Sustainability

Everyday Green: Cultural Revitalization in the Mora Valley

Mora Valley, New Mexico
The Mora Valley, as seen from the St. Vrain Mill – Photo by Seth Roffman

By Susan Guyette

Creative economy is about participation, connection, giving a community voice, expressing culture and supporting entrepreneurial businesses. In New Mexico, staying connected to place, while creating a means of livelihood compatible with culture, supports both community and environmental sustainability. Mora’s recent success in reviving cultural traditions and restoring historic buildings is a New Mexico success story, replicable in other rural communities.

The Mora Valley is home to a vibrant history as part of Hispanic culture in northern New Mexico. Culturally rich in language, traditional arts (santos, retablos, tinwork, silverwork, colcha embroidery, furniture and traditional quilting, music and dance), as well as contemporary arts, regional cuisine and healing traditions, Mora is unifying these strengths.

Participation by the Mora communities is an example of what aliveness and spirit can accomplish. An intention is to develop the employment needed to stem out-migration of youth, population decline and the subsequent erosion of cultural continuance. Combined with scenic landscapes, traditions provide high potential for developing tourism and the creative economy. During a recent planning process, these concerns were addressed in the creation of the Mora Arts and Cultural Compound Cultural Plan.

MORA ARTS AND CULTURAL COMPOUND

Anita Moss
Anita Moss, Arts and Cultural Compound coordinator – Photo by Frank Maestas

The Mora Arts and Cultural Compound, a condensed area in the heart of the community, consists of a major intersection of two state highways (518 and 434) and historic landmarks—including the St. Vrain Mill, St. Gertrude’s parish complex, the site of the original Mora County Courthouse and the Hanosh Hotel and Mercantile Store (now Tapetes de Lana and spinning mill center), the Butler House, the former Chief Theater (now the Mora Community Theater) and the David F. Cargo Library. An important goal of the Arts and Cultural Compound (ACC) is the revitalization of the Mora Plaza, located adjacent to St. Gertrude’s Church.

Buildings and their design hold memory for bridging the past, present and future of a community. As part of a cultural landscape within Mora County, the majority of arts and cultural assets (historic buildings, art centers, galleries, performance venues, creative class entrepreneurs, significant features, restaurants, lodging, etc.) are contained within, or near, the Arts and Cultural Compound boundaries. Restoring historic buildings represents a key strategy for the Mora ACC, for these are central to community identity and cultural retention efforts, as well as tourism development and the creative economy. Tax credits for the preservation of cultural properties are a positive stimulus for renovation of these community treasures.

A COMMUNITY-BASED PROCESS

The New Mexico Arts and Cultural District Program—a part of the MainStreet Program (www.nmmainstreet.org) under the New Mexico Economic Development Department—is providing valuable technical assistance, training and funding to the Mora Arts and Cultural Compound. This program, established in 2007, offers resources to develop a market niche in place-based economic development for the cultural economy within a distinct boundary. State agency partners—The Historic Preservation Division and the New Mexico Arts Division of the Department of Cultural Affairs and the New Mexico Department of Tourism—are collaborating to support capacity building, including funding the recently completed cultural plan. Participation in MainStreet’s Arts and Culture District Program carries advantages with partner funders, plus marketing assistance in the national network.

In 2017, input was gathered through two community meetings and two community surveys—one on Mora Arts and Cultural Compound activities and the other an artist survey. Understanding knowledge retention is basic to preventing further cultural loss. Data on community preferences and an inventory examining the status of traditions have been organized into a database, comprising a foundational step in preparing specific teaching activities as well as moving ahead with projects. These steps are important, not only to guide the community, but to show to funders as well, to gain the resources necessary for implementation of projects.

The cultural plan envisions the Mora Arts and Cultural Compound creating a multicultural cluster in the arts that will support and capitalize on New Mexico’s historical strengths and grow Mora’s creative economy sector. The three strong areas of tourism for the Mora Valley are cultural, recreational and agricultural. Recreational and agricultural tourism hold substantial potential for creating family-oriented activities. Mora County’s arts, cultural and land-based activities—to include fiestas, arts and craft shows, a dinner theater and harvest celebrations—comprise the foundation for this direction in development, highlighting the Mora ACC’s pivotal role for community collaborations. Supporting local people in their development projects aimed at becoming self-sustaining is the focal point of the MainStreet Program’s umbrella of connected support programs.

MOVING AHEAD

Partnerships that provide training and assistance to entrepreneurs are foundational for Mora’s success. A business incubator tailored to tourism is now being developed by Siete del Norte. WESST (www.wesst.org) participated in the design of the two community surveys and is delivering successful entrepreneurial trainings. Rural Community Assistance (RCAC) (www.rcac.org) offers “Building Rural Economics” entrepreneurial training.

Agricultural tourism is another opportunity tied to place. A rich tradition of growing is of interest to visitors. Recognition of the importance of local, whole-food diets is a national trend. A farmers’ market involving the Mora Grower’s Co-op holds potential for both the local harvest and the arts. Wine-making in the valley is another interface between agriculture and visitors.

Mora’s success represents an example for combining cultural revitalization with job creation in northern New Mexico. Partnerships between state agencies, foundations, non-profits, donors and the Mora Cultural Compound are key to transforming this culturally-based effort into a positive community future. Use of the internet is also key for developing these opportunities. For more information, visit www.ourmora.org.

Susan Guyette, Ph.D., is of Métis heritage (Micmac Indian/Acadian French). She is a planner specializing in cultural tourism, cultural centers, museums and native foods as well as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. Her passion is supporting the cultural retention of time- honored traditions. sguyette@nets.com

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