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LAS CRUCES - It’s hard to imagine the Doña Ana Arts Council (DAAC) without Kathleen Albers at the helm. But come mid-August, she’ll be stepping back into a part-time role after more than seven years as executive director.
Albers and her husband, Las Cruces attorney Kelly Albers, moved to Las Cruces in 1987 from Denver and attended their first DAAC-sponsored Renaissance Arts Faire in 1990.
Kathleen began volunteering with DAAC that same year, helping to develop the Children’s Realm at the RenFaire. She took about 10 years off after the birth of the Albers’ second child, but then returned to DAAC in 1998 as a member of the board of directors. During her very first meeting that July, DAAC acquired the Rio Grande Theatre (RGT), saving the century-old building from likely demolition.
The Albers and other DAAC volunteers began working weekends renovating the historic property. Then DAAC Executive Director Laura Sullivan “really got things going,” Albers said, beginning a capital campaign in 2000 that eventually raised more than $3 million in local donations and state and federal support to completely renovate the theatre. Ron Nims did the design for the remodeling of the theatre, Albers remembers, and New Mexico State University associate professor and former DAAC board president Jim Billings designed the sound and lighting.
Albers was on the DAAC board 1998-2003 and joined the staff as arts education coordinator in 2002.
She left DAAC in 2005 to work for the Las Cruces Symphony, becoming executive director before returning to DAAC in 2010.
“I was thrilled to come back” said Albers, who became executive director of the arts council in 2012. By then, RGT was owned by the City of Las Cruces and had been managed by DAAC for six years. The city took over management of the theatre during the summer of 2017, as Albers oversaw DAAC’s move from RGT’s second floor to the new home of the DAAC Arts and Cultural Center in the Bulletin Plaza at 1740 Calle de Mercado.
“I’ve got a long history” with DAAC, she said.
Albers was initially drawn to the nonprofit by the high quality of its programming, she said, and its emphasis on arts education “for my own children and for everybody else.”
As executive director, she has built enthusiastically on those strengths, partnering with Las Cruces Public Schools on arts education programs and helping teachers integrate the arts into the classroom curriculum.
DAAC was bringing a few nationally touring acts to Las Cruces before she became executive director, Albers said, but she “worked hard, with assistance from then DAAC board President Scott Breckner, to increase the number and quality of the national tour productions and to create two distinct performance series,” Albers said. The National Tour series brought performers like Judy Collins, Esteban and Cirque Zuma Zuma to Las Cruces, and the “New Mexico Heritage” series was created to “highlight New Mexico performers and the indigenous, Hispanic and western influences on our local culture,” she said, including Robert Mirabal, Irene Oliver Lewis’ “Dichos de Mi Madre” one-woman play and country-Western performers Josh Grider and Bri Bagwell.
Albers also added Artistas del Camino Real to the RenFaire to celebrate the art and history of the Las Cruces area reaching back more than 600 years.
About seven years ago, Albers began a DAAC partnership with the Santa Fe Opera, leading to performances every spring and fall in Las Cruces and the creation of DAAC’s own Opera Camp, now a popular part of its summer programming for children that also includes Career Arts Path (CAP) and Missoula Children’s Theatre.
Opera Camp helps kids learn important skills like listening, collaborating and being creative, as they write and perform their own 30-minute opera and help Jim Billings design and build the set.
“They love it,” Albers said. “I’ve seen them grow. They take it back into their classrooms. It really is fantastic. Very consciously, we’re growing a generation that knows that word [opera] and understands it as an active art form.”
At its new home on Calle de Mercado on the edge of Las Cruces as you come into Mesilla, Albers has also overseen the expansion of DAAC workshops and exhibitions by local and regional artists and art historians. Workshops have become quite popular with beginners and even with accomplished artists who want to try something new, she said.
“I’m really, really proud of everything we’ve done,” Albers said. “Looking back, I think we’ve done some really good things. We are seeing that standard of excellence that attracted me at first to the arts council and that I really want to continue,” she said.
Now 66, Albers will move to the part-time position of communications director next month, working mostly from home. She also will continue as DAAC’s institutional memory and as a “cheerleader” for the next executive director.
Albers also wants to create a permanent fund and find a lead donor to help pay for Opera Camp every year, much like the program that helps fund CAP, which DAAC has sponsored for more than 20 years. Albers also recently participated in her first art workshop in about 35 years and may be trying her hand as a watercolor artist. And, with more free time, she’s planning to attend more performing arts events.
Albers sees nothing but great opportunities for DAAC going forward, including adding culinary arts to DAAC’s “menu” of programs, continuing to develop its partnership with the new Las Cruces Arts and Cultural District Coordinating Council and helping to celebrate the local space and film industries.
“There a lot of room” for DAAC to continue growing,” Albers said.
Contact Albers at 575-523-6403 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit daarts.org.
Mike Cook may be contacted at email@example.com.