McKinley County, New Mexico: #CreativeCounties

The Community

McKinley County is located in rural Northwest New Mexico, overlapping the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo. The City of Gallup is the county’s only municipality. Per the 2010 Census, 78% of the population is Native American and 13.3% is Hispanic. The area’s once strong economic engines of mining, ranching and manufacturing have declined since the 1970s, along with its population. In 2010, the county’s unemployment rate was 9.1% while the State’s was 7.9%, with unemployment rates are as high as 60% in Tribal communities. Over a third of the county’s residents live in poverty.

The Project

Opening Presentation

The county has a long history as an arts and cultural hub, with a significant collection of 1930s/40s Works Progress Administration art and the almost-century old Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial. The county recently identified the arts as an economic driver in the community; in fact, 25% of residents make at least part of their living through the creative economy. The county has created a regional “Arts Trail” and renovated its Courthouse Square as a performance and festival venue. It now wishes to further activate the Courthouse Square beyond its summer Nightly Indian dances by adding a daily Native arts market to fill its often empty porticos which were designed for this express purpose.





Goals & Action Items

Goal #1: Develop a culturally relevant business model.

Action #1

Identify & invite key partners to help define a value system.

Action #2

Define core values to carry across to the business plan.

Action #3

Outline the business plan based focusing on the identified core values and the three Ps (People, Place and Profit).

Goal #2: Leverage and expand successful cultural programming.

Action #1

Create educational programming for future artists and build capacity and interest through the schools.

Action #2

Evaluate the space to determine how to turn the Courthouse Square into a true cultural center.

Action #3

Introduce complimentary cultural programming (story telling, artist demonstrations, on site classes, etc.) to the Nightly Indian Dances that already take place in the Courthouse Square throughout the Summer.

Goal #3: Improve internal and external marketing.

Action #1


Action #2

Create a local and regional campaign. 

Action #3

Create a national and international campaign.


Project Update

Upon returning from the workshop, the team decided to take Summer 2018 to observe the Nightly Indian Dances and track attendance number, demographics, type of dancers, vendors, etc. They observed that:

  • The Dances are most popular Memorial Day to mid-August during the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial when attendance drops from over 500 to under 100.
  • Only 40 percent of attendees are local, and approximately 15 percent of the out of town attendees are international.
  • There are 13 vendor stalls, but it is a struggle to fill that many spots with authentic native artists.

With this initial data gathered and evaluated, the team began to develop a business plan in Fall 2018. They discussed initial marketing ideas and if they might shrink the number of stalls to eight and move them closer to the area where the dances occur. They want to ensure the market is a complement to the dances and not a distraction. In Winter 2018/2019, however, the project had a few setbacks due to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances, from Gallup MainStreet having three Executive Directors to New Mexico MainStreet has taken a different direction than anticipated. 

In Spring/Summer 2019, the team regrouped to update and scale back its goals. Instead of focusing on the creation of a daily Native Arts Market, the team has pivoted to focus on hosting an annual Native Arts Market on Memorial Day to compliment Gallup’s annual Inter-Tribal Ceremonial (at the beginning of August). Creating a Memorial Day Native Arts Market would bookend the summer-long Nightly Indian Dances, creating a springboard for the eventual launch of a daily Native arts market. This goal is ongoing as the team is working to put this event in place for 2020. The county manager and assistant manager have expressed support for this idea and are still invested in the idea of a daily Native Arts Market in the future.

Beyond the arts market, the community has finished its community engaged design process around the redesign of two of the blocks adjacent to the courthouse square where the arts markets are envisioned to occur. The community is currently raising the funds to put the design into construction, and the strategy is that once constructed, the “Coal Avenue Commons” (as the project is named), will catalyze and incentivize the kind of activation a Daily Native Arts Market would provide.

Moving Forward

As previously mentioned, the McKinley Team is now working to start an annual Native Arts Market to enhance the summer’s existing Nightly Indian Dance programming.  This goal is to put this event in place for 2020. Once this event is established and success has been shown, and once the Coal Avenue Commons is constructed, the team will refocus on the concept of a daily Native Arts Market.

Community Impact

Due to their participation in the program, GallupArts, local creatives and partners were able to engage more directly with McKinley County government officials and each other. Through this process, the team built relationships, opened pathways of communication and developed a shared vision for the future of both the Nightly Indian Dances program and the creative economy, looking closely at the intersection of Native art and the downtown district. Additionally, this project has enabled multiple conversations with several County officials on the benefits of a creative placemaking approach to economic and community development which have resulted in increased buy-in around the concept and practice. It is safe to say that conversations about the potential of the Nightly Indian Dances program, of Courthouse Square and of the arts-based economy may not have been seriously pursued and would not be ongoing if not for the team’s participate in the Creative Counties Placemaking Challenge.

The Project Team

Rose Eason, Executive Director, gallupARTS, Inc.

Teri Frazier, Director, Nightly Indian Dances

Jennifer Lazarz, Tourism & Marketing Manager, City of Gallup

Bill Lee, Commissioner, McKinley County, New Mexico

Carolyn Milligan, Chair, McKinley County Arts Commission

Emerald Tanner, Owner, Tanner's Indian Arts


This artwork was created by Nathan T. Wright, an illustrator and artist based in Des Moines, Iowa.



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