Monday, August 23, 2010

Should school start in August?

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Grandson Alexander the Great said there are many things he misses about Las Cruces, but going back to school in the middle of August is not one of them.
I don’t think his selective memory is giving full credit to the joys of getting out of school in May. In fact, I think he’s still a little irked about the year he started school here in mid-August, moved and ended up having to finish the grade in a new state where school continued until mid-June. That’s a chunk of summer prime time the universe owes him and he’s not likely to forget it anytime soon.
We had a lengthy conversation last Sunday. He’d just gotten back from a weekend of camping and hanging out with some of his bandmates at the Warped Tour, not in Las Cruces this time, but at the Gorge Amphitheater in the Pacific Northwest’s dramatic Columbia River Gorge, a visually breathtaking place that makes our Rio look, frankly, not so Grande.
He was able to rock out, secure in the knowledge that the next day would not be a school day, as it would be for his unfortunate Las Cruces amigos.
I’ve asked a lot, during my 17 summers here, why we still have this strange schedule. I’ve heard many explanations, none of which Alex the Great and I found acceptable: That it’s related to NMSU’s schedule, and harvest schedules.
The smell of green chiles reminds us that it is indeed harvest season. And during this month’s presentation by Irene Oliver-Lewis on the history of Las Cruces Public Schools over the last century, Elizabeth Holguin Lannert reminisced about the days when students were routinely dismissed from schools to help harvest crops.
“Especially during the 1940s, when so many were away at war, we students went out to pick cotton and work in the fields whenever we were needed,” she said.
But we don’t pull kids out of school these days to toil in the fields, and it’s still kind of a mystery to me why we don’t let our niños vacation until after Labor Day, like most of the nation.
Yeah, it’s only a couple of weeks, and the kids will be glad to get them back in May and June, but there’s something special, magical even, about having that intact block in June, July and August, to do summer things.
It impacts the rest of us, too, I realized, talking with Alex in a kind of summer time warp between Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and the Land of Enchantment.
I’d already done back-to-school features and was planning fall vacations and he’s still in the last hazy daze of blissful summer denial, when school seems a lazy aeon away.
Yes, he’s willing to talk about hot trends in teen clothes (“skinny jeans, still, and V-neck T-shirts and tank tops, plain white or colors”) but not the kind of clothes — sweaters and coats and boots — needed to make it through the school year of northern Idaho’s chilly autumn, winter and spring.
We talked about summer stuff: vampire books and vampire spoof movies, concerts and camping, his stint as a summer volunteer with Habitat for Humanity projects, and summer fun as lead vocalist and composer with his still-unnamed rock band.
It took me a little more than a split second to realize that cheerful deep baritone “Hi” emanates from the same soul who once delighted us with merry baby chirps, who finally taught me how to roll my R’s and shared entertaining Spanish kid slang during his pre-school days in Las Cruces.
But the Alex vibes are the same. We discussed computers and his friends, what sizes I should look for to fit his lanky and still upwardly mobile six-foot-frame.
And the fact that he enjoys being able to celebrate his birthday in a place where it’s still summer, before school has started.
Alex turns 14 today, and he’ll be a high school freshman soon.
But not for a few weeks. School or no, let’s enjoy the sunrises, the sunsets and all the last succulent bits of summer in between. Even slow summer days can move deceptively fast. Stop and savor whenever you can, or you might miss some of the best parts.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Great moments in theater

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Let’s take time to take stock of just what we have here, Las Cruces theater fans. (Please hold your applause: It’s quite a list.)
Three full-fledged theater companies.
Top notch children’s theater groups.
The Doña Ana Lyric Opera company, Las Cruces Symphony, NMSU Choirs and the Las Cruces Chamber Ballet, all of which occasionally put on theatrical programs which combine drama, music and dance.
Musical revues and original productions at cafés and restaurants and the state’s oldest adobe theater, the renovated Rio Grande Theatre.
Surprisingly polished theatrical presentations by students at local public and private schools.
World premieres of original plays by prize-winning writers.
Mark Medoff plays that made their world premieres in Las Cruces before moving on to Broadway include “Gila” and “Children of a Lesser God,” which won a Tony and went on to become a film that garnered Academy Award nominations (Marlee Matlin won a Best Actress Oscar for her role).
Starting in 1994, for several years, I saw just about every adult theatrical production and several impressive children’s theatrical and school presentations in the Mesilla Valley.
Though some stretch back more than a decade, I still vividly recall some highly diverse, but nonetheless undeniably great moments in theater:
• A play with lovely animated monsters created by artist Stephen Hansen.
• Medoff’s imaginative drama that featured a winsome American Sign Language-literate gorilla, a young woman with a giant Gila monster tattoo on her back, and an onstage underwater romantic encounter.
• Medoff’s feminist Wild Western opera “Sara McKinnon” and his showstopping song, “As Children We Dream.”
• A Bob Diven play that featured singing dinosaurs, and another in which multitalented Diven sang and created original works of art in a tribute to John Singer Sargent. (He also wrote the play.)
• Watching the faces of Irene Oliver-Lewis’ mom and dad as they watched a local presentation of “Ceciliaisms: Dichos de Mi Madre” about her family life, growing up in Las Cruces.
My personal great moments weren’t all from big productions. Talent in a theatrical community seems to be the only trickle down concept that actually works.
I still find myself both tickled and a little teary when I remember a Hillrise Elementary School holiday pageant number, a Southwestern version of the “12 Days of Christmas” sung by a kids' choir that included then-small grandson Alexander the Great.
A few years ago, Sun-News management decided we would no longer send reporters to review the ever-burgeoning number of live performing arts theatrical, musical and dance productions.
I was sad, because I think a measure of a community’s cultural life can be gauged with the presence of treasures like a resident symphony, opera, ballet, and great theater, dance and vocal groups. We are blessed to have them all, an astounding thing in a city our size.
And I grew up thinking that the measure of a metropolitan newspaper was having skilled critics and reporters who could produce intelligent and entertaining reviews of a city’s cultural life.
But cultural treasures have accrued so fast that there’s no way we could cover it all these days.
So we’re asking for your help. If you’ve involved in an upcoming production and would like to share some photos, video clips or preview comments, e-mail me at
This week, we’re starting a new blog called YouReview. You’re invited to share your reviews of area plays and performances and find out what others are thinking at our new interactive online feature. Visit, go to our Blogzone at the right of the screen, click on YouReview and add your comments. You can also find our blogs at the same site by going to the green directory bar and clicking on Opinion, and then Blogs.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Art selection process draws protest from two

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Should publicly-funded state art projects be awarded only to New Mexico residents?
That’s the controversy emerging as internationally- known Las Cruces artist George Mendoza protested a decision to choose five out-of-state finalists to vie for a $171,000 large scale art project commissioned by New Mexico State University.
“It’s horrible, especially with the economy and the art market the way it is,” said Mendoza, a legally blind abstract artist who has been the subject of a movie and documentary, had national touring exhibitions of his paintings and created works used in an international lime of fabrics.
Medoza said he was inspired to protest the decision by David Boje, whose NMSU marketing class helped him with an application for the large scale work in a three-story glass atrium at O’Donnell Hall, the home of NMSU’s College of Education.
“When he heard about this David (Boje) just screamed out, ‘How can they do this? With 36 New Mexico artists out of 359 artists who applied, doesn’t New Mexico have any artist good enough to do this?’ I know if I was chosen, I would use local people and spend money here to do this,” Mendoza said.
Boje confirmed he was upset with the decision.
“I think of the five, at least one should have been from New Mexico,” said Boje, who added that he is “investigating” issues that include “possible conflict of interest, violations of mission statements” and changes in selection criteria after the application deadline.
“I’m not saying there is a conflict of interest, I’m just saying it should be investigated,” Boje said.
None of Boje’s charges are valid, said Wynn Egginton, director of NMSU’s Education Research and Budgeting office and a member of the seven- member selection committee who chose finalists.
“It’s sad that this is putting a cloud over what has been a very exciting and exhilarating opportunity. I think our selection committee is very professional and conscientious. We went looking for the best art we could find for the space in an award-winning building,” Egginton said.
“I think the art kind of falls above all this. Art is more universal and we selected the top five people that would best do the project,” said Sally Cutter, also a member of the selection committee.
In addition to gallery owner Sally Cutter and project director user/agency representative Egginton, the selection committee included NMSU’s University Architect and Director of Facilities Planning and Construction Michael Rickenbaker, architect Jim Vorenberg, artist Tom Gerend, and community members Sheryl Parsley, an NMSU alumna, and Liz Marrufo, Director of Elementary Instruction, College of Education at NMSU.
“I was looking at the art. I don’t think I even looked at where (the artists) were from until late in the selection process. There were some wonderful submissions and the quality of the art was just unbelievable,” Cutter said.
A New Mexico state law stipulates that one percent of public money for building and renovation programs must be allocated for art, but there is no stipulation that all commissions must be awarded to artists who are New Mexico residents, said Chuck Zimmer, manager of New Mexico Art in Public Places.
“Commissioned projects are done on a case-by-case basis. We offer a number of projects that are for New Mexico artists only. It’s up to a selection committee to decide the scope and whether to open it up to nationwide searches,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer said that Boje’s charges were unfounded, that selection criteria had not been changed from 2-D to 3-D works and that the processing of choosing the selection committee involved no conflicts of interest.
The criteria never changed and if any of the artists (who submitted proposals) misunderstood the criteria, that number was relatively small,” Zimmer said.
Egginton agreed wih Zimmer that there was no indication of conflict of interest.
Egginton said selection committee members were initially chosen by an NMSU group seeking representatives of the arts and educational communities.
“Our selection committee list was vetted and approved by New Mexico Arts,” without changes in recommendations, Egginton said.
Boje implied that there is a conflict of interest because Glenn Cutter serves as a New Mexico State Art Commissioner, and the selection committee includes his wife, Sally Cutter, and Dr. Tom Gerend, who has exhibited at the Cutter Cutter.
Glenn Cutter said Tuesday that he had “absolutely nothing to do with the selection of the committee members or the committee’s selection of finalists. Sally and I never discussed any of it.”
After learning that Zimmer and Egginton had confirmed the independent processes in committee selection, Boje said,“Well, I’m glad you investigated. I guess I was wrong about that, and I’ll tone things down on my website.”

In a Tuesday e-mail he wrote: “Still there is for me the issue of process, and representativeness. Still it’s not clear how the mission of the university or the state agency, the Department of Cultural Affairs, is being served by this particular use of taxpayer dollars.”
According to the New Mexico Arts website, “Since its inception nearly 25 years ago, the (Art in Public Places) program has placed more than 2,500 works of art in all of New Mexico’s 33 counties. Our goal is to reflect the diversity of the arts in New Mexico, the Southwest, and the nation while building a dynamic public art collection for the State of New Mexico,”
Cutter and Zimmer both expressed concerns that if New Mexico limited eligibility to state residents, other states might decide to bar New Mexico artists from vying for projects in their states.
"I don’t care. The main criteria should be how are we’re helping New Mexico artists compete for these commissions. At least one candidate (among the finalists) should have been from New Mexico. We need to change the process and see that people on the selection committee reflect the artistic and demographic diversity of the community,” Boje said.
“It should be noted that all of the local selection committee members are residents of the Las Cruces area. The selection process that New Mexico Arts has in place is a fair and equitable process and the Art in Public Places staff would never second guess a local selection committee nor dictate art choices from Santa Fe,” Zimmer said. “While it is a tempting idea to limit the public art competitions to New Mexico artists, that would be short-sighted and could actually hurt New Mexican artists in the long run as other states would respond by not allowing New Mexico artists to compete for public art projects in their states – and we do want our New Mexico artists to be competitive in getting public art projects across the country and around the world.”
Zimmer said the state’s research “has shown that contracting with out-of-state artists brings a significant economic impact to local New Mexico businesses. The selected artist will stay in a Las Cruces hotel, eat at Las Cruces restaurants, and buy supplies and rent equipment from Las Cruces area stores. On average, our research shows that an out-of-state artist spends about one third of their project budget in the community where the art is being installed.”
Zimmer said artists interested in information about New Mexico Art in Public Places programs and upcoming projects are invited to visit online and click on Art in Public Places, Current Opportunities and Commissions.
Among current opportunities is a $278,800 commission for “a site-integrated project” for the New Mexico State University Center for the Arts Performance Hall. Application deadline is Sept. 30.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

Las Cruces: Eclectic salon capital of the world

LAS CRUCES — When I think about salons, places where the great minds and creative talents of an era gather to share ideas, I think about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, whose Paris abode was a magnet for early 20th century up-and-coming artists like Matisse and Picasso and literary lions Ernest Hemingway and Thorton Wilder.
Some noted salons were held in public places rather than private homes, like the Algonquin Round Table, where a group of writers, critics, actors, journalists and assorted other witty souls gathered in the 1920s at New York’s Algonquin Hotel. Mainstays included Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman and Heywood Brown, with frequent appearances by Harpo Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Edna Ferber and other luminaries of the time.
Sometimes, a salon is a fortuitous combination of outstanding people and places. Mabel Dodge Luhan’s exotic two-story adobe in Taos attracted noted poets and authors, societal movers and shakers like Margaret Sanger, John Reed and Emma Goldman, as well as artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” author D.H. Lawrence, who in a surprising fit of modesty, painted scenes on all the windows of her second floor bathroom, reportedly in a quest for privacy. In the 1960s, the house passed to Dennis Hopper, who established a counterculture salon of his own there.
The salon tradition is far from dead, especially in New Mexico. I have fond memories of Santa Fe gatherings of interesting minds and souls in the various Canyon Road adobe galleries and abodes of artist Carole La Roche, from the 1980s to the present, where visitors and amigos could range from the likes of actors Robert Redford and Christopher Walken to Liz Taylor’s son, writers, poets, journalists, psychics, assorted soon-to-famous artists, philosophers, arts aficionados, and always, a few surprises. During a recent visit, a small group of us were pondering the mysteries of the universe, when a neatly-dressed man in his 30s appeared at her door, dressed in what looked like a Brooks Brothers shirt and a toga made from a designer sheet.
If I remember right, he was a former stockbroker or investment banker who’d taken a vow of poverty and was on a spiritual quest of some sort. He held out a lovely little copper bowl and Carole quickly put together a ham and cheese sandwich, plunked it in his bowl and sent him on his way, about the time another artist showed up to talk about his newly animated Earth Day website for kids.
That’s the kind of serendipity that makes for a great salon.
When I was pondering the prospects of salons in Las Cruces, I realized we already have several.
I’ve heard tales of the founding of a great theatrical salon-Algonquin club hybrid launched here in the 1970s and nurtured by Mark and Stephanie Medoff, the Herschel Zohns, Bruce and Mary Streett and others.
Last Sunday’s profile of Jewell and her MyPlace at 140-A Wyatt Drive reminded me that that Las Cruces public access salon concept is thriving here. Jewell’s a founder of our burgeoning local dance, drum and belly dancing communities, and from our brief, fun interview, struck me as a welcoming host for anyone interested in the arts, fashion, alternative healthcare or just about anything new and colorful, ethnic, traditional and spiritual.
Award-winning author and Border Book Festival Denise Chávez hosts another salon success story.
Visit her at Border Book Foundation headquarters next to the Mesilla Post Office, and you’re almost guaranteed to pick up some new ideas, a great book or maybe even a new best friend.
And that’s just the start of great Las Cruces salons, past, present and future.
Many of us are missing philosophy sessions at Corie Lane’s Pure Energy Juice Bar and are hoping she emerges with another salon soon.
At the home of the late New York magazine wine columnist and best-selling wine expert Alexis Bespaloff and his wife, Cecilia Lewis, who’s since moved back to New York, I met everyone from renowned Chinese scholars to soap opera stars.
Salon stars still here and shining include Charlotte Lipson. At her stylish suburban loft home and pool, I’ve encountered economic gurus, TV stars and political movers and shakers.
I’ve had some fascinating discussions about the future of the visual and performing arts and the evolution of city life at Warren and Heather Pollard’s elegant abode.
Gatherings at Irene Oliver-Lewis’ home or office (at Alma d’arte Charter High School) could mean great talks with songwriters, filmmakers, educators and Japanese philosophers and maybe even a limousine ride with Edward James Olmos.
In fact, Las Cruces could be the new millennium’s eclectic salon capital of the world.
If space permitted, I could list a dozen public and private salons where great minds are gathering to make poetic and practical sense of the universe and its component parts. And I’ll bet you could suggest a dozen more.

Share comments about your favorite salon. S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.