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Several positive developments noted as year comes to an end

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FARMINGTON — As local government officials plot ways to diversify the economy throughout San Juan County, it has become increasingly clear how big a role a revived arts, culture and nightlife scene will play in the effort to boost local tourism.

Over the past year, several significant developments took place in that arena, many of which helped promote the growth of such pursuits as filmmaking, visual art, live music, live theater and just plain socializing in the Farmington area. A year-end review of that evolution follows.

Future of Farmington Museum to be determined

An eventful year for the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park came to an end with the launch of a months-long process to develop a new strategic plan for the facility. A public meeting was held Dec. 11 to solicit public input for the plan, with the global consulting practice Lord Cultural Resources having been hired by the city to facilitate the process.

The plan is intended to guide the decision-making of museum officials over the next several years. A final version is expected to be delivered to the City Council for its consideration by May.

The development of the plan comes at a crucial time for the museum, which was without a curator for the last half of the year after Jeffrey Richardson left to take a position with a museum in his home state of Georgia. That vacancy is one of three museum staff positions that remained open at the end of the year.

The museum's future is also tied to development plans for the property surrounding the facility. City officials hope to create an "iconic" park on city-owned land to the east of the museum, and they have sought development proposals for a 2-acre site of city-owned land on the west side of the facility, a spot that has been dubbed the Gateway West Development. Both projects are envisioned as being positioned to capitalize on their proximity to the scenic Animas River corridor.

A conceptual plan examining the feasibility of adding an auditorium and a traveling exhibition hall to the museum was commissioned in the spring by the city after the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation offered city officials nearly $1 million to aid in the construction of the project. But when the foundation later struck a deal with San Juan College to use the money to renovate the school's Little Theatre instead, completion of the study was put on hold until the new strategic plan could be completed.

The museum got some good news in August when it announced it had received a collection of 450 Navajo rugs from the estate of the late collector Bob Culpepper. Museum director Bart Wilsey described it as the most comprehensive contemporary Navajo weavings collection he had ever seen.

Geology museum unveils popular dinosaur exhibition

Another local museum got a shot in the arm late this fall with a sizable donation that led to the purchase of six replica dinosaur fossils. The Sherman Dugan Museum of Geology at San Juan College's School of Energy unveiled the new collection during a well-attended public ceremony on Oct. 29.

The purchase of the replicas was made possible by a donation of $89,000 by the Dugan family to the San Juan College Foundation, which commissioned the replicas from Triebold Palentology Inc., a Colorado company.

A crow of approximately 1,000 people poured into the museum during the ceremony to get a look at the critters, which were highlighted by a replica of an Albertosaurus sarcophagus, a relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex.

FHS alum makes a splash on NBC dance series

Just a few months after Farmington resident Chevel Shepherd achieved overnight stardom by winning the 2018 season of NBC-TV's "The Voice," another Farmington native nearly duplicated her feat with an impressive run on the network's "World of Dance" throughout the winter and early spring.

Farmington High School graduate John "Poppin John" Austin advanced to the Division Finals on the program, falling only two steps short of winning the $1 million grand prize. Austin was narrowly defeated on the April 28 episode after advancing through the previous three rounds.

Art in the Alley project takes off ahead of Complete Streets construction

An effort to enhance the back doors of many downtown businesses got into high gear this year in downtown Farmington under the auspices of the Art in the Alley project. Funded by a $25,000 grant from the philanthropic arm of the Merrion family, the project is designed to make the back entrances of downtown businesses more appealing as the district's Complete Streets renovation gets underway and limits access to front entrances.

Several downtown building owners offered to let artists use their exterior walls, and Farmington downtown coordinator Michael Bulloch is overseeing the project. As of late October, nine murals had been completed or were still being worked on, and Bulloch said at least three more murals are planned for next spring.

New options offered for local craft beer fans

San Juan County's craft beer scene received a boost in 2019 with the opening of the Lauter Haus Brewing Co. in the fall to go along with its two existing brewpubs, the Three Rivers Brewery and 550 Brewing. The 10,000-square-foot brewery at 1806 E. 20th St. operates under the "brewcade" model, as it offers an abundance of gaming options — including four cornhole courts, several pinball and video games, and dart boards — to go along with its numerous beer selections.

Local beer drinkers will have even more options in 2020 when the Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. of Albuquerque opens its first satellite location, a 1,200-square-foot operation at 5100 E. Main St. in Farmington called the Rambler Taproom. The business will not have a brewery on site, but it will offer all the Bow & Arrow products served at the main location in Albuquerque. The taproom is expected to open in late March or early April, according to founder, president and CEO Shyla Sheppard.

Much ado at the Farmington Civic Center

After a $11.5 million renovation, the Farmington Civic Center welcomed the public back with an extensive series of shows in the second half of 2019.

That busy schedule was organized by Randy West, the new civic center supervisor. It included the launch of the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company, the Intimate Broadway series, a family and children's entertainment series, and a lineup of concerts featuring country, rock, Celtic, jazz and blues performers.

After a holiday break, the Civic Center season will resume with a production of "GOD HELP US!" on Jan. 4 starring TV legend Ed Asner, the Pink Floyd Laser Spectacular on Jan. 9 and a production of "Heroine's Song" on Jan. 18 featuring Broadway performers Anne Runolfsson and Tess Adams.

San Juan Jazz Society aims to promote local live music

A new nonprofit organization dedicated to pumping life into San Juan County's moribund live music scene made a splash in 2019, as the San Juan Jazz Society completed its first year in operation with a variety of successful projects to its credit.

The organization, headed by president Delbert Anderson, presents a year-round popular series of free jazz jams that move between the Farmington Civic Center and the outdoor HEart Space behind Studio 116 in downtown Farmington. It also mounted a series of Second Saturday concerts in 2019 featuring local acts such as Signal 99, conducted a series of music workshops, played a major role in the construction of a stage at the HEart Space, and undertook a successful fundraising drive that will help cover the costs of the various projects it has planned for 2020.

Donations mean new life for San Juan College Little Theater

An effort by the nonprofit Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation to help create a facility honoring its namesake reached fruition in August when it was announced the organization was partnering with San Juan College to fund a renovation of the school's aging Little Theatre.

The CGAF donated $500,000 to the San Juan College Foundation to pay for a renovation of the theater and another $250,000 to create an endowment that will underwrite its use by other local arts groups. The latter sum was augmented by a $100,000 donation by Pesco and the Merrion Family Foundation to bring the total endowment to $350,000. The interest generated from the endowment will be used to allow arts groups to use the facility for free once a year.

The renovation will include the installation of new seats, lighting and carpet; the repainting of the theater; a renovation of the backstage area, and a makeover of the foyer.

The theater will be renamed in honor of the late Connie Gotsch, a former San Juan College radio host and patron of school's music and fine arts programs who died in 2012.

Bringing a bit of Hollywood to San Juan County

Members of the San Juan County Commission are gambling that the county can attract a sizable chunk of New Mexico's burgeoning film industry. They asked for, and received, $1 million in capital outlay funding from the Legislature in 2019 to fund the creation of a film production facility here.

That development coincided with a surge in the industry's profile here throughout the year. In September, the inaugural Four Corners Film Festival was held in downtown Farmington, and two Hollywood productions — the recently released "Jumanji: The Next Level" starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black; and "Bios," starring Tom Hanks — filmed scenes near Shiprock in 2019.

County Manager Mike Stark said shortly before Christmas that the county is still exploring possible locations for the studio as well as a planned backlot that could be leased to film producers interested in shooting projects here. He said a couple of sites are under consideration, and the county is doing its due diligence on those locations. He said he hopes to bring a proposal to the County Commission for its consideration in the middle of January.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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