Thursday, September 22, 2011

Las Cruces is a cultural mecca

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Did Las Cruces become the cultural capital of New Mexico when no one was looking?
A case could be made.
The Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra is the largest symphony orchestra in the state, with the demise of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra in April.
The Las Cruces Chamber Ballet is the oldest continuously operating ballet company in the state.
We have more theater companies than Santa Fe and, depending on who’s doing the counting, may be neck and neck with Albuquerque, or even up by a troupe or two. And neither the Duke City nor the City Different can compete with us in the “Broadway of the Southwest” department. New Mexico State University has Hershel Zohn Theatre, Creative Media Institute’s little gem of a theater, the Atkinson Music Center Recital Hall, and the upcoming yet-to-be-christened Performing Arts Center. Nearby, University Avenue’s new Las Cruces Convention Center is increasingly used as an arts and performance venue, and just down Espina Street is Boba Cabaret, hosting revues and comedy performances.
Our revitalized downtown now has three major performing arts venues: the restored Rio Grande Theatre, Las Cruces Community Theatre and the Black Box.
And we have the talent to fill these venues with skilled performers and original productions by a glittering and growing roster of playwrights, from Tony Award-winning, Academy Award-nominated Mark Medoff to gifted playwrights like Bob Diven, Irene Oliver-Lewis and a new group of young talents emerging from workshops and mentoring relationships here.
And speaking of writers, I’m not even going to attempt a list or I’ll run out of space. Suffice it to say that Denise Chávez, herself a multi-award-winning author, could schedule year-round Border Book Festival events without venturing outside city borders.
CMI, great locations, local trained film crews and other resources continue to attract big budget film productions and sustain and nurture a healthy and burgeoning indy film community.
Our literary, music and dance communities are outstanding. We have world-renowned poets and dancers who excel in everything from flamenco and folklorica to innovative and award-winning modern and aerial routines. Our governor (Las Cruces’ own Susana Martinez) won a ballroom dance competition.
Our neighbors to the north, to give them their due, produce a quartet of world-renowned festivals (Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta, Santa Fe’s Indian Market, Spanish Market and Folk Art Market).
But we have dozens of festivals and cultural celebrations that have defined and redefined the way New Mexicans think about our diverse culture and ourselves, from the recently honored Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference and February for the Love of Art Month to Doña Ana Arts Council’s Renaissance ArtsFaire, their new Color Las Cruces Plein Arts Festival and Mesilla’s Dia de Los Muertos, Diez y Seis, Border Book, Cinco de Mayo and Jazz Happening, along with spiritually uplifting, artistic and traditional gatherings from Tortugas to Doña Ana.
Mesilla and, increasingly, the downtown cultural corridor, are vibrant, thriving cultural centers in themselves. Original arts abound in galleries and outdoor markets. Arts and crafts are a big part of the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market, just named No. 1 in the nation for big markets.
I can’t think of a city in the state, despite tough competition from big money enterprises up north, that can match us for diversity of museum offerings, with NMSU boasting Williams and Kent halls and the Zuhl Collection and several exhibit areas on campus.
Four expanding city museums are devoted to history, art, railroads and natural history. Three museums within an easy drive celebrate space exploration and the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum pays tributes to centuries of our unique cultural roots.
And what other city our size can claim two recent bequests of extraordinary homes to become major museums? J. Paul Taylor and his late wife Mary have promised us their unique Mesilla Plaza adobe home and spectacular arts and crafts collection.
Kent and Sallie Ritter Jacobs will leave us a modern architectural masterpiece with some intriguing collections. Dr. Jacobs, an author himself, by the way, was just named to the Museums of New Mexico Board of Regents, further extending our influence. He’s served with MNM for 12 years, five as board president and was a guiding force in creating the New Mexico History Museum.
Our colony of cutting edge artists is steadily growing and we have half a dozen thriving art tours to prove it, from the monthly Ramble and Camino del Arte to a variety of annual artists’ studio tours, citywide and in emerging area arts districts.
We have alma y corazon and a city of sweet, passionate and creative people who connect to their muses with a backdrop of the Organs, one of the planet’s most intriguing and inspiring mountain ranges.
There’s more, but I think that’s enough to call it. Las Cruces is evolving into the cultural capital of New Mexico — and one of the best places in the world to live while you’re being creative.

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

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