The announcement that the city of Santa Fe wants to transform its Arts Commission into an Arts and Culture Department reflects the importance of arts and culture to the city’s lifeblood but also an understanding of the value of both to the people who live here.
This is not a cosmetic renaming, in other words. The City Council will consider the proposal at its meeting Thursday; we hope councilors are as excited as we are about the move. Why does this move from commission to department make a difference? The Arts Commission reported to the Department of Tourism, which meant that arts and culture existed primarily as a means to attract tourists.
Make no mistake, with much of the funding for the commission coming from the Lodgers Tax and the importance of tourism in our city, there is nothing wrong with attracting tourists. However, arts and culture should not be primarily for visitors. The new arrangement makes that clear.
Under Director Pauline Kanako Kamiyama, the Arts and Culture Department will continue supporting activities that will draw visitors, but over the long-term also will nurture the creative economy for the people who live here. There’s a recognition, too, of the culture of this place that stems from the traditions already established long before artists or musicians from the East arrived.
Already the commission does important work and has since its establishment in 1988. It supports art in public places, the Mayor’s Art Awards, the community art gallery, funds grant programs, the city historian, youth programs and Culture Connects.
Now it can do more, continuing to nurture Santa Fe’s role as the cultural capital of the Southwest, where artists and artistic groups enhance the quality of our lives.
Culture, of course, has a broader meaning here — everything from the music of the Santa Fe Opera to the centuries-old traditions of language and food that make Santa Fe unique. Our culture is who we are, as well as what artistic events we attend.
As a department, reporting to the city manager and not the tourism director, Kamiyama and her team can forge partnerships to better enhance the arts and culture of our town. This is an exciting prospect for Santa Fe, not just today but for the young people growing up who want to make arts and culture their living.
Arts and culture, thankfully, are deeply entrenched in the life of Santa Fe. Now the artists, musicians, folklorists, cooks, language preservationists and all the other people who help keep Santa Fe a place of tradition and creativity will have even greater support at the highest levels of city government. This is a change worth celebrating.