The southern rim of the Rocky Mountains has been home to generations of New Mexicans steeped in the traditions of their Native American and Hispanic ancestors. The geographic isolation of this tricultural area has, in many ways, nurtured its thriving cultural identity. But this isolation, along with other challenges of rural American life—like inadequate infrastructure and sparse employment opportunities—makes it difficult for residents to earn a living and remain in their treasured homeland.
In New Mexico, almost 20 percent of the population earns below the poverty line, the third largest percentage of any state, and median household incomes fall substantially below national figures. As in many states, New Mexico's rural areas in particular confront these economic challenges. But with the help of the state arts agency, New Mexico Arts, the state's rural residents have found new ways to meld creativity with entrepreneurship.
The Arts Enterprise Partnerships program of New Mexico Arts stimulates commerce through artist training and business collaborations. Each year the agency supports several rural partnerships among a cottage arts enterprise and at least two other partners, one of which must be a private business. In keeping with the program guidelines, the funded organizations are required to train artists and either employ or market the work of artists and artisans at least eight months per year. Since it began in 1997, the Arts Enterprise Partnerships program has enabled organizations such as weaving studios, arts markets and youth centers to work with a wide range of partners including retail outlets, business trainers, technology companies and government departments. Grantees are eligible for three years of funding and substantial technical assistance to help them reach their economic development goals.
Carol Cooper, partnerships coordinator at New Mexico Arts, describes the program's positive outcomes. "In just one year, program funds provided training and sales opportunities for more than 1,000 artist-entrepreneurs and exposed those artists to an audience of buyers in excess of 45,000 people," she says. "Retail and wholesale markets and e-commerce sites were income generators, as well as festivals, exhibitions and studio tours." Through Arts Enterprise Partnerships, these small, rural arts and culture organizations are finding statewide and national markets for their work.
One such successful partnership has become an anchor in the small town of Española (population 9,709), a town that is rich in history, traditions and culture but that also faces high poverty and limited job opportunities. The Española Valley Fiber Arts Center (EVFAC) is using its services to improve the economic prospects of the surrounding rural counties. Through instruction in the textile arts, primarily weaving, EVFAC teaches traditional and contemporary techniques to hundreds of adults and children each year.
Providing artistic education is only part of the organization's mission, however. Through its Arts Enterprise Partnerships grant, EVFAC also provides extensive business training for artists by partnering with the Small Business Development Center and the Regional Development Corporation. From navigating the tax system to marketing artwork, local artists are learning how to turn their creative talents into profitable businesses. Diane Bowman, executive director of EVFAC, explains that the center works hard to be responsive to the needs of the people it serves. "The needs they come to us with are not only how to be creative, but also how to learn to make money from that creativity," she says. During a recent three-day arts market in Santa Fe, 38 EVFAC artists earned about $36,000 in sales, a significant sum that came home to the Espanola Valley. By bringing outside funds into the region, the work of these artists helps ensure that residents have earning opportunities while maintaining their way of life.
Advancing State Goals
The Arts Enterprise Partnerships program ties in with Governor Bill Richardson's core agenda of promoting economic development and creating high-wage jobs across New Mexico, but especially in rural areas. "There's no question that artistic creativity is, and should be, a major economic engine for rural New Mexico," Governor Richardson said. "Anything we can do to create economic opportunities to keep people in our small towns preserves our heritage and our culture for generations to come. I'm very pleased to see the leadership shown by New Mexico Arts in the creative economy."
State arts agencies are uniquely positioned to encourage business development through creative partnerships. In addition to being an important source of financial support to the arts community, agencies like New Mexico Arts also provide highly valued technical assistance and training that facilitates connections between the arts community and the private sector. "This program allows us to work together with New Mexico Arts in a new way," Bowman observes. "It is much more of an interactive partnership than there usually is between a grantee and a funder."
At the same time that these partnerships are generating dollars and jobs, they are also valued for bringing cultures and generations closer together. By making connections and bridging industries, New Mexico Arts is helping to nurture the state's traditional and contemporary artistry, further economic growth, and enable rural residents to thrive in their home communities.
For More Information
New Mexico Arts
Executive Director Loie Fecteau
Partnerships Coordinator Carol Cooper
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The work of NASAA and of state arts agencies is supported and strengthened in many ways through partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation
deserves great art.