Guest column: Art events growing in rural New Mexico

Santa Fe is one of the largest art markets in America. Taos is also world renowned for its artists and galleries.

Recently, it was reported that the arts contribute $300 million a year to Albuquerque's economy. But what about the arts' economic impact on the rest of New Mexico?

In my travels throughout the state, I have seen a transformation occurring in New Mexico's rural communities.

Today I see multiple art galleries and art studios in small towns that formerly faced depopulation. This transformation is taking place in communities statewide, from Chama in the north to Silver City in the south. What is happening is remarkable.

My grandfather was a mining engineer who worked at the Magdalena mine during the "Boom Time."

Twenty years ago, I took my three youngest children to Magdalena to look at an upcoming construction project. The boom times were long gone. Most of Magdelena's stores and restaurants had been boarded up.

Last year, we finished a renovation and addition to the Magdalena High School. When I first drove into town, I saw the change immediately: several artist studios dotted the roadway into town, and two café/art galleries had sprouted up in town.

When we started constructing the Tierra Amarilla Elementary School three years ago, Paul Nankung, a recent transplant from Northern California, was just completing the renovation of an old adobe building that had been melting into the ground. He opened the Three Raven Coffee House and soon, locals, transplants and tourists were grabbing coffee and pastry while viewing local artisans' creations.

Art and coffee bringing people together? That would have been unheard of just a few years ago. But Tierra Amarilla and Magdelena are just two of many New Mexico communities experiencing a rebirth through the arts.

For decades, our politicians have stated that economic development in rural New Mexico is critical to our state, and they have committed millions of dollars to that effort. But there has been little to show for the taxpayer money spent.

Today, rural New Mexicans are showing us all how to achieve economic development. Our citizens, not our elected representatives, are leading the way.

Please join me in asking the governor and your legislator to provide funding for the New Mexico Department of Tourism to create a website for mapping studios, galleries, and arts organizations, as well as listing community art events, throughout rural New Mexico.

(The Tourism department already has similar websites for Route 66 and the "trail of the green chile cheeseburger.")

A good place to start would be mapping the beautiful murals throughout Tucumcari.

In addition, let's commission a study on how our rural art market phenomenon can be translated to other industries.

This is an example of public funding in which everyone comes out a winner.

Mick Rich is an Albuquerque building contractor. Contact him at:

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