Growing New Mexico’s Creative Economy

December 27th, 2022

Though arts and culture contribute significantly to New Mexico’s economy, state funding for creative arts is the same today as it was in the year 2000. Jim Patterson, a longtime Creative Santa Fe board member and president of the nonprofit advocacy group, Creative New Mexico, will be the first to tell you why that needs to change.

“New Mexico is known worldwide as a creative hub, and the creative arts are a key pull for funds from out-of-state,” Jim says. “They aren’t only key to our identity, they’re key to our economic development.”

Creative industries and individuals suffered heavy losses during the pandemic, and have yet to recover. According to an email from Creative New Mexico, arts and culture lost almost $500 million in 2020. Since the pandemic, Jim has been working with CrNM’s volunteer board and with other arts organizations and institutions to campaign for an increase in state funding to the creative economy.

According to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the creative industries provide a total added value of over $2.58 Billion, employ over 21,000 people, and are the fourth largest value add to New Mexico’s GSP behind Mining, Retail, and Construction. They are the third largest employer (behind Retail and Construction).

In 2021 and 2022, CrNM ran email advertising campaigns during the state legislative sessions, asking representatives to support a request from the Department of Cultural Affairs to increase its budget. This year, Creative New Mexico is building up an online portal called Voter Voice to expand and engage their network of citizen advocates for the arts, advocating specifically for a $2.2M increase to the budget of New Mexico Arts (NMA), the State’s arts agency, which funds 170+ arts nonprofits and organizations across New Mexico each year, giving access to the arts to 1.5M residents.

Another major initiative Creative New Mexico wholeheartedly supports for 2023 is to advocate for a formal Division of Creative Industries within the New Mexico Economic Development Department. Similar to the Department of Tourism, which promotes New Mexico as a destination for leisure travel, a division for creative industries would explicitly promote and foster the creative entrepreneurs, small business, and public infrastructure that generate local economic growth, drive tourism, and strengthen communities. Jim notes that the proposed Division of Creative Industries would compliment the work of New Mexico Arts and supercharge the development of arts and culture as an economic development and diversification strategy for the State.

It can be hard to advocate for the arts in a state where bare necessities are underfunded. Jim notes that many legislators view the arts as “nice” but not as “needs.” When it comes to allocating money from New Mexico’s oil and gas reserves, there’s also a perception that Santa Fe and Albuquerque might receive disproportionate funding, at the expense of smaller cities in the south of the state. For Jim, this just serves as a reminder that the smaller communities need more funding for arts initiatives, not that the state as a whole needs less.

“It’s a tough road and I understand there’s a lot of important things to support here in New Mexico,” Jim says. “But the arts bring money in, and when it comes to economic development, bringing money from out of state is key. Instead of starving the goose that lays the golden egg, we should be feeding it.”