Albuquerque ‹› Santa Fe
Axis of Creativity

The rise of the ‘Creative Class’
is strong in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor
of central New Mexico

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There are pairs of great cities across the country, linked forever by geography, if not temperament. Los Angeles and San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, St Paul and Minneapolis come to mind.

The Albuquerque/Santa Fe "axis of creativity" one day may be mentioned in the same breath. In author Richard Florida's groundbreaking book, remote The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, he rates Albuquerque and Santa Fe as two of the most creative cities in the country. But as a reader of The Collector’s Guide, it's probably no surprise to you.

Albuquerque ranks first on Florida's creativity index for cities of 500,000 to one million people, and eighth for cities of all sizes, the only medium-sized city in the top ten. Santa Fe ranks number one for cities of less than 250,000.

What you may not know is the full import of the rating. While some readers get caught up in Florida's provocative statistics on bohemian or gay populations, his creativity index was designed specifically to measure economic development potential, not necessarily how artsy-fartsy your community is.

Along with a measure of the percentage of creative class workers in a region, Florida takes into account the presence of high-tech industry; an area's openness to different people and ideas; and the innovative capabilities of a region, as measured by patents per capita. It is all these factors combined that Florida argues create the breeding ground for high-paying, interesting, and perhaps life-changing work. But it doesn't work without the people.

Florida's exhaustively researched book contends that cities with the highest concentrations of the creative class are the ones that are going to thrive economically in the 21st century. Great minds are to the new economy what coal seams are to mining companies. Where the great minds are, the money will follow.

Albuquerque and Santa Fe are rife with the creative class. In addition to the estimated 10,000 artists living in the Rio Grande corridor, there are thousands of other creative types: architects and engineers, scientists, authors, educators, computer whizzes and mathematicians, filmmakers, musicians, poets, entrepreneurs, designers, entertainers and journalists. Sometimes they're a combination of any of the above. Backing up this "super-creative core" as Florida calls them, are creative professionals—business and financial managers, lawyers, healthcare practitioners and other highly-educated people good at creative problem solving.

In a piñon shell, they're people producing economic value by using human creativity. Even before we knew what a creative class was, New Mexico's arts and culture industry was important to the state's economic well-being. A 1995 study commissioned by the NM Office of Cultural Affairs, for example, indicated that local and visiting patrons of our arts and culture account for $1.6 billion in the annual economy. But in Florida's world view, artists are more than just a lucrative sideshow for chambers of commerce and the Taxation and Revenue Department. In fact, in Florida's economic equation, he values starving artists as much as rich investment bankers. That's because creativity is valuable, in whatever form it takes, from a composer creating a lasting piece of music to the inventor building a better laser-guided mouse trap.

The more creative class members there are and the more they mingle, the more new ideas, concepts, products and eventually, more economic development, result. As Albuquerque entrepreneur Sparky Rose Wilson noted in the Albuquerque Journal, "If you get a bunch of creative people around and there are enough capitalists around, money will happen." Not to mention, you'll probably get invited to a lot of interesting parties.

But why do some places attract and retain the creative class and others just wither away? Above all, Albuquerque and Santa Fe offer the openness, diversity and tolerance that creative types seek. That's not only Florida's opinion, it's a fact. On the other hand, some places can outwacky us when it comes to tolerance and diversity—New Orleans and Miami come to mind. But they lack the important scientific/high-tech industrial base that we take for granted.

Florida believes the communities that encourage a "people climate" are the ones that will lure and keep the creative class. Tolerance is one piece. Quality of place is another. If we have nothing else, we have a people climate, by any sociological/ meteorological standard. For those of us living here, it means thriving literary, visual arts and music scenes, trails to bike and hike, skiing, a happening downtown, places to meet other creative folks, environments that keep the creative juices flowing.

The symphony, ballet and opera have their place in the amenity mix—and New Mexico boasts some of the best. But the younger creative class members want to mix and match entertainment options and they want their experiences to be real, and homegrown. A gallery opening in Albuquerque's Nob Hill or Santa Fe's Canyon Road, leading to some rosepetal-dusted squab enchiladas for dinner, followed by dancing to Middle Eastern techno-fusion music, capped off by coffee and poetry in a downtown club is a perfect night out for some. Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and what the heck, Taos, offer these opportunities in abundance. You just have to know where to find them.

Like the folks who live here, the more time you spend in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe axis, the more it becomes clear that while it is a definite place, it's also an experience. You are here in the Land of Enchantment, presumably because lounging for two weeks on the deck of a cruise ship is, frankly, boring. In theory, time off to be a couch potato is great. But as fellow creative class members, you know the truth is you have little free time, and filling it with meaningful experience is your goal. Pre-packaged, plastic confections like Disneyland and Six Flags are not necessarily what you're looking for.

The chain restaurants that abound here notwithstanding, New Mexico reeks of authenticity: from venerable old neighborhoods in the cities to ancient pueblos inhabited by the descendants of America's original people, to villages and towns settled hundreds of years ago and inhabited by people speaking 400-year-old Spanish. But New Mexico is more than a time capsule, it's a living, breathing, evolving entity and that's why it's important to heed Florida's message that creativity needs to be cultivated and supported.

Santa Fe and Albuquerque, in their own ways, are becoming world-class cities. We hope you'll view them as a couple of darling twins, eager to show off all the cultural and scientific toys they've accumulated, from film festivals, balloon fiestas, exceptional opera and music, think tanks, flamenco concerts, art galleries, national laboratories and underground films to high-tech startups, jazz venues, avant garde theater productions and a large pool of generally hip people—all within an hour's drive.

By visiting, and perhaps purchasing a piece of art or witnessing a performance, you've already spoken with your credit card. But you've missed the point if, for you, that's all there is to it. If you've got a minute, when you get home, drop an e-mail and let our civic leaders and opinion-makers know the value of our artistic and cultural community . . .


. . . here are e-mail links: mayor@cabq.gov and mayor@ci.santa-fe.nm.us

Let them know the reason you came here—and will come back—is not because the city hung flags on streetlights but because of that garrulous Che Guevara look-a-like on the Plaza who sold you an original drawing, then invited you to a party featuring a Peruvian rockabilly band made up of Sandia Laboratory scientists.

Tell them you're buying the soul, not the Sizzler.


Thanks to Anthony DellaFlora who is the assistant arts editor at the Albuquerque Journal

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque - Volume 17


Collector’s Resources

Albuquerque

The Albuquerque Museum | 505-243-7255
Concetta D Gallery | 505-243-5066
Cowboys & Indians Antiques | 505-255-4054
Fermin Hernandez Fine Art rem 328-B San Felipe NW | 505-243-0333
House of the Shalako rem By Appointment in Peralta | 505-242-4579
VSA North Fourth Art Center / N4th Gallery | 505-345-2872
Patrician Design | 505-242-7646
Anne Sandry | 505-292-2977
UNTITLED Fine Arts Service Inc 2910-B 4th St NW | 505-344-9994
Weems Galleries | 505-293-6133
Weyrich Gallery | 505-883-7410
Wright's Indian Art | 505-266-0120

Elsewhere in New Mexico

Corrales Bosque Gallery | 505-898-7203

RESOURCE LISTS UPDATED WHEN VIEWED | ARTICLE CONTENT REVISED October 14, 2009

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