I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Chavez woos crowd at mayoral arts forum
“It’s like watching an NBA basketball player [compete] with a high school team.”
That’s how Albuquerque design firm owner Sandy Hill described Tuesday night’s Mayoral Forum on the Arts and Culture at the VSA North Fourth Arts Center in the North Valley. She was using the words of a friend, but after watching Mayor Martin Chavez easily outmaneuver his rivals state Rep. Richard Berry and former state Sen. Richard Romero, Hill thought the sports metaphor was apt.
The hour-long forum was hosted by The Arts Alliance and moderated by Dan Mayfield, assistant arts editor at the Albuquerque Journal. To use a different sports metaphor, Chavez hit a lot of home runs while Berry and Romero mostly struck out.
Over the course of the evening, Chavez wooed the crowd with his positive description of Albuquerque as a city whose arts scene is vibrant and growing — largely through his efforts.
Many of the key players in the city’s arts scene — including more than a dozen city employees — were there to support the mayor. In his answers, Chavez repeatedly mentioned his appreciation for the venues controlled by the city’s Cultural Services Department: the Albuquerque Museum, Kimo Theatre, South Broadway Cultural Center, Summerfest on Civic Plaza, Zoo Music at the BioPark and Salsa Under the Stars at the Museum.
He pointed out Ray Darnell, director of the Cultural Services Department, who was at the forum, and mentioned several other department employees by name. He greeted Tom Frouge, the city’s music liaison, and said — to great applause — that he wanted Albuquerque to have a signature event similar to Austin’s South by Southwest. He mentioned Ann Lerner, the city’s film liaison, while touting the city’s success at attracting films and television shows, describing a recent screening of Easy Rider introduced by star Dennis Hopper.
But Hill said she thought the mayor’s references to city employees in the audience was “hokey and staged.” Another attendee said she was disappointed by what she described as Chavez’s inconsistent support of the arts.
“He said he didn’t cut funding, but he did,” said Tuty Quinton, an organizer of Albuquerque’s aki matsuri, the Asian-American fall festival. Quinton said she was tired of Chavez’s “wobbling” but added that she was anxious about trusting another candidate to take over because “Chavez has already done so much.”
Ears perked up when Romero told the audience that for six years he had owned a stained glass business, but he gave few specific proposals, saying repeatedly that the city needed “a change in leadership.”
At one point, Romero suggested that as mayor he would support an increase in the 1 Percent for Art program, which uses bond money to fund public art. saying, “Let’s do 2 percent … 3 percent?”
The idea was greeted with warm applause, but Chavez and Berry both sharply criticized Romero’s idea, citing the recession.
“Change is good, but who brings that change is just as important,” Hill said. “I needed someone to show me something specific that I could believe in.”
Berry, meanwhile, made a largely successful effort to cast himself as polite and eager outsider, but he struggled at times to demonstrate even a passing involvement in the arts community.
During the forum, in response to a question about flamenco, Berry confessed that he knew little about the Spanish dance, which is taught locally at the National Institute of Flamenco, and celebrated with an annual festival.
But Berry’s experience in the business sector — he’s a general contractor — impressed Mary Lambert, a volunteer at OFF Center Community Arts Project.
“I think he’s a really good businessman… and I definitely think that’s important for art,” Lambert said, while also saying she prefers to think of art in terms of community involvement, rather than economic terms.
Berry left another attendee cold.
“He’s probably never even seen a flamenco performance,” Hill said, contrasting Berry’s professed support of UNM’s Popejoy Hall, which he mentioned several times, with Chavez’s regular appearances at art events around town.