For all that New Mexicans love to brag about their state’s scenic beauty and rich cultural heritage, residents of the Land of Enchantment have a tendency to point out every deficiency that exists, real or imagined.
New Mexicans feel the need to apologize. For everything. Poverty. Hungry kids. Educational outcomes. Crime. Crooked politicians. Police violence. Lousy roads.
The constant refrain of, “Well, it is New Mexico,” or, “Thank goodness for Mississippi, so at least we’re not last” gets old and, eventually, self-defeating. New Mexicans can admit flaws — and work to solve problems — without putting the state down.
That’s why we like a new effort starting in Albuquerque and hope something similar takes off statewide. The idea is to get business professionals (and others) to “stop bagging” and “start bragging” about their town.
Unveiled at a recent Albuquerque Economic Forum, presenters from Albuquerque Economic Development, AKT Communications and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center made a strong case that you can’t attract people and industry here if you’re always pointing to problems.
“Stop Bagging, Start Bragging” is a campaign by ABQ&A, a group supported by Albuquerque Economic Development. The idea, at the beginning, was to find out what keeps people in Albuquerque. Not why they leave, but why they stay and why they love their hometown.
To that end, ABQ&A held focus groups and then surveyed some 906 people over last summer. The answers, not surprisingly, had to do with wanting to be near family and to feeling connected to the larger community. We would wager that is true for the state as a whole. Connections keep us here, whether they are generational or forged more recently through common interests.
Now, we must figure out how to make better, stronger connections, the kind that don’t just make people more fulfilled in their lives but that also bring them together to begin solving some of our challenges. Because while we encourage bragging on what makes us great, New Mexicans know there is work to do on improving the state we all love.
To start the bragging, we would point out the breadth and depth of creativity present in New Mexico. Whether in individual artists, performers or writers, New Mexico as a state has proved that working in the arts can be more than a hobby or passion — it can be a career. Parents here, for the most part, aren’t yelling at their kids to major in business. They’re running out to buy musical instruments, paints or find mentors so their children can take their creativity and run with it.
Our local success story, the art cooperative Meow Wolf continues to soar; we have to brag that, surely, this one-of-a-kind experiential fun house could have been born nowhere else but Santa Fe. (To see its journey, watch Meow Wolf: Origin Story.)
Not only has it added jobs, attracted tourists, generated publicity and contributed to nonprofits in town and across the state, the great minds behind Meow Wolf are expanding — Las Vegas, Nev., Denver and now Washington, D.C. This success story was fueled by individual creativity, private capital, government startup funds and the energy of a collective, headed by CEO Vince Kadlubek and graced by the money and support of writer George R.R. Martin.
With Meow Wolf, present-day Santa Fe has added to centuries of an artistic tradition that dates back to the days before Europeans set foot here. Surely, with its creative energy and support for the arts, Santa Fe and all of New Mexico has much to teach the rest of the world. (We have a new star this month, too; Farmington’s Chevel Shepherd won The Voice competition last week. New Mexico creates across a number of fields.)
Creativity, without investment and support, can only go so far. Meow Wolf won both; now, the collective is helping other creative types along, offering grants and also taking art to schoolchildren. It’s an example of success breeding success — just what New Mexico needs.
Because, yes, New Mexico does have problems. But in challenges, there are opportunities. Now, we need to seize them. Brag, don’t bag.