A cohort of educators, art lovers and others met on Wednesday to announce October as “Arts Month in Santa Cruz County.”

The venue in Nogales was fitting for the occasion: The sprawling home of Sam Saunders and the late Edward Holler, filled with an extensive collection of Spanish Colonial artwork, furniture and other decorative arts from Mexico and South America.

Orchestrated by the office of Alfredo Velasquez, county schools superintendent, the gathering served as his first superintendents’ meeting as well, featuring a presentation by State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, who happily addressed a very visible baby bump, saying it was a girl.

Hoffman discussed legislative issues and funding opportunities, but she commended the group particularly for its efforts on behalf of school-age children. “School is so much more than the basic skills – reading, writing and math. It’s about social/emotional skills, and engaging in the arts and music,” she said.

The participation of educators in this endeavor will be critical. Schools serve to help form the strong ties among educators, the classroom and the community, Hoffman said.

Velasquez announced that part of his department has moved to the Historic 1904 Courthouse annex and that he and his Chief Deputy Christopher Young will be relocating to the courthouse itself. He said he wants the structure to serve as a pillar of a movement to grow the art scene in downtown Nogales. It will be the site of art exhibits and cultural events, Velasquez said.

The slogan established for the month of scheduled activities was taken from painter Gerhard Richter, who said, “Art is the highest form of hope.” Motorists will see this on local billboards and posters will be placed at area schools.

Among the speakers at Wednesday’s event was Juan Carlos Ibarra Michel, who created an intricate oil painting of his vision of the border that features a walnut tree separating scenes from either side. He said he was inspired by a woman who was fascinated by the story he told her of Ambos Nogales. The plan is to have it as a mural on the La Cinderella store on the first block of Morley Avenue and the painting will be on display during one of the first exhibits at the 1904 Courthouse.

David Verdugo, superintendent of the Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District, announced an upcoming ribbon-cutting at a new performing arts center at Rio Rico High School. It was built with with funds from a $22 million bond issue approved by area voters. There will also be outdoor spaces for exhibits and events, he added.

Other speakers who announced art activities and upcoming events for October included Evan Kory, who is art director for the superintendent’s office, Aissa Huerta of La Linea Art Studio and Santa Cruz Advocates for the Arts, Karin Topping of the Tubac Center of the Arts, Christina Wilhelm of the Santa Cruz Foundation for the Performing Arts and Elizabeth Weatherbie, who heads the Hilltop Gallery.

Victor Jimenez, Mexico’s new consul general in Nogales, introduced himself to the group. The Mexican Consulate is sponsoring the culmination of the October arts events, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which will include a procession and traditional altars erected by various businesses and organizations on Oct. 30.

Mexicayotl Academy will also participate in the Day of the Dead event. Director Baltazar Garcia, lauded the efforts to collaborate and coordinate art and cultural activities instead of each group going it alone.

A schedule of upcoming events will be posted on the schools superintendent’s website in the coming days as events and exhibits are finalized, Kory said.

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