When you see Las Cruces, the first things that come to one’s mind might be desert, pecans, outdoor activities and agriculture. One shouldn’t overlook the vibrant art and culture scene that thrives in the Mesilla Valley. As a melting pot of the classical Indian and Mexican traditions with the American and European styles that have been brought by visitors and new residents, Las Cruces is a growing art destination in the Southwest.
New Mexico State University is a strong presence in the local arts scene. NMSU has an amazing music program that brings different musicians to the area to perform and is host to the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra. NMSU’s Hershel Zohn Theater hosts numerous plays from the university’s Department of Theatre. DanceSport Company puts on dance performances as well as teaching lessons in salsa and ballroom. NMSU has begun construction on a new arts complex that will house all of the collective arts-related departments and activities and give them room to grow.
The city has several local performing theatre companies: No Strings Theatre Company, Las Cruces Community Theater and NMSU’s Doña Ana Lyric Opera Company. For other live performances there are also the Mesilla Valley Concert Band, Las Cruces Chamber Ballet, Desert Harmony Singers and many other music, choral and dance groups.
Several unique artistic venues also call the nearby Town of Mesilla home. From the Preston Contemporary Art Center that exhibits the works of mid-career and emerging international artists to the historic Fountain Theatre that hosts foreign and independent films with the guidance of the Mesilla Valley Film Society, Mesilla is an artistic destination all its own.
Since the area holds such high regards for the arts, there are more than 50 organizations that support the arts. The Doña Ana Arts Council is a nonprofit organization that ensures the performing, visual and literary arts are a part of education, economic growth and community development. There are also ArtForms, the Las Cruces Arts and Crafts Association, and the City of Artists Promotional Association, as well as several more medium-specific organizations such as the Southern New Mexico Watercolor Society or the Potter’s Guild of Las Cruces.
On top of the arts, Las Cruces has several predominant museums that span over the prehistoric age to the new space age. The City of Las Cruces museums system includes the Branigan Cultural Center, Las Cruces Museum of Fine Art, Museum of Science and Nature and the Railroad Museum. The state-funded New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum has 24,000 square feet of exhibit space that connects that present-day generation to the ranching traditions of state as far back as the Mogollon Indians that first traveled the Mesilla Valley.
One of the most significant aspects of the cultural and artistic growth of Las Cruces is the revitalization of the city’s downtown area. Main Street was partially closed and the city’s center altered during urban renewal and there is an active effort to restore the street and pump life back into what many consider to be the community’s heart.
A key part of this effort was the restoration, renovation and reopening of the historic Rio Grande Theatre. Built in 1926 as a movie house, it has been reborn as a performing arts and education center under the management of the Doña Ana Arts Council.
The effort to make downtown Las Cruces a vital neighborhood with shops, restaurants, galleries and activity is an example of the city’s commitment to preserving our culture and promoting our artistic future.