State of the Arts

Michael Abatemarco ex­am­ines the Depart­ment of Cul­tural Af­fairs’ new tourism app

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Michael Abatemarco

I’m all for pro­mot­ing New Mex­ico’s great cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions and at­tract­ing a wider au­di­ence to what the state has to of­fer. So it was with cu­rios­ity that I down­loaded the new Depart­ment of Cul­tural Af­fairs mo­bile app, the Cul­tural At­las of New Mex­ico, when DCA an­nounced its launch in early De­cem­ber. The app, which was de­vel­oped by the Seat­tle-based tech com­pany STQRY to the tune of $99,500, is de­signed to give the user easy ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion on cul­tural and his­toric sites across New Mex­ico, such as state mon­u­ments and mu­se­ums. News of the app’s avail­abil­ity came a few weeks after The New

Mex­i­can re­ported on deep cuts in the depart­ment that re­sulted in elim­i­nated staff po­si­tions, re­duced hours of op­er­a­tion at cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions — along with higher ad­mis­sion fees at those in­sti­tu­tions — as well as fewer free days for New Mex­ico res­i­dents (“After mak­ing deep cuts, Cul­tural Af­fairs strug­gling to stay afloat,” Nov. 18, 2016).

Ac­cord­ing to an ear­lier ar­ti­cle in The New Mex­i­can (“Eleven lay­offs in Depart­ment of Cul­tural Af­fairs ap­proved; 13 more will be hired,” Jul. 21, 2016), DCA Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Veron­ica Gonzales told the State Per­son­nel Board that “th­ese are chal­leng­ing times for our state,” cit­ing de­clin­ing oil and gas rev­enues. She told the board that DCA “is faced with a very big chal­lenge.” But a De­cem­ber piece in the pa­per (“Con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum still on track for Rai­l­yard,” Dec. 28, 2016) re­ported that Gonzales and Gov. Su­sana Martinez have pledged a $1 mil­lion in­crease in the depart­ment’s bud­get to op­er­ate the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art’s planned con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum, which is slated to open in 2020. It’s a baf­fling po­si­tion, es­pe­cially com­ing on the heels of state­ments made in a Novem­ber bud­get hear­ing in which Gonzales told law­mak­ers cut­backs could in­clude clos­ing his­toric sites for en­tire sea­sons and tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend­ing the Gover­nor’s Arts Awards. “Veron­ica said that noth­ing was off the table. Every­thing is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion,” New Mex­ico Arts Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Loie Fecteau told Pasatiempo. “We’ve had to cut costs given our bud­get sit­u­a­tion in New Mex­ico. We were look­ing at a, b, c, d, and one of the things was sus­pend­ing or can­cel­ing the Gover­nor’s Arts Awards, but we are not do­ing that. We’re mov­ing ahead.” New Mex­ico Arts is ac­cept­ing nom­i­na­tions for the Gover­nor’s Arts Awards through March and will an­nounce the awardees in June.

As for the state mon­u­ments, The New Mex­i­can re­ported in the July 21 ar­ti­cle that out of 11 lay­offs that were slated to take ef­fect last Au­gust, six of them were his­toric-site man­age­ment po­si­tions. But even as the depart­ment planned lay­offs, they were also hiring new per­son­nel. Ac­cord­ing to a draft bud­get re­port ob­tained by the pa­per last sum­mer, new hires would cost the state $789,000. The du­ties of man­ag­ing the his­toric sites that come un­der the DCA, which in­clude Fort Selden, Fort Sum­ner/Bosque Re­dondo Me­mo­rial, El Camino Real, Fort Stan­ton, Coron­ado, Je­mez, and Lin­coln, have been di­vided into three re­gional his­toric-site man­age­ment po­si­tions (since filled). The irony is that one of the em­ploy­ees who was laid off in Au­gust was an in­for­ma­tion-tech­nol­ogy app de­vel­oper for DCA’s New Mex­ico His­toric Sites di­vi­sion. More than 60 let­ters were sent to the State Per­son­nel Board crit­i­ciz­ing the lay­off plan and ar­gu­ing that state mon­u­ments bring tourism to ru­ral ar­eas and that cut­backs in staffing and re­sources could have a neg­a­tive im­pact on lo­cal economies.

Rather than buck­ling down, DCA rolled out the costly app. “It’s a brand new prod­uct, and we’re grap­pling with it in the face of a re­duced state bud­get,” said Shel­ley Thomp­son, the Mu­seum of New Mex­ico’s di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing and out­reach. The funds for the app were made avail­able at the start of the 20142015 fis­cal year. “It was a spe­cial ap­pro­pri­a­tion from the state, and the project did go through a full RFP process,” she said, cit­ing the re­quest for the pro­posal process em­ployed by the state, in which pro­pos­als are so­licited, re­viewed, and scored. The award went to STQRY, whose prod­uct is a mo­bile plat­form of­fer­ing a range of dig­i­tal ser­vices to cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions.

When you open the app, a zoomable state map ap­pears, with icons mark­ing places to visit. A menu shows avail­able pages for des­ti­na­tions such as Oliver Lee State Park, the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Space His­tory, White Sands, Fort Stan­ton, Trin­ity Site, and the UFO Mu­seum. If you tap one — say, the UFO Mu­seum — the app takes you to a page with a de­scrip­tive over­view: “The cat­a­lyst for the mu­seum was the 1947 Roswell UFO in­ci­dent.” The page has a street map (114 N. Main St., Roswell) and a link to the mu­seum’s of­fi­cial web­site. There are also pic­tures, in­clud­ing one of the mu­seum’s “Alien Dis­sec­tion” dio­rama. The app is com­pat­i­ble with An­droid and Ap­ple de­vices and is avail­able as a free down­load on Google Play and the Ap­ple App Store. It is de­signed

If the Cul­tural At­las app in­creases tourism, that may ul­ti­mately com­pen­sate for its steep cost, but it doesn’t jus­tify the loss of per­son­nel at the sites pro­moted by the app.

to grow over time. Any user can add new sites, pend­ing re­view, as long as they fit DCA’s cri­te­ria. “We do want to keep it con­sis­tent with the vi­sion that guided its de­vel­op­ment, which is to fo­cus on cul­tural sites and nat­u­ral sites with cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance,” Thomp­son said. “You can’t im­me­di­ately up­load any­thing, but we have on our web­site an in­vi­ta­tion to sub­mit a site. In every­thing we’ve done to pro­mote it, we’ve tried to make it clear that this is a prod­uct that we wel­come sub­mis­sions to.” For sub­mis­sions, see at­las.newmex­i­c­o­cul­ture.org.

If the Cul­tural At­las in­creases tourism, that may ul­ti­mately com­pen­sate for its steep cost, but it doesn’t jus­tify the loss of per­son­nel at the sites pro­moted by the app. As reader Paula Lozar put it in an on­line com­ment on The New Mex­i­can’s Nov. 18 story on bud­get cuts, “Once again, New Mex­ico shoots it­self in the foot: Spend big bucks on a pro­mo­tion to lure tourists here, then close or re­strict hours on the sites and mu­se­ums that tourists want to see.”

Pay­ment for the app came from a Com­puter Sys­tems En­hance­ment Fund des­ig­nated for projects in­volv­ing in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy. By late Jan­uary, DCA had tal­lied nearly 4,000 in­stal­la­tions of the app, ac­cord­ing to DCA web­mas­ter Doug Patinka. Not bad for its first two months. “We’re mar­ket­ing it as widely as we can,” Thomp­son said. “We’re do­ing some print and some tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing.”

For now, the app is avail­able to any­one, which is as it should be, since it was paid for with tax dol­lars. Patinka told Pasatiempo that there are no plans to charge for the app. “We think of it more as a ser­vice.” If the app ends up hav­ing a mea­sur­able ef­fect on tourism, it may be worth it. But if you’re go­ing to pro­mote his­toric sites and cul­tural des­ti­na­tions around New Mex­ico, those sites should re­main ac­ces­si­ble. No­body plan­ning a visit wants to see “Closed for the sea­son.”

Cul­tural At­las of New Mex­ico app, phone view

In­ter­na­tional UFO Mu­seum and Re­search Cen­ter

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