FARMINGTON — Local artists hope to transform downtown Farmington into one of New Mexico's Arts and Cultural Districts over the next few years.
Representatives from the arts community and downtown business and property owners met Tuesday with state officials to discuss the designation. An Arts and Cultural District is "a district that's dedicated to the cultural economy," said New Mexico MainStreet Director Rich Williams.
The state created Arts and Cultural Districts in 2007 and now has nine districts, including Los Alamos, Silver City, Raton, Albuquerque, Gallup, Artesia, Las Vegas, Taos and Mora.
Each district chooses a strength. For example, Los Alamos worked with Los Alamos National Laboratory to create the Next Big Idea, a weeklong festival of science, technology, engineering and math activities.
That's one example of what Williams calls a district's "signature" event. Another, he said, is the Silver City Clay Festival.
Farmington would need to apply to join the program. If selected, a team would visit the city and meet with focus groups for three days to determine the community's strengths. Then, over six to eight months, city officials would work with the state to plan priority projects. All of that information would be condensed into a master plan detailing five key projects.
The state provides planning resources for Arts and Culture Districts, but the designation does not allocate additional money for a city, Williams said. Other districts have received funding through grants, he said.
One major advantage for Arts and Culture Districts is advertising, Williams said. If accepted, Farmington would be listed as one of the state's Arts and Cultural Districts in brochures and online. That, Williams said, can provide a bump in tourism.
After hearing about the advantages, local artists and business owners talked about what Farmington would need to do to become a district.
"One of the big difficulties is, in the arts world, we have a hard time giving value to art," said Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, who attended Tuesday's meeting with his wife, Bev Taylor, the owner of Artifacts Gallery in Farmington.
Rep. Taylor said nonprofits often ask artists for free art to auction off at fundraisers. But, he said, there need to be more art appreciation.
Studio 116 Owner Karen Ellsbury agreed.
"We do have a plethora of people who can make art, but we need people who will buy art," Ellsbury said.
The way people view Farmington's downtown also plays a role in attracting residents to the area.
"I think part of the problem is that people don't find value in the downtown," Bev Taylor said.
Street inebriates, too much traffic and empty buildings were among the problems with downtown that meeting attendees cited.
Judy Castlebury, the director of San Juan College's Enterprise Center, added the community needs additional incentives to visit downtown.
"I'm not coming downtown unless there's a reason for me to come down," she said.
Restaurants and entertainment, she said, could draw people to the area.
Organization will be key in making Farmington an Arts and Cultural District in the coming years, said Eduardo Martinez, program associate with New Mexico MainStreet. Martinez said communities that have been successful in getting the recognition have an organized group petitioning the state.
For example, Gallup's downtown arts group already had a strong partnership with the Native American community, Martinez said. That helped the city receive its designation last year, he said.
"Those are things that you can start now," he said.