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NM hasn’t capitalized on arts, culture

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s rich arts scene and storied culture have long supported jobs and tourism spending within the Land of Enchantment, but at least one local expert says the state has not yet realized the full economic potential of those “assets.”

Jeffrey Mitchell, director of the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business & Economic Research, says a thriving arts and culture sector is often a precursor to innovation and entrepreneurship. But in a speech to the Economic Forum on Wednesday in Albuquerque, Mitchell said New Mexico hasn’t capitalized on its own creative community.

New Mexico charts above national averages in cultural-goods production and distribution employment rates, according to a recent BBER study funded by the state’s Cultural Affairs Department. Arts and culture — when broadly defined to include areas like humanities education and cultural tourism — support nearly 77,000 jobs in New Mexico, representing 9.8 percent of the total workforce, the study found.

However, the state lags in related “intellectual property” fields, such as architecture, design and publishing.

“The point is that we have, historically and currently, very strong assets in arts and culture. We have people engaged in the production … and in distribution, but we are failing at a very key point in time to leverage those assets to create higher-paying, rapidly growing industries,” he said.”We can think of this as a failing, but we can also think of it as an important opportunity that exists now.”

One way to better position the “creative economy” moving forward is through business-related training and education, Mitchell said. Many already working in the arts and culture fields lack, for example, the accounting or marketing savvy to grow their own enterprises.

Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales said the state will work to solve some of those issues. In partnership with the McCune Charitable Foundation, Gonzales’ department will create a “virtual network” to help those in the arts and culture industries share ideas while linking them to business professionals with experience in technology, marketing and more. The network remains in the nascent stages and will likely require a year to implement, Gonzales said.

Some local entities already are working in similar areas. The Keshet Ideas and Innovation Center opened in July as an incubator and resource center for arts entrepreneurs. The Albuquerque nonprofit offers workshops on topics such as budgeting and human resource issues, provides one-on-one coaching and helps pair clients with professionals who can mentor them in specific business-related areas, Director Marla Wood said.

Helping arts entrepreneurs could be critical to the state’s overall economy, said Wood, who echoes Mitchell’s position that thriving arts and culture sectors spur more activity.

“People come to cities, people invest in cities because they have a strong arts and culture community, and economic development follows that,” she said.