Regional Report

New Mexico

The highlight of summer in Santa Fe this year was the June 17 (1997) opening of the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, a project of the Burnett Foundation. Anyone needing a caterer, carpenter, or waiter was...well, disappointed. The entire town was consumed by opening festivities. As one grantmaker noted, this was Georgia's version of “Desert Storm.” The number of museum visitors staff predicted for the entire year was roughly 150,000—but in the six weeks following the opening, numbers have already totaled 90,000. Gil Martinez, Director of the Santa Fe Visitors and Convention Bureau, estimated that based on hotel bookings the museum was bringing in about one million dollars a day to the local economy.

Meanwhile, on another tourism note, the Santa Fe Arts Commission provided support for a pilot project entitled “Be a Tourist in Your Own Town” this summer. Initiated by Recursos, a nonprofit with several cultural tourism programs, the project was a pilot program to train high school students to be tour guides for other teens—either those living in Santa Fe or on vacation with their parents. Ellen Bradbury, Director of Recursos said, “Who is better to talk to young people than other young people, right?” The students talked with professional tour guides and then went through a training program. Working with the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Fe, teens led other teens on tours of the town's cultural institutions and historic sites, and provided knowledge of the arts and history of Santa Fe. The teen guides received a small honorarium for each one and a half hour tour. In a town where employment is difficult for adults and worse yet for youth, the program was welcomed. Interestingly, teens of both genders signed up to be guides but, in the end, only the girls remained with the program all summer.

Other efforts to engage youth in Santa Fe's cultural resources are considered in a new report, “Arts and Education in the Santa Fe Public Schools: The Interface between the Classroom and Cultural Resources,” commissioned by the McCune Charitable Foundation and released in August. Researcher and arts educator Lynn Shapiro spent fourteen months conducting an assessment of the cultural resources in Santa Fe. Then, through interviews with teachers, she examined the local schools to determine how these resources were being used, or not. In a town blessed with enormous cultural assets, Shapiro found that many cultural institutions were not engaged in partnerships with the schools, with a few exceptions. Shapiro ultimately focused on six exemplary Santa Fe programs that are dedicated to serving the Santa Fe public schools while discussing a range of other resources that could be more integrated into public school arts education. The scope of the report is extensive, ranging from archeological assets to the presence of nearby American Indian communities, from the massive commercial art market to the built environment and historic preservation resources.

An interesting program with a focus on ethnic history and culture is taking place at the Ghost Ranch Living Museum Foundation, Inc. in Abiquiu. Supported in part by the Fund for Folk Culture and The Pew Charitable Trusts, the program uses an interdisciplinary approach to examine the history and cultural traditions surrounding New Mexico's irrigation ditches, or acequias. Acequias (ah-SEH-kee-ahs) are hand-dug irrigation channels that spider-web the arid New Mexico landscape and deliver snow melt to small, rural orchards and truck farms. An exhibition, “More than a Ditch: Life along the Acequias,” is scheduled to open this fall and will include a “Blessing of the Waters” ceremony, folk music, storytelling, and woodcarvings of Santos associated with acequias. Water is a critical and limited resource in the West and is a subject that most people think about in environmental terms. However, to Native Americans and Hispanic cultures, water takes on profound spiritual, ceremonial, and cultural meanings that often are not fully understood. This project is interesting for its potential to explore the often controversial subject of water through a larger set of cultural considerations and traditions.

Jan Brooks
Northern New Mexico Grantmakers