ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The National Hispanic Cultural Center will begin searching for a new leader.
Rebecca Avitia, who is credited with turning around the center over the course of her nearly five-year tenure, decided not to reapply for her position as executive director.
Thanksgiving weekend, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham put out a blanket resignation request to all Government Exempt Employees to resign effective Dec. 31, though an option remained to reapply for the position. This request is typical with the changing of administrations.
Avitia submitted her letter of resignation and offered to stay for a couple months to ease the transition for the incoming NHCC executive director but didn’t get a response from Lujan Grisham’s administration.
Avitia said Friday that she has not decided on her next career move but that she wants to help migrant children.
She said that with the immigration debate heating up, especially involving the children at the border, something switched in her.
“I realized I felt a pull to support our community beyond the mission of the center and if I stayed at the center longer, I would be the one to derail it from its mission,” she told the Journal. “I’m good for the center, but not in the long term. … There’s something else calling me.”
Avitia, a Democrat, was appointed under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.
Her appointment came after a national search and a two-year vacancy, and after years of concerns over management, fundraising and direction.
“I wanted to get into public service, and the NHCC was the perfect place at the time,” Avitia said. “I was a Democrat, and I was going to serve in a Republican administration. Over the five years, I threw myself into getting the center on track with its mission. I worked on rejuvenating the staff and bringing culture to the center.”
Before her Feb. 1, 2014, start date, the executive director position had been vacant since then-Executive Director Estevan Rael-Gálvez resigned in March 2011 after more than a year in the position. He was also asked to resign by then-Gov. Martinez.
In a letter to staff, Avitia said she was humbled to have served as leader of a center that has attracted international Latino performers, writers, artists and flamenco dancers.
“You have shown me what it really means to be humble, brave, vulnerable, fun, and – above all – loving,” she wrote.
Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said Avitia was an exempt employee and the governor asked all exempt employees to resign.
“The new secretary-designate of cultural affairs, Debra Garcia y Griego, is now beginning the process of identifying leadership at the NHCC,” Stelnicki said.
Avitia, a Columbia University Law School graduate and former prosecutor, was the first woman to lead the center.
Under Avitia, the Albuquerque-based center nearly tripled the number of events it held, which led to attendance growth. The NHCC Foundation saw revenue grow to $1 million last year despite decreases in state aid. The NHCC itself had revenue of more than $500,000. Before her arrival, revenue was barely at $250,000 a year, according to the center.
The $56 million center opened in 2000 after more than 20 years of work by activists.
But the center had nine executive and interim executive directors before Avitia took over. She was the center’s longest-serving executive director.