These New Mexico towns and cities embody the ideal that Arts & Cultural Districts strive to represent. Each community is rich in its own unique history and artistic expression. Las Vegas and Silver City were the first districts, authorized as Pilot communities in January 2008. As funding has been made available from the state legislature new districts have been added in Artesia, DowntownABQ, Gallup, Los Alamos, and Raton. Mora is the first Cultural Compound in the program, added in 2014.
From early pioneers and ranchers to oil entrepreneurs, Artesia has been at the center of culture and commerce in southern New Mexico. The area was an agricultural oasis until the early 1920s when many of the eponymous artesian wells began to dwindle. Fortunately, in 1924 another kind of well was discovered when the Illinois #3 oil well came in, opening up the Artesia oil fields locally and the Permian Basin regionally. Artesia has long enjoyed exceptional private support of the arts, investing in the city’s quality of life through public art projects, the performing arts, and arts education. Local artists have contributed to exhibits at the Artesia Historical Museum and Art Center, as well as to the Heritage Walkway, a series of murals in downtown. Eleven monumental sculptures comprise the History in Bronze public art project, representing the cattle drive era and later discovery of oil in the area.
The Artesia Arts Council offers workshops in painting, photography, and writing, sponsors Art in the Park, and manages the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center which hosts many performance activities. The Artesia Chorale and Artesia Community Theater provide opportunities for the performing arts.
Of significance, the Artesia Public Library, which opened in 2014, includes a dramatic addition an original Peter Hurd wall mural. Hurd an important landscape painter, was born in New Mexico and his work features many scenes from Southeastern New Mexico Life. The work, “The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare for It,” was originally located inside the now-demolished Prudential Building in Houston, Texas, the mural was saved and the painting was restored and relocated and installed in the new building.
A leader in creating livable public spaces and placemaking activities in their downtown area, their MainStreet streetscape project has served as a statewide model. The Heritage Walkway transformed a space where a building once stood into a beautiful public space. More recently, making improvements to streets in the district through round-abouts, public art, and Baish Veteran’s Park and Veteran's War Memorial. In 2015, they added to their collection of monumental bronze sculptures with the installation of the artwork entitled The Foundation by Mark Ashley, on the round-about at the intersection of Second & Quay, near the Artesia Public Library.
Albuquerque is unique among Historic Route 66 cities in that it is the only location in the U.S. where the old and new alignments of the road intersect. Although some of the historic flavor of those days remains, there is a renewed interest in preservation and restoration of the artistic neon signs that once lit the way through town.
Albuquerque is New Mexico’s largest city and has always been a gathering place for an eclectic array of artists, arts galleries, public art and performance space. Events like Mariachi Spectacular, Summerfest, and the GO! Downtown Arts Festival draw over 200,000 people to the District each year. Coupled with the historic KiMo Theater, the Albuquerque Convention Center and a wealth of performances spaces, Albuquerque is the state's leading live performance destination.
The City of Gallup has embraced a combination of adventure tourism and authentic cultural experiences along Historic Route 66. Gallup's downtown has always been the heart of the city, but was threatened in the 1980s by the rise of the Rio West mall, strip malls, Interstate 40, and big box stores. Downtown business merchants banded together and are creating a vibrant district, supported by the Gallup Business Improvement District and gallupARTS, Inc. Collaboratively working with their MainStreet organization, they are moving forward with a state historic district nomination for downtown.
Gallup is a culturally diverse community, a significant portion (43%) of the population is Native American, predominantly Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni. The city is home to many of the finest tribal artists in the U.S., over 90 of whom are working within the ACD creating jewelry, weaving, pottery, painting, sculpture, and more. Public art; artist's studios; a major performance space, the historic El Morro Theatre; arts retailers; music venues; and live/work spaces are located among the cultural assets.
Two major areas of focus are cultural events and young artists. Visitors are drawn to the monthly ArtsCrawl and annual events like the Hispanic Culture Celebration and Ancient Way Arts Trail Celebration. The area’s youth are encouraged to engage in the arts through multiple programs, such as Young Artists of Gallup and McKinley County, Artists/Uplift Community School Collaboration, and Youth ART123 Co-op Gallery.
With more than 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, the streets of Las Vegas are a living museum. The town’s nearly 15,000 residents live and work among adobe buildings created during territorial times, Victorian structures that arrived with the railroad, and California Mission styles that invoke visions of San Francisco. The unusual architectural profile of the community is a product of its varied roots. In 1835, the last land grant given to Spanish settlers by the Mexican government led to the establishment of Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Las Vegas Grandes, later shortened to Las Vegas. As one of the largest towns on the Santa Fe Trail, Las Vegas quadrupled in size from 1860-1880. With the arrival of the railroad in 1879, a whole new influx of culture reached the city. European immigrants joined the unique mix of native peoples, Spanish, and Mexican families. When you add the youthful influence from students attending New Mexico Highlands University and the United World College, you have the ideal ingredients for artistic exploration.
Film makers have found the beauty and heritage of Las Vegas an inviting backdrop for movies like “Easy Rider” and “Red Dawn.” Most recently, the award-winning Coen Brothers found their artistic match in Las Vegas. Their Oscar-winning Best Picture, “No Country for Old Men,” prominently featured the interior and exterior of the Plaza Hotel, Old Town plaza, and the historic Douglas Avenue District.
Think of Los Alamos not just as an Innovation and Creativity District, but as a creative culture district. Creativity takes many forms, and Los Alamos is renowned for being home to the world’s most creative scientific minds. In 1942, in the midst of World War II, the U.S. Government was looking for the perfect spot to put its top-secret weapons development program, the Manhattan Project. In 1943, thousands of scientists and workers arrived to develop the world’s first atomic weapon. Los Alamos remained at the forefront of weapons technology during the Cold War era, but it also diversified into all branches of scientific research, leading the way in computer development, environmental efforts, and medical breakthroughs. In 1981, the installation became Los Alamos National Labs (LANL), and today is home to 36 square miles of research and testing facilities.
The Fuller Lodge stands as a perfect example of the combination of past and present. Once used as a wartime guest quarters and mess hall, it is now the community’s center of artistic activity. The Bradbury Science Museum is an outstanding example of the efforts of Los Alamos’ creative minds, capturing past and present scientific achievements of the area.
For at detailed look at Los Alamos ACD assets, read the Resource Team Report
Visit the Los Alamos Creative and Innovation District
The Village of Mora, with a population under 2,000, is a pastoral community nestled in the Mora Valley between the northern mountains of New Mexico with a deep traditional Hispanic history. By order of the Governor of New Mexico, a land grant and plaza were established in the 1830s, giving Santa Gertrudis (Mora) settlers agricultural land and a community center. Farming and sheep ranching, and more recently raising Alpaca, has remained an important part of the area’s local economy, well known for its fiber arts. The historic acequia water systems still feed the valley’s agricultural activities. The St. Vrain Mill, the Mora Valley Spinning Mill (fiber processing facility), and the Mora Valley Spinning Mill Gallery and Theater, are all part of the district. More than 60 traditional Hispanic artists work in the valley carving and staining Bultos, Retablos and Santos, and tin work; these traditional arts often express the faith of the community.
The Mora Arts & Cultural Compound is a visionary project to achieve rural revitalization through a multi-layered approach centered on the historic plaza and adjacent commercial businesses. While respecting and conserving the existing cultural base, revitalization efforts in the district will build on those unique aspects the community sees as appropriate for enhancement incorporating sustainable energy, agriculture, and green job training, as well as the arts and historic restoration. In their own words, “Our objective is to create a Plaza that provides economic, cultural and human sustenance. Our intention is to develop a fully productive, mixed income, mixed use, sustainable District.”
Visitors from both in and out of state who travel through the area on the way to popular nearby ski resorts can look forward to an invigorated artistic center that welcomes tourism.
The growth of Raton as a railroad and mining town is reflected in its unique architectural heritage. A walking tour, covering five blocks of downtown Raton, is the perfect way to take in the structures that were built between the mid-1880s and early 1900s and comprise this historic district.
The tour includes the historic Shuler Theater, featuring WPA murals in the foyer; the El Raton Movie Theater, a classic movie house which has been upgraded with new state of the art digital projection and audio; the Old Pass Gallery (built in 1910 as the Wells Fargo Building); and the beautiful Victorian buildings of historic First St. Many of those buildings host galleries, antique shops, gift shops and cafes.
Raton's Historic Downtown Arts & Cultural District seeks to highlight the impressive number of venues and activities in the area, striving to make Raton “Northeastern New Mexico’s Center for the Arts.” In addition to many galleries and museums, the town also boasts a youth theater, dance school and a performing arts school. The historic rail depot on First Street is still in use with two daily Amtrak stops.
For a detailed look at Raton’s ACD assets, read the ACD Resource Team Report
Visit the Raton Historic Downtown Arts & Cultural District
A town of 11,000 residents that is home to nearly 40 galleries and artistic outlets speaks to Silver City’s cultural evolution. Founded in 1870 as a mining town, the rough and tumble history of the city includes Apache raids, the thieving ways of Butch Cassidy, and the boyhood days of Billy the Kid. As the bottom fell out of the silver market, the town turned to ranching and copper mining to stay alive.
Today’s Silver City is home to one of the most renowned artistic scenes in the Southwest. Painters, weavers, glass blowers, jewelry makers and a whole host of other artisans have found a home here. A very strong arts organization, the Mimbres Regional Arts Council, supports ongoing public arts projects and artists. The district balances its historic era frontier buildings with the engagement of contemporary forms of artistic endeavors. The Silver City ACD is embarking on an entrepreneur support program for artists working in the region. The town boasts two historic residential districts immediately adjacent to the historic downtown district.
The city is also proud of their performing arts, including the Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival and the Silver City Blues Festival. The renovated historic Silco Theater (built in 1923) provides performing artists a stage for their works. Two other theaters in the same block are part of a larger theater plan to create a Theater Arts District. One of the largest Mimbres ancient Native American pottery collections is housed just a short walk up the hill at Western New Mexico University. Additionally, film festivals, concerts, art fairs, and gallery showings dot the Silver City social calendar. Two great historic hotels and several B&Bs enable visitors to spend the night in this district, which also includes great restaurants, wonderful cafes, and coffee houses.