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Dec 21

Art That Keeps Giving

Posted on December 21, 2021 at 1:48 PM by Ceci Vasconcellos

Art That Keeps Giving

If you’ve ever doubted the power of public art, take a trip downtown to the Plaza de Las Cruces during the holidays and observe children and adults playing and laughing around the oversized Christmas gifts, snowmen, penguins, sleds, the Polar Express, and taking silly (and serious) selfies in front of the giant Christmas tree to share on social media. 

Temporary installations like the decorative structures on the Plaza create a festive and interactive destination for residents and visitors alike. They also illustrate how public art doesn’t have to be serious and can add energy to a place, making it engaging for everyone. 

Exhibits, temporary and permanent, can bring other spaces alive throughout the city when we match the proper place with the right idea. Imagine permanent public artworks that define our neighborhoods or parks as must-see destinations. It’s exciting how much opportunity there is to implement more public art throughout our community! 

Looking forward to the creative work we have ahead of us as we welcome the new year. We wish all of you a very merry holiday and healthy, prosperous New Year. 

Man posing behind snowman photo prop. Silly family photo in Sled photo prop.
Two kids posing behind snowman photo prop.Person posing behind Gingerbread Boy photo prop.

Family posing in front of Christmas tree

Photo Caption: Being silly with my family. Photo above from left to right - Marina, Vincent, me, Mark and Christine. (All photo credit: Christine Madrid)

Rubber Ducks blog is brought to you by the Las Cruces Public Art program to share ideas, information, discussions, trends and all things public art. Please send comments and ideas for future blogs to

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Dec 21

Purple Shades of Refuge

Posted on December 21, 2021 at 8:46 AM by Ceci Vasconcellos

Purple Shades of Refuge

I must be honest – when I first saw the big purple octopus-looking structure in Lions Park, I didn’t get it. Why was there a disfigured sea creature near the swimming pool? Was it some sort of play structure deemed too dangerous for children? Did it tie in with tennis somehow? What was the ball on top? Did the swirls represent an athletic symbol… no, they’re snails maybe …which has nothing to do with tennis. Hmmmm This purple giant not only seemed out of place, but it was just so…confusing. 

Still, it intrigued me. 

I got out of my car. I wanted to see it up close. I walked underneath it to explore its inner workings. It was a hot day but as I entered, I immediately noticed the temperature underneath was much cooler. Ahhh. It felt like I was in a cave. There was a circular slab of concrete in the middle, perfect for sitting or even laying on to look up at the cone like shape of the top. At the base of the structure, there were handprints of all sizes with names associated to them embedded in the concrete. There was a story here…I was sure.

Years later, when I became art coordinator, I discovSierra Middle School Children helping artist with constructionered the purple giant is one of the City’s public art pieces and it was time to give it some TLC maintenance. I was excited, because I knew I would have the opportunity to meet the artist who created this intriguing piece of art and finally get the story behind its creation and how he drew great inspiration from the area in which we live.

This is the story of Refuge. Local artist Andrew Nagem designed and constructed Refuge over two-and-a-half-years with the help of hundreds of local school children. Nagem used ancient engineering techniques that cause the refreshing air flow to happen naturally, which is why the temperature remains comfortable underneath the structure. Pretty cool, right? He also used local landmark, La Cueva (near Dripping Springs), as inspiration for the four cave-like entrance points that face north, south, east, and west.

Nagem also explained the structure depicts four abstract figures resting back-to-back symbolizing community. The heads allude to the fossils found in the Robledo Mountains and other surrounding mountains as well as to nature, that binds us together. The purple color is a tribute to the color of the Organ Mountains at sunset as well as the positive feelings allegedly generated by purple amethyst crystals. 

Sculpture in the primed phaseDavid Twitty, welder, sitting on top of Refuge structure

 Top Photo: Artist Andrew Nagem works with Sierra Middle School students on Refuge.*      Left Photo: Sculpture under construction.*   Right Photo: Help from Dona Ana Community College Welding Technology.* 

The globe on top, representing Earth, is covered with ceramic tiles depicting local plants and animals made by Las Cruces and White Sands Missile Range schoolchildren in the mid-90’s. The circular bench underneath the sculpture is made of Rio Grande River stone and carved with a labyrinth “from the indigenous cultures that represents the link between human brain activity and the connection to the Earth as a whole” according to the artist, making it the perfect place to rest from the heat. The names and handprints of many of the children who helped construct Refuge are preserved in the cement floor, reflecting the pride they must have felt when the project was completed in 1995.

Refuge bench with labyrinth

                           Ceramic tiles being made for sculptureRefuge Globe with ceramic animals on top of sculpture 

Photos from Left to Right:  Ceramic elements designed and sculpted by school children.*  Close-up of tiles as they look today. Stone slab labyrinth sits in center of Refuge. 

After seeing it many times driving by, exploring it up close, and listening to the artist talk about Refuge, the purple giant has grown on me. I like it. Sometimes public art is like that. Sometimes, no matter how often an art piece is seen, it just doesn’t inspire appreciation. That’s ok. Sometimes, its story needs to be told to truly appreciate the beauty of it. Go sit in the cool shade of this purple cave and maybe, just maybe you’ll hear the whispers of the children’s voices telling you their story of creating Refuge.

Refuge at night in Lions Park

Night photo of Refuge in present time.*

* Photo credit: Andrew Nagem 

Rubber Ducks blog is brought to you by the Las Cruces Public Art program to share ideas, information, discussions, trends and all things public art.

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Dec 21

Go Art Go!

Posted on December 21, 2021 at 8:40 AM by Ceci Vasconcellos


Monday, November 15, 2021 will forever be marked as a special day in local history – not because on this day our headlines read Covid cases rising again, we found a solution to climate change, or gas prices reached $5 per gallon. Rather, this day will forever be momentous….wait for it…. because the Percent for Art Funding Ordinance was passed by City Council! 


 This is a huge step forward for the Las Cruces Public Art (LCPA) program. The ordinance establishes a requirement that two percent -- yes TWO! -- of future General Obligation (GO) Bonds be automatically allocated toward the funding of public art related to the purpose of the GO bond and a small percentage of that amount will be allocated to maintaining our current public art collection. 

Percent for Art is an industry standard for funding public art (and maintenance) programs. Having this funding mechanism in place will help not only to acquire new art but also help to provide funding for the maintenance that is so badly needed to keep all the beautiful work of our artists in viewable shape for the public good, which aligns with Elevate Las Cruces and the City’s strategic plan for public art.

Of course, this is only one way of raising funds for our program. We will need to diversify our funding sources to include grants, partnerships, the General Fund, and private fundraising. This ordinance is a key step in our progress! 

The City Art Board had been working toward the creation of this ordinance since its inception in 2013. Through countless hours of research, debate, the LCPA master planning process, and working with various Art Program Coordinators, they never gave up. It has taken some time, and they deserve a loud shout out for the work that they did to make this happen. 

Thank you to all past and present City Art Board members who helped move the ordinance along. Thank you to City staff who offered guidance, advice, and helped draft the language. And most importantly, thank you Mayor, City Council and residents of Las Cruces for supporting the LCPA and approving Percent for Art. Let’s all look forward to the public art our community will receive from our new ordinance!

Rubber Ducks blog is brought to you by the Las Cruces Public Art program to share ideas, information, discussions, trends, and all things public art.