Better environment for artists expected

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By David Giuliani

SANTA FE — Some may consider it a lofty idea, to boost Las Vegas’ economy by facilitating a better environment for artists and bringing in more tourism dollars. But the state thinks it can become a reality and is now ready to invest some resources behind it.

On Wednesday, New Mexico MainStreet awarded the city its new Arts and Culture District designation, which makes the Meadow City eligible for state assistance in building “an arts and culture environment” as part of an economic development strategy.

Last year, the state Legislature passed and the governor signed into law the Arts and Culture initiative, and this year, Las Vegas and Silver City became the first two cities in the state to receive the designation.

Las Vegas can now expect state help in marketing and promoting itself as a haven for artists and an attractive tourist destination.

At the heart of Las Vegas’ new designation is the Strategic Plan for an Arts and Culture Environment, or SPACE, a lengthy proposal to develop the city’s economic base through greater support for arts and education. The plan calls for more support for artists seeking to make a living here and for making the community more friendly to college students and talented young people. Support for small business ventures and incorporating more arts and culture education into the schools are also part of the 36-page plan drafted by MainStreet Las Vegas member Roy Montibon.

Now, with the state designation, such dreams are a step closer to reality.

“We have meetings starting almost immediately,” Montibon said, adding that the state will now provide help in writing grants, preparing engineering studies and generally moving the city forward with education and business development plans. All this goes beyond the other MainStreet programs currently under way, he said.

“All this will be done in cooperation with a lot of other organizations in town — the Arts Council, EDC, the three colleges in town, the Nat Gold Players ee they’ll all be involved, according to their forte,” said Montibon, who doubles as chairman of Las Vegas’ Arts and Culture District and as director of the SPACE program. “This has been a very cooperative effort from the get-go.”

A communitywide celebration, including a presentation of what the Arts and Culture designation will mean to the city, is being planned — probably for early February, with the details to be announced, Montibon said.

Lawrence Quintana, president of MainStreet Las Vegas, called the designation a “great opportunity for the community.”

“It will help us provide clean industry, it’s water friendly, and it can help us move economic development forward,” Quintana said. “Lots of people in the arts ee paved the way for the opportunity in front of us.”

And like Montibon, Quintana also said it will take cooperation to move the plan forward.

Even at the state level, the Arts and Culture District initiative is a concerted effort between agencies. The Department of Cultural Affairs, the Tourism Department and the Economic Development Department are all involved, with New Mexico MainStreet Program Director Rich Williams acting as statewide coordinator for the program.

Las Vegas’ Arts and Culture District designation specifically relates to the city’s MainStreet corridor. The plan includes a strategy of converting unoccupied historic buildings into artists’ studios, lofts and galleries. It is designed to help artisans to create and grow small businesses throughout the city.

As for education, Montibon said the strategy is to identify talented young people, then “grounding” them in such a way to help them develop their talent “into a viable career” — at the college level and earlier.

Another element in the plan is to support the city’s arts community around a broad definition. Everything from Web design to customizing motorcycles will be considered a part of the plan to grow the arts in town.