallery directory, more artists’ cooperative ventures and a proposal for a Las Cruces Arts & Cultural Affairs Commission put before the Las Cruces City Council April 21.
We could settle for a low-profile rep as the bedroom community for the planet’s leading art centers, concert halls and theater districts, the inspirational environment where the muse can be summoned without the angst that accompanies life in LA, NYC, Chicago and yes, Santa Fe.
Or maybe it’s time to spread the news that we have the art and the lifestyle — all at still relatively bargain prices — and find ways to attract enough art aficionados to help maintain and nurture new and established talents.
The magic Las Cruces mix of art, academia, agriculture and high-tech science is evolving and changing without doubt. It will take some careful planning and community support, but if can find creative ways to nestle artists’ studios and workshops in amidst the spaceports, museums and chile fields, we just might be able to maintain our querencia in the style to which we have become accustomed and share it with the world, too.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

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