Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
A is for agave.
B is for beautiful barrio or butterflies, birds and bonito.
C stands for Coyote or Las Cosas.
These are some examples from “A for Artists/A de Artista” – a coloring/activity book from the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.
The book is available in state museums and libraries across the country, as well as for download online.
According to the Department of Culture, the project is a department-wide effort to support literacy efforts in the state.
For almost a year, people across the department worked together to create A for Artist/A de Arista – which is more than a coloring book.
Kemely Gomez, the department’s bilingual educator, said the committee wanted to create a product that all New Mexicans could use — while still having a New Mexico flair.
“We did a coloring book/activity book in 2020 during the pandemic,” Gomez said. “We’re always thinking about how to get the masses involved. We thought about bringing in artists from New Mexico to create the colored pages.”
Gomez said this is the first time he’s collaborated with artists — 27 in all. The youngest artist is 12-year-old Navilee Diamond Plaza, who was commissioned with the letter G and talked about how “Gloria explores the gusty ghost town of Gato.” .
“We gave each artist a letter and had them explain what the letter meant to them,” she said. “The artists represent all corners of New Mexico and its cultural diversity.”
The effort comes at a time when New Mexico fell to No. 50 in the 2022 Kids Count Data Book.
“In terms of overall child wellbeing, the top-performing states remained the same as last year, with Massachusetts topping the list, followed by New Hampshire (2) and Minnesota (3),” said the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Similarly, the lowest-ranked states stayed the same but were mixed in rank. New Mexico dropped one place to 50, Louisiana dropped one place to 49, and Mississippi went up two places to 48.”
The Annie E. Casey Foundation databook weighs economic well-being, education, health, and family and community to determine the ranking.
According to the data, the percentage of fourth graders in New Mexico who can’t read is 76%, which has improved since 2009 when it was 80%.
Education is expected to be a hot topic in the upcoming legislature.
Gomez said the project is a step to make a difference.
“We wanted an ABC book aimed at 2- to 5-year-olds,” Gomez said. “We also wanted to include as many languages as possible. We actually put out a call for artists through New Mexico Arts and found all the artists that way.”
Gomez said each artist was paid $1,000 and about 20,000 books were printed.
The program went so well that there is a call for artists for the 2023 project, which will include poetry, Gomez said.
“We’ll be working with Lauren Camp (State Poet Laureate) on this project,” Gomez said. “It will also be a mix of poetry, art and science. The creativity that everyone has is something great to witness. Having the opportunity to advance education is the best part of working together.”
Debra Garcia y Griego, Secretary of Cultural Affairs, said the playful act of coloring each page will teach about the special qualities of New Mexico, such as its flora, fauna and culture.
“Listen to the questions children ask as they color each page,” Garcia y Griego said. “These questions can lead to new contact and learning opportunities.”