Good news from MainStreet

When you think of Farmington, arts and culture may not be your first thought. But that could change.

Farmington — specifically, part of Farmington’s downtown – – is one of three communities recently endorsed by the New Mexico Arts Commission as a Start-Up Arts & Cultural District. It is recognized as a historic area with preservation value and economic potential.

This program is a division of the state’s MainStreet program, primarily operated by the Economic Development Department (EDD). It means the state will be involved in coordinating local public and private efforts to upgrade and renovate the area.

The Farmington district overlaps with the Historic Downtown Commercial District, located where the Animas, San Juan, and La Plata rivers converge. This downtown district contains an eclectic mix of galleries, locally-owned retail stores and restaurants.

Corrales and Carlsbad are also newly designated Start-Up Arts & Cultural Districts.

The Carlsbad district is home to private and cooperative galleries, art-related businesses, Halagueno Arts Park and the Carlsbad Museum. The vision for the district includes plans to rehabilitate the Cavern Theater and repurpose the old Odd Fellows Hall into a coffee house, bistro and event space.

For more than 30 years, MainStreet has been working with communities to provide technical services and some of the funding for downtown improvements – always focused on preserving the unique character of the community.

Arts & Cultural Districts are a relatively new addition to New Mexico’s MainStreet program. Another new designation is the Frontier Community Initiative, for communities with less than 7500 population. The newest additions are Cimarron, Conchas Dam, Rodeo, and Taos Pueblo.

MainStreet codirectors Daniel Gutierrez and Rich Williams explained that revitalizing the downtown involves more than just saving old buildings. Planning has to consider infrastructure, such as aging water lines or cracking sidewalks. MainStreet can bring in technical experts to make sure the total package works. All MainStreet projects must have economic potential, community participation and public or private sources of funding.

More than 30 projects, some completed, are all over the state, from Nob Hill in central Albuquerque to Mosquero and Zuni Pueblo, the first Native American MainStreet community in the U.S.

Last week in Grants I was delighted to visit the lovely Riverwalk Park, part of its MainStreet project. The park, a magnet for special events, is across the street from the historic Mining Museum along Route 66. Last year I stopped in Carrizozo, where MainStreet-inspired painted burros look down from rooftops on to an eclectic mix of art galleries.

In an age of big box uniformity and look-alike shopping malls, it’s worth celebrating that small towns, including very small ones, are redeveloping their downtowns and preserving their unique histories.

Under MainStreet’s Historic Theater Initiative, the EDD has made grants to six publically owned classic theaters: in Clayton, Silver City, Lovington, Raton, Gallup and Clovis. Each historic theater has been identified as a catalytic economic driver for its community.

MainStreet involves coordination among several state agencies: The Historic Preservation Division and New Mexico Arts Division of the Department of Cultural Affairs and the New Mexico Tourism Department as well as EDD. I have written columns critical of New Mexico state agencies that don’t even talk to each other. I am pleased to write about agencies working together.

Do you remember the movie, “The Last Picture Show?” It’s a nostalgic story of a dying small town where the wind blows tumbleweeds down the main street and the local movie theater must close for lack of business.

Imagine if a few artists set up shop in those abandoned storefronts, a coffeehouse opened next to the pool hall, and an arts-minded developer restored that theater to its original Art Deco glory. That town’s future might be completely different.

Allow me to suggest that the next priority should be an Artisan Public Restrooms program, which will be appreciated by tourists and definitely create a few jobs.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2018

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