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The impact of arts in New Mexico

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Alisha Porter was making clay pots as if her life depended on it.
And it just may have.
At the Friday, Feb. 28, opening of Devasthali Hall, New Mexico State University’s brand-new art building and museum, Porter was one of many students in the building, working on art projects and talking with visitors.
The building is impressive, as was the number of students working who weren’t necessarily art students. I met two young men in the photography department, one of whom was studying graphic design, the other studying chemical engineering.
I’ve long believed learning about art makes a person better at whatever endeavor they choose. It may also make them better at life.
While Porter, a student from Grants, was throwing pots in the ceramics room, she openly talked about some dark patches of life she went through just a few years ago.
Then she discovered pottery making. A couple of years later, her instructor told her, “Alisha, I believe you’ve put more work through this kiln than anyone.”
Just as on the potter’s wheel, she shapes and re-shapes the clay until it matches her vision, she also has re-shaped her own life.
Porter may never get rich selling her art. Or maybe she will.
Either way, she’s doing it, and making the empty pots fills her soul.
The new art building is a wonder to behold, and a vast improvement in equipment and space from the facility it replaces, which was a concrete monolith that began life almost a hundred years ago as the Aggies’ basketball gym.
No matter the medium, art has a home in the new building, with all the tools necessary for students to explore and build their creative visions.
In addition, the museum space is fantastic. I attended several shows in the old museum, and they were always good, but the visibility of the facility was sorely lacking. And being in that old gym did not lend itself to a warm, cozy feeling. The opposite is true now.
Where the old building was dark, dank and forbidding, the new one is light, airy and inviting.
Rama and Ammu Devasthali, for whom the building is named, were long involved in the fundraising for the building, and made a healthy contribution themselves, nearly $2.8 million. That, along with 10 years of efforts, plus a $22.5 million general obligation bond voters approved in 2016, brought this amazing building to reality.
A lot of folks don’t understand art, or don’t understand its value to education.
But they might understand this: the economic impact of arts and culture in New Mexico was $5.6 billion, the state’s Department of Cultural Affairs reported in 2017. Arts and culture also account for about 50,000 jobs in the Land of Enchantment.
Art may not change your life, but it might change your son’s or your daughter’s life.
It changed Alisha Porter’s.