ALBUQUERQUE – One of the top priorities for officials who oversee New Mexico’s system of museums and cultural offerings will be forming more partnerships with rural communities and Native American tribes over the next year.
State Cultural Affairs Secretary Debra Garcia y Griego testified Thursday before a legislative committee that oversees crafting of the state budget. She told the panel that expanding access to arts and culture beyond New Mexico’s metropolitan areas will be critical.
“We all know that arts and culture can be incredibly important to a community’s quality of life but also its economic well being. This is particularly true for our rural communities,” she said.
Garcia y Griego shared statistics that showed how many people were visiting museums, historic sites and libraries. She also said the agency relies heavily on the support of volunteers and private foundations. In the last fiscal year, such groups contributed nearly $5 million in support of special exhibitions and educational programs at state museums and historic sites.
Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Democrat who is chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, said during the meeting that many of the prominent families from New Mexico’s oil and gas patches are among those who support the arts. He pointed to a 1952 Peter Hurd mural that was rescued from a building in Texas that was slated for demolition. An anonymous patron paid for the mural and its costly transportation to Artesia, New Mexico, where it was installed at the public library.
He acknowledged the criticisms environmentalists and some Democratic politicians have of the industry. But Smith said “oil and gas and sources of revenue shouldn’t be dividing us. We have a lot of common respect and appreciation for the arts.”
Revenues from the oil boom have helped the state’s general fund budget overall, but Smith and others are warning about expanding spending.
“The puzzling question is we don’t know how long that’s going to last – and that presents a real challenge for this committee ... to still be responsible and fend off the charges that we’re not spending enough. We’re a little apprehensive,” he said.
Garcia y Griego is asking for a budget increase of more than 13%, saying much of that would go to basic operating costs as the state runs dozens of sites that are open to public almost every day of the year.
The Cultural Affairs Department is responsible for 191 structures, 100 of which are designated as state cultural properties or on the National Register of Historic Places, according to agency officials.
Historic structures are more expensive to maintain and renovate, officials said.
Garcia y Griego told lawmakers there is currently more than $9.25 million worth of construction underway on historic buildings using state and federal tax credits. Department officials are looking for ways to boost the amount of recurring money that can be dedicated to the maintenance effort.