Culture Club

Tom Aageson says involving Albuquerque and Taos in Santa Fe's cultural identity can only help

The person: Beginning in 2002, Tom Aageson led the Museum of New Mexico Foundation—the nonprofit entity that supports and funds many of the state’s museums and monuments—through a business boom, a subsequent recession and the continuing slow burn of economic stagnation. In 2010, Aageson stepped down from his post at MNMF; now, he devotes much of his time to the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship, where he serves as executive director and helps spearhead projects to encourage cultural innovation around the world.

The plan: Create a “cultural corridor” linking Santa Fe to Albuquerque and Taos, and encourage collaborative efforts to preserve, expand and market each area’s unique culture.

How it works: “We’re in a time when we really have to cooperate and collaborate in a creative way,” Aageson says. He points to a variety of indicators that have been declining since the recession hit—tourism figures, lodger’s tax revenues, state and local budgets. Yet Santa Fe remains focused on its two principal industries: tourism and government. “You’re still trying to convince people to come here, but you have less resources,” Aageson says. In order to alter that formula, Aageson advocates capitalizing on the creative and cultural resources that are already here—fine art, artisan crafts, organic farming, vineyards, orchards, a rich cultural and religious history—and integrating them with the local economy. In essence, he says, state and local officials as well as businesspeople should join forces (and use social media) to “build up an awareness about all that is offered.”

New Mexico's Rio Grande corridor, he says, is the perfect place to carry out such an experiment.

"Where in the world do you find this cultural variety?" Aageson asks. "But we don't aggregate it."

With the goal of an over-arching cultural corridor in mind, Aageson and the GCCE have been working with the New Mexico Tourism Department, the Department of Cultural Affairs and several state and municipal government entities. He says the corridor’s marketing strategy will dovetail with the Tourism Department’s new marketing initiative, scheduled to be unveiled in April.

Bottom line: “Increasingly, people see culture as a way to move out of the doldrums; as a result, they’re founding cultural districts in their towns,” Aageson says. “We’ve got to rethink how we do this. We’ve never pulled it together. We’ve never worked as a region—and we have to do it; we have to put budgets toward it,” he says. “I think that’s all within our reach.”

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