ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's uninterrupted vistas and intertwined Hispanic and Native American cultures have long been a draw for tourists and artists.
However, a report commissioned by the Department of Cultural Affairs shows more needs to be done to capitalize on the state's creative assets as art and culture markets go global and high-tech.
The report, released Wednesday by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico, says the state's museums, art galleries, libraries, performance spaces, festivals and farmers markets have a combined economic impact of about $5.6 billion.
The arts and culture industries also employ more than 76,000 people. That's more than the state's construction industry, said Jeff Mitchell, the lead researcher.
He told the crowd gathered at the National Hispanic Cultural Center for the unveiling of the report that arts and culture need to be recognized as an industry that has growth potential.
"We need to have programs ... that focus not only on building spaceports and attracting very large battery companies, which can be very expensive, but invest in things that are local, already existing here and see the opportunities for homegrown development," Mitchell said, prompting cheers from the crowd.
The report shows there's untapped potential as well as shortfalls that need to be addressed if New Mexico wants to realize more of the sector's economic potential.
"This report is really about shifting our perspective about how important arts and culture really are to our communities and to economic vitality," said Veronica Gonzales, secretary of the state Cultural Affairs Department.
She challenged the idea that art and culture are spinoffs of economic prosperity.
"It's really a precondition. If you can offer things like the arts, theater and museums in your community, that makes it rich to live there," she said. "Then you can attract more people to the area. It just makes sense."
The report also found that the arts and culture industries, despite being hit hard in recent years by the economic downturn, have provided a lifeline for rural communities.
One of the challenges for the state will be keeping up with technological advancements that are driving changes in the art world.
Despite New Mexico's high concentration of galleries, museums and other culture-related businesses, researchers found that New Mexicans are far less likely to be employed in rapidly growing and higher-paying creative fields such as media, advertising and software publishing.
Mitchell said outsiders have the perception that New Mexico lacks innovation.
"You need to be able to show people that we can do world-class work in this area," he said. "We're not just a place where you come and harvest interesting old art or rugs."
The report offers 12 recommendations for making New Mexico more competitive in the global market and it challenges government agencies, nonprofits and business leaders to work together.
As a first step, Gonzales said her department is developing an online network that will provide resources for the industry. Encouraging more investment in training opportunities for the state's creative workforce is also part of the plan.
"As this report shows, we are fortunate that New Mexico already has a very strong foundation to build upon," she said.
Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM