"Otra, otra!" cheered some international students after Mariachi Buenaventura, Santa Fe's only all-female mariachi ensemble, finished playing a gleeful piece. The audience, including students, educators and carnival ladies in super-tall stilts, held hands while swaying to the music.--- A woman howled loudly, then kissed her boy friend on the cheek. The song finished. "Otra, otra!" the audience yelled again.

That's pretty much the usual scene in this year's opening ceremony of ArtFest12, which was held Monday night in the Santa Fe University of Art and Design's quad. Though Mother Nature seemed to have worn a troll face all afternoon—it rained pretty hard before and as the event started despite the nationwide drougt—she never deterred participants in this three-week festival, who have sojourned seas, or even oceans, just to get here.

"We're excited that all these students are thrilled to be here," said Laura Nunnelly, Director of Student Life in SFUAD. "The energy's been great so far."

Nunnelly said that the University conceived the idea of ArtFest on July 2011 with the basic purpose of informing the world that Santa Fe exists and that it is a major art destination. Preparations began October last year.

According to Nunnelly, at least 300 people from countries such as Chile, Mexico, Germany and New Zealand have registered for ArtFest12. Organizers, she said, worked with international offices of many universities to bring awareness about how artsy the university and Santa Fe are.

Though participants had to pay to enter in the workshops throughout the festival, Nunnelly said ArtFest12 gives them the opportunity to explore the city for a lot cheaper.

"Some students can't go to a full semester abroad program, so this gives them a unique look at the university and what [it] has to offer," she said.

Mayor David Coss also made a cameo in the ceremony. He wanted to prove that the city government supports art as much as the next Santa Fean, although they didn't pitch in with funding this year's festival.

"There are many different artists and art organizations that the city just really wants to be good partners with," Mayor Coss said. "We want to help them where we need to, and even come to events like I'm doing tonight to just say that we recognize the work and we support the work."

Besides birthing a new fabulous city festival and enhancing Santa Fe's status as an art mecca, Coss believes that ArtFest12 definitely helps increase tourism in the area.

"After this, there will be two or three hundred people that will go back to their home countries and say, 'Santa Fe is a pretty cool place,'" he said.

Additionally, the Mayor emphasized that SFUAD has been an integral moneymaker of the city in recent years, as it provides over a hundred jobs and accommodates 600 students. With that, he said that ArtFest12 will help improve our economy, and so in these times of slow economic recovery, the festival is a very useful boost.

"I don't think you can overstate the importance of a good strong art university in a city that makes so much of its economy based on arts and culture," Coss said.

Coss delivered a welcome speech during the ceremony.

But the keynote speaker was Brian Hardgroove, producer and bassist of the hip-hop group Public Enemy. He gave a brief history of how he realized his calling as an artist, which involves seeing an Earth, Wind and Fire concert, then talked about how artists can impact society's points of view.

"Regardless of what we as artists believe, every stroke of a pen, every utterance, every lyric, everything we do will be heard. And there will be an impact," Hardgroove said.

He talked about his so-dubbed "Def Jam incident," in which he turned down a grand offer from Def Jam Recordings to record songs with "misogynistic" lyrics. Although he said he does not judge people at Def Jam, he thought that women in his life would hear that record, and he did not want to offend them.

Hardgroove advised artists to "realize their power as creators," and to use that power to educate or even alter people's skewed views.

The ceremony carried on with Native American dance performances from the Southwestern Intertribal Dancers from Taos Pueblo. Students of SFUAD also showcased their talents with musical performances and poems. Carnival people from Santa Fe's Wise Fool wandered around during the event, getting gasps, laughs and applauses from the audience. And of course, there's the festive mariachi portion, which made this intern love mariachi for the very first time.

Sounds fancy, no? Well ArtFest12 has just started, and the festival goes on until Aug. 3. Several events free to the public, including a concert with Vanilla Pop, a Chris Eyre Q&A and weekend events titled Shakespeare on the Quad, held later this month (See The Calendar). Locals can also participate in workshops for $300.

Ultimately, Nunnelly hopes that ArtFest12 will be a success.

"We're hoping [the festival] gives these students from across the globe a little unique taste of Santa Fe so they'll be interested in seeing the value of a global art perspective," she said.

Oh, and ArtFest13 is very likely to happen, according to Nunnelly.

Otra, otra!” indeed.