Sculptor practices ancient casting method

This story first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal, and can be viewed here.

SANTA FE, N.M. — Piers Watson can find a lot of what he needs for his sculptures by walking through the forest, or on the sides of riverbanks.

After all, that’s how they did it in the 10th century.

For the better part of the past decade, Watson has been working to perfect his method of luted crucible casting, a centuries-old technique that can be seen today as a natural and minimalist way to cast metal forms.

Or, as Watson would call it, the “recycling of recycling of recycling.”

Watson, who has written the only book entirely devoted to the subject of luted crucible casting, was first introduced to it in India in 2008. There, in its rural regions, as well as in West Africa, it is still somewhat widely practiced, away from modern art techniques.

“At the time, I didn’t realize how unusual it is,” Watson said.

He returned to his home in France, where he struggled with the technique for four years. After returning to India and honing his skills, he has delved into it wholeheartedly and consistently. He has since written his book and held demonstrations on the art form, including a workshop Sunday at the Museum of International Folk Art.

The technique’s name refers to “luting” – connecting or sealing – two parts together. On one side of the connection, there’s a mold where clay is layered around a beeswax model of the desired object, and on the other side there’s a clay crucible containing metal.

Luted crucible casting goes back thousands of years and is still practiced in parts of India and Africa.

Alloys for the casting can be made from various mixtures, including a combination of copper and tin to make bronze. When the connected form is baked in a furnace, the liquid bronze from one side funnels into the shaped cavity left by the burned-off wax. There’s no pouring of liquid metal into a separate mold and a single furnace or fire is used, instead of having to heat the mold and metal separately.

One of the traits of luted crucible casting that draws Watson is the artist’s ability to control the entire process. It allows for more flexibility than modern methods, and it’s more intimate.

“It brings people back to the origins of things, back to the more human side of creating,” he said.

Watson says he mostly creates smaller objects, such as bells and pieces of jewelry.

Luted crucible casting calls for using substances that nature can provide: the beeswax for models and clay mixed with rice husks, for example.

As for the metal used in the pieces, Watson said that, years and years ago, when the process was widespread, artists would use whatever random scraps of metal they could find.

It isn’t unusual for Watson to break apart pieces he’s made and use the same metal for new projects. “You can’t really tell what’s what. Once you’ve smashed it up and remelted it, you have no idea where it came from,” he said.

All in the spirit of recycling.

Watson said he’s created pieces numbering in the hundreds.

The caster has also been enriched by his interactions with people who supply some of his materials.

“I have a really great relationship with the guy that I buy beeswax from. He’s just a super guy. There’s guys that I get firewood from, and they’re just really sweet people,” he said. “By not doing something that’s totally commercial, you have more human contact because the process is more raw.”

Watson’s visit to the Folk Art museum will include a lecture and presentation on how the process works.

The event is part of the museum’s “Sacred Realm: Blessings and Good Fortune Across Asia” exhibit, which features pieces made using luted crucible casting. The exhibit uses the museum’s Asian collection to explore such beliefs as magical protection, blessings and good fortune

Watson plans on integrating some of the luted crucible pieces into his presentation, to contextualize them as being as rare and unique as the process used to create them.

“It’s not just looking at it from a theological point of view,” he said. “It’s looking at it from a historical point of view to try and get a sense of what these images come from, why they’re made and what they mean.”

Exhibit explores black history in New Mexico

This story first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It can be viewed here.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One of New Mexico’s many calling cards, apart from green chile and hot air balloons, is its diversity. It’s one of only four states with a non-Hispanic white population of less than 50 percent.

But the history of the black community in New Mexico is still largely untold. A new exhibit at the African American Performing Arts Center aims to change that.

Annette Caine, executive director of the African American Performing Arts Center, said the exhibit – “African Heritage From Benin to Juneteenth” – will have a local touch as well.

“We have added the black artists guild, and they have their work that is also combined,” she said. “That is why we call it “From Benin to Juneteenth,” because it allows them to (contribute) their work, and these are all African-American artists.”

The artists from the guild are all local.

The exhibit explores the history of the black community, its origins and the path African-Americans took to get to the U.S. It also displays artifacts contributed by the African American Artists Guild, such as pottery and quilts, whose creation is inspired by that heritage and history.

Despite New Mexico’s diversity, the black population is small – 3.4 percent in 2015 for Bernalillo County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Two members of the state Legislature – Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, and Democratic Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque – are its only African-American members.

“Other than that, we don’t really have any other voice up in Santa Fe,” Caine said.

While the exhibit allows non-blacks in Albuquerque to learn about a different culture and demographic history, Caine said, there is even more importance in its potential to unite the black community around its complex history in the state.

That history includes the story of Blackdom, a small town near Roswell that was the first African-American community in the New Mexico Territory, and Cathay Williams, a black woman who made herself resemble a man to serve in the military in the 1800s.

It’s little-known stories like these – as much a part of the state’s fabric as its pueblos, Route 66 and nuclear experiments – that Caine hopes attendees take stock of.

“Those are stories that we didn’t know about,” she said. “Even for some of us that are living here, we’re still learning some of the history.”

“It’s something that’s not really taught in schools. If we at the Performing Arts Center don’t continue it in our galleries, then our own kids will not understand it.”

On July 26, there will be a John Lewis Youth Jazz Piano Competition – named for the jazz pianist and composer who grew up in Albuquerque – open to all middle and high school students. There will be cash prizes for the first- and second-place winners, and the victor will perform at the annual John Lewis Celebration the next day.

Las Hembras focus on culture, identity on a personal level

This story first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It can be viewed here.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — At a time when identity, culture and the interweaving of the two permeate the American landscape, Las Hembras de Pluma want to tell their stories on a more personal than political level.

“That’s the focus, we’re talking about identity,” Las Hembras member Maria Teresa Herrera said. “That’s the great part of theater; you can express that. That’s how you identify with the audience – we’re present, they’re present, and they want to hear our story.”

Las Hembras de Pluma is a coalition of local women, many of them indigenous, who use performing arts as a medium for storytelling. The group is rehearsing its third show in collaboration with the National Hispanic Cultural Center since the group’s formation in 2013.

Although past shows have consisted of Las Hembras more or less performing their own, individual pieces, its 2017 show, “Rise: An Offering,” will involve more collaboration.

“I didn’t want it to be so isolated; I wanted to find some kind of unifying thread, theme or style to bring it all together,” director Monica Sanchez said. Sanchez has worked as a theater actor, writer and director for about 30 years.

Las Hembras consists of women from all walks of life and life experiences – mothers, sisters, activists, some local, some from Peru, others from Puerto Rico – with an age range of nearly 30 years between members.

They all have some background in the arts and a desire to put it to use.

“There’s been some exercises where we are in a circle and it’s literally palpable, the energy that’s coming out of there,” Sanchez said. “I think it’s always been urgent and important to express ourselves.”

The show includes spoken-word creations, sketch comedy, movement and other generally minimalistic storytelling forms.

While most productions begin with a script, Las Hembras rely so much on drawing from personal experiences that creating a script was one of the final steps in the production process.

The only stage props are crates, hula hoops and a paper curtain.

“It’s been great to kind of blow out those possibilities with a very finite set of materials,” Sanchez said, adding that the show takes risks.

Although “Rise: An Offering” won’t have a political sense of urgency as a whole, Las Hembras felt compelled to create a piece in response to President Donald Trump’s recent travel ban, a component that made it into the show.

“I think it’s always been urgent and important to express ourselves,” Sanchez said. “I think the political statement more is just us getting together and working together.”

Youth has its days

This story first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal, and can be viewed here.

SANTA FE, N.M. — Two upcoming shows at Santa Fe University of Art and Design will mark the first main stage productions helmed by student directors, but that’s hardly the only quality they have in common.

“This Is Our Youth” and “The Shape of Things,” through different plots and casts, explore concepts of adolescence, coming into one’s own in the modern world and facing the consequences of risky agendas.

The directors of the two dark comedies, Bryson Hatfield and Triston Pullen, respectively, recognize the connective tissue the productions share. That’s one of the main reasons the two plays are being featured as a pair at SFUAD’s Greer Garson Theatre March 22-26.

“If there’s some kind of common theme, it’s finding what happens in those (college) years,” Hatfield said. “It’s a lot about youthfulness and so much change – forced change or the choice of change.”

Adam Troyer, playing Dennis, left, and Lee Vignes, as Warren, are part of the student cast for “This Is Our Youth,” one of two plays being staged starting Wednesday at SFUAD.

“This Is Our Youth” takes place in a single setting, an apartment in Manhattan’s Upper West Side circa 1982.

“The main character, Warren Straub, steals $15,000 from his dangerous lingerie CEO-manufacturer father, then runs off to his friend Dennis Ziegler’s house, who he expects to hide him there,” Hatfield said. “They decide to buy an ounce of coke, cut it, sell it for a profit, and that’s kind of where chaos ensues.”

The play was written by Kenneth Lonergan, who recently won an Academy Award for his screenplay for “Manchester By The Sea.”

“He writes in such a way that is at one time vulgar, crass and shocking, and at another level very real,” Hatfield said. “That’s been an immense gift for us as a cast, and me as a director.”

Meanwhile, “The Shape of Our Things” explores the subjective nature of art under the guise of young love. Two 20-somethings fall for each other despite Evelyn seemingly being out of Adam’s league.

“In the end, you find out that she’s manipulated this whole lie to create this human sculpture for her MFA thesis,” Pullen said. “She changes his look, he has plastic surgery, he changes his mentality about life and the kind of man he is in society.”

Pullen said the play, written in 2001 by Neil LaBute, is as relevant as ever in 2017 because so much of American society longs for change – change, he said, that typically is sparked by artists.

“The Shape of Things” delves into the mindset of that kind of artist and the consequences of crossing the line from art to manipulation.

“My grandmother’s generation called my generation a broken generation, that we’re always trying to find something to fill the void, whether that’s a human, drugs, alcohol, sex,” Pullen said. “These are people trying to fill the void, and they’re in search of love or attention.”

The new productions represent something of a shift for a program that more typically takes on classical theater, such as Shakespeare. Students can connect on multiple levels with the plays’ characters.

“There’s been a lot of cathartic moments in this rehearsal process, which has been really beautiful to see,” Hatfield said.

“These actors are finding these characters in such a personal way because there’s such a time difference, 1982 to 2017, but it still resonates with us now and I think that it will resonate with audiences of pretty much every age.”

SFUAD students Sicily Ranieri, right, and Lee Vignes rehearse “This Is Our Youth.”

That’s not to say the shows are suitable for all audiences. “This Is Our Youth” and “The Shape of Things” are very much “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” productions, with mature content.

“‘The Shape of Things’ is known for its driving force to be sex,” Pullen said. Hatfield alluded to Lonergan’s typically profanity-laced works.

These plays are meant to elicit laughs, but also deep contemplation.

“As a 22-year-old, almost 23-year-old, I can really resonate with this,” Hatfield said. “These characters are right at this point in my life that I am in right now, this turning point of youth, where these things happen to us that really start to set before us pathways that determine the course of our lives.”

Maple St. Records aims to help Albuquerque become a major player on the national scene

This story first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal, and can be viewed here.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — From the outside, Maple St. Records has a bit of an unassuming appearance. After all, it looks just like any other house on San Joaquin Avenue, a residential street a few blocks from University of New Mexico.

But then you enter and walk through the foyer, the kitchen, the living room, down a few stairs – and you start to notice the little details. And the big ones.

Huge studio speakers.

A few desktop monitors and Macs of various sizes crammed onto a large table.

Guitars sit in a corner at the Maple St. Records studio.

Five guitars of all types sitting in a corner.

A stack of vinyl records on a side table.

Before you realize it, you’re in a makeshift recording studio, the same one where – despite its amateur looks – the co-owners of Maple St. Records are working to put Albuquerque on the national music map.

Manu Sandoval, Drew Mitchell and Zach Spalsbury, all with their own personal backgrounds in music, founded Maple St. Records in 2016, with the goal of helping burgeoning local musicians – whether that be through collaboration, production or connection to even bigger labels.

“This is a means for them to let that creativity flow,” Spalsbury said.

Similar journeys

The trio – all in their early 20s – reside under the same roof. They live together, work together and even play together as PLEASE, their own group with a pop sound reminiscent of something that you’d hear on West Coast radio.

And that’s exactly where they are being heard these days. In mid-December, the group put its song “NAM€” on SoundCloud, where it got the attention of Noon Pacific, an LA-based blog that was able to exponentially increase PLEASE’s exposure.

As a result, “NAM€” is nearing 60,000 listens on SoundCloud, and the group is preparing to release its first EP.

Manu Sandoval works on a microphone in a closet singing booth at Maple St. Records.

Now the band is trying to help other local artists scratch the surface of big-time potential for themselves, in an environment that’s as much about having the freedom to express yourself as it is working to make dreams come true.

“It’s nice to have people from different backgrounds just have a good time and jam,” Spalsbury said. “We can all have an influence on each other.”

Maple St. Records currently works with about 10 artists – most of them Burqueños – all at different points in their musical careers, but all with seemingly hidden talent, as if the Sandias were a sort of natural obstacle.

Zach Spalsbury works a keyboard at Maple St. Records, a recording studio in a house in Southeast Albuquerque.

“We know how much talent there is in this city,” Sandoval said. “Even when I think we know most of it, there’s still so much more here that nobody knows about. Nobody.”

And sometimes it comes from unlikely sources, like a recent high school graduate who blew the group away with his trombone skills. Maple St. Records has musicians at the house about four nights in a given week – experimenting, discussing or perhaps even collaborating with the trio as PLEASE, if their styles mesh.

A place on the map

So despite being an hour south of what many consider the art capital of the world in Santa Fe, why haven’t Albuquerque musicians seen much success beyond The Shins?

From what Sandoval has seen, the problem isn’t just that Albuquerque isn’t, say, Miami or New York or Los Angeles, or a bastion of chart-topping sound at all. He says it’s that there’s no real sense of community, no consistent urge to help one another grow.

“There’s no unity to the scene at all,” he said. “Everything is so scattered.”

That’s the void Maple St. Records is trying to fill. Sometimes all a group needs is a little guidance, Mitchell added, a little bit of a push to get the ball rolling.

The company’s biggest goal for now is to get as many EPs produced from as many talented local artists as possible. There’s isn’t necessarily a quota to meet; the way Sandoval says it, every time a New Mexico musician gets noticed outside the Land of Enchantment is a small success.

For a group that is comfortable proclaiming itself to be “Albuquerque’s Music Revolution,” the focus will always be on home and the homegrown. But for Maple St. Records, it’s necessary to catch the eye of the “gatekeepers” of the national music scene for the city to catch the attention that Sandoval says is overdue.

“If we can get to where we can know those people, and we have been led through that gate by those gatekeepers, then we can bring it back to Albuquerque,” Sandoval said, “and do whatever we want.”

Q & A: Kyle Biederwolf on his last days as ASUNM President

This story first appeared in the Daily Lobo, and can be viewed on

Two weeks before the end of his term as Associated Students of UNM President, Kyle Biederwolf has a spotless desk. He’s wearing his characteristic cheery demeanor and an ASUNM T-shirt with a shade of red that almost blends him into the similarly-colored wall behind him. His suit jacket is draped over his chair.

A year after being elected to his office, Biederwolf looks like he’s without battle scars, but anyone who’s been paying attention knows too much has happened — and continues to unfold — at the University for that to be the case.

“One week, six days, 23 hours and 55 minutes,” is exactly how much longer Biederwolf said he has as president on the cold, rainy afternoon when I met him in his ASUNM office. It’s a humorous gesture more than a signal of someone who hasn’t appreciated the opportunity to serve as President, having also served two terms as ASUNM Senator.

But right now, Biederwolf’s priority is assisting in the transition of the executive leadership to ASUNM President-elect Noah Brooks and his team. In the midst of that work, I talked with him about the interesting year UNM has had, and his role in being the voice of the student body during the past 12 months.

DL: So, budget crisis. Lottery scholarship solvency mess. Controversial speakers. How are you feeling after a year?

KB: Oh man, you know… I, and in the best way possible, had no clue what I was getting myself into. The experience that I had in ASUNM I thought would’ve molded me to be the ideal presidential candidate having experience both in the legislative and executive side of things. But you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into until you step into these shoes and see how much it is.

I think there have been a lot of things happen this year, like you said. The budget crisis is awful. The conservative speakers, the changing of the seal, basically everything. How I feel about all that is: I feel good, because I think that we as an administration did the best that we could do to always have a strong student voice in every single one of these issues, whether it be on the budget leadership team talking about the budget, whether it be meetings with (acting) President (Chaouki) Abdallah talking about these speakers and understanding how to work with student groups on both sides. But I think the strongest thing is that there was always a student voice in all these decisions.

DL: You and ASUNM Vice President Cheyenne Feltz ran on different slates, with different running mates last year. What was it like working with someone who ran on a different platform?

KB: It was very interesting; I think it was the first time in a couple years that there was a split between the two leadership positions. Fortunately, Cheyenne and I had worked in ASUNM together in various capacities, and we were friends outside of the office, so the transition wasn’t hard.

One of the first things we did was we sat down and said, “Alright, we ran on two different platforms, what can we get done this year?” Our relationship definitely developed over the entire year; we learned a lot about each other and a lot about ASUNM. But I don’t think there was ever a problem, which was nice. When you don’t run with someone and the other person wins, it’s always a question mark. You’re not completely sure what’s going to go on, but I would say that the relationship was successful.

DL: There were a lot of students upset this year. The backlash over the ski team being cut, the Milo visit, the official seal, like you mentioned. What did that level of constant engagement by students tell you about the student body this year?

KB: It tells me that the students are realizing that they can make change. And that’s a beautiful thing, because at an institution this large, sometimes students feel like (they’re at) the bottom of the totem pole. I think that the organization of students coming together against different things happening at the University kind of shows that the students do understand that they can make substantial change.

Former ASUNM President Kyle Biederwolf address a crowd about a student government initiative that partners with Albuquerque Heading Home on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. Biederwolf has served as the ASUNM President for the 2016-2017 academic year.

DL: So, obviously, ASUNM works first and foremost for those students. Were there ever any instances over the course of your term where you realized it’s not that black-and-white, where you’d have to, on certain issues, disagree with a certain group of students?

KB: Yeah. I think that every single issue that faces the University will never have a black-and-white answer. Which is unfortunate. (Being a student leader at) UNM would be so much easier if there was an answer to every single question asked, and unfortunately, sometimes you do have to go against other students.

But I think the thing that we did most beautifully this year is that we were able to take these ideas and we were able to present them and present all of the facts, both sides of whatever it may be, and base our student opinion through that.

In positions of power and positions of leadership, you’re never going to make everyone happy. But I think the one thing we did successfully this year is (that) we understood that we weren’t making everybody happy, but we wanted to find out what the overarching feel of the students was. Sometimes that didn’t make us in this office happy, the decision that had to go out and advocate, but that is our job — to advocate what a majority of the students are feeling.

We were never shying away from saying, “There’s a split in this. People feel too strongly both ways and we don’t have an opinion.” That was never really a cop-out answer, but we were able to use that. Being able to sometimes stand in front of these people and say, “Hey, we’re split right now, we don’t know exactly what we’re doing” can sometimes be beneficial.

DL: What do you think are the biggest non-financial challenges facing President-elect Brooks and Vice President-elect Sally Midani? So, tossing the budget and lottery messes out the window…

KB: If you throw finances out, it’s going to be the issue that ASUNM faces year after year after year, and that’s sufficiently representing students. This year, we took a huge step forward in that. From the feedback we heard this year, students are starting to feel represented, but we are not even close to where we need to be. So I think that that’s going to be the biggest challenge, but I have full faith in the next administration that they’re going to take the precedent that we started and push it to the next level.

DL: You having served as a senator and then on the executive team, basically being part of ASUNM for the majority of your collegiate career, do you think that ASUNM has done all it can do in that regard? Or is it now more up to the students to make sure they’re engaged and in tune with what’s going on in student government?

KB: I think that ASUNM hasn’t done everything that we can. Over the last three years, we’ve always taken steps forward, and I want to give praise to the presidents that I’ve seen, as well as our administration, because we are taking steps forward. But we’re not close to where we need to be. It’s a problem when only eight percent of your student body votes in your senator elections that represent students and student voices.

But I think that we did take larger steps forward this year, with the Joint Council, with all the outreach that we did over big University issues that were facing the regents. As people step forward, and as new administrations come in, the Joint Council’s going to become even more and more prevalent to making decisions on students’ behalf.

DL: With the new UNM logo coming out literally hours ago, I feel like this is a really appropriate time to ask this: Do you think the identity of UNM is going to be different five years from now than it is right now?

KB: I’m going to answer as ASUNM president, but I’m also going to answer as a marketing student at Anderson. I think that this branding initiative has the opportunity to change UNM. And it’s weird, because if you tell that to someone other than a communication or marketing major that doesn’t understand the logistics that way, it’s a weird issue to talk about — how a brand identity can change an entire university. But it really can.

This entire year, we’ve just been pushing, “Each of us defines all of us,” (the UNM branding campaign), and I think that really encompasses what UNM is. We take pride in our diversity, and we take pride in the university that we are, with the students and the faculty and the staff and the administration that we have. And I think that this branding initiative, it’s a lot more modern and it has the opportunity to put our University on the map, and internationally.

I’m excited for it, and hopefully it changes the culture of UNM over the next five, 10, 15 years to more of a modern campus and more of a destination university.

DL: With all the things we mentioned earlier, the big issues going on and the different controversies on campus that students are so passionate about…in your view, is it now more important than ever for students to be engaged on campus?

KB: It is always so important. But I think that…we are in a crisis mode for the University right now. We don’t know how much money we’re getting from the state this year, and regardless of how much money we get, we’re going to be at a deficit. The state relies so much on oil and gas that when that reduces, students are affected.

So I think it’s always important to be engaged, but students in these positions are making decisions and giving opinions on the student body that could affect students in every way at this University. So now, more than ever, it’s so important for students to be engaged.

DL: In two weeks you’ll be graduating with a degree in…

KB: Business administration, with a concentration in marketing.

DL: Do you see yourself doing politics again down the road?

KB: Oh man, you know…maybe someday. If I did, it would be in Albuquerque. I love this city, I plan on staying here hopefully for the rest of my life. So maybe. But I think that there’s a big difference between my role here and being able to represent students on the student government rather than a normal government.

I’ve been very happy, and if regular government down the line is anything like how this position has been, I’d be very interested, because I’ve loved being able to do what I’ve done here.

DL: What’s something that you’ve learned about ASUNM in your time as president that you didn’t know before?

KB: I think it’s how much ASUNM matters to the entire University. There are so many boards and committees and big decisions for the University that ASUNM always has a seat at. I guess that’s something I never realized being in ASUNM, that there are issues at the University that are substantial, that make huge noise.

Having a student be at that table and be able to explain the students’ opinion and even change the entire outcome of that decision based on students’ opinions has been the best experience and one of the coolest things I’ve learned about ASUNM.

DL: There’s always a lot of turnover annually with the executive team and every semester with half the Senate, which can lead to a lot of change, maybe to things that were implemented before. What’s the one thing that was implemented during your administration that you believe will benefit the most students over the longest period of time?

KB: Absolutely, 100 percent, hands down the Joint Council. When I was running for president, the number one thing that I heard was that students aren’t being represented, and like I mentioned, it’s a problem that ASUNM faces year after year after year. My administration sat down and we said, “How can we combat this? How can we take a step forward to make students feel more represented?”

Two years ago, (ASUNM) President Rachel Williams created the Joint Council, and there was a vision for it, but it never really took off. Last year there were a couple meetings, but it kind of fell by the wayside. I think that our administration this year made it one of our first priorities to get that off the ground. First by reorganizing it to make it include a representative from each college and each resource center rather than just the resource centers, as well as bringing the big University issues to them, like the freshman live-on requirement, like the change to the seal, like the potential tuition hike, as well as bringing all the ASUNM business that’s going to go to Senate to the Joint Council.

You can’t get a better representative group than the Joint Council, and I think that’s going to be our legacy, that’s going to be our stamp. I really hope that I come back 20 years from now and the Joint Council’s still going, and it’s created momentum to where it’s its own governing body that has as much power as the Senate potentially. What we were able to do with that body and the potential that it has been the most important thing that we did.


Proposed ASUNM budget continues recent trends

This story first appeared in the Daily Lobo. It can be viewed by visiting

On Wednesday, the ASUNM Senate will deliberate over its spring budget bill, which reflects the campus-wide financial strain on UNM as well as a continued trend of ASUNM and its related entities receiving the vast amount of student fees up for grabs.

The Finance Committee, which proposes the budget each semester, recommended $689,652 total to be allocated to student groups and organizations, from $690,000 that was available from student fees. That number is right in line with the last two years, when around $691,000 was allocated to groups by ASUNM.

Also, as with the last two years, Finance Committee members were forced to make cuts — at times drastic ones — across the board from what groups were requesting. Student groups were requesting about $1.14 million in funds, 165 percent more than the amount that was eventually allocated.

Another trend this budget upholds is allocating about three fourths of the total funds to ASUNM-related groups and line items.

137 total groups — which include the Agora Crisis Center, the Interfraternity Council, various foreign language groups, and ASUNM agencies such as Student Special Events — applied for funding from the spring budget process. That number is up from 115 last year and 112 from 2015, but much less than the 160 groups that received funding from a $718,000 pie in 2014.

ASUNM Finance Committee Chair Hannah William speaks during a Steering and Rules Committee meeting on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at the UNM SUB. The Senate will vote on the proposed spring budget on Wednesday.

Williams said that while student fee strain — a byproduct of continuously dropping enrollment figures at UNM — was a challenge in making final recommendations, they were able to make it work by focusing on putting all student organizations on an even playing field.

“We relied on our Law Book and worked to maintain consistency throughout all student organizations, while still focusing on the individual need of each budget,” she said.

Last semester the Daily Lobo investigated a trend in recent spring ASUNM budgets that showed that ASUNM line items in the budget seemed to receive a majority of the funding, despite representing a small fraction of the groups requesting funds.

Last spring’s budget bill allocated 76 percent of the funds dispersed to line items and agencies directly affiliated with ASUNM, accounting for things such as salaries, operating costs and large-scale events such as Fiestas, organized by ASUNM Student Special Events. The individuals in those agencies are not the same ones that deliberate and pass the budget in committee and full Senate; however, agency directors are appointed by ASUNM leaders.

At the time, ASUNM leaders said that the agencies — eight of them in total — “play a major role in what we do here at ASUNM, and we believe the services they provide to students are an invaluable aspect to the student experience.”

That trend of between 70 and 75 percent of funds being allocated to ASUNM and its agencies has stayed consistent in recent years, despite annual turnover in the leaders of the undergraduate student governing body.

The proposed budget for this spring continues the trend. The average amount recommended by the Finance Committee for 124 non-ASUNM related groups or entities is just under $1,450 each, while the committee recommends over $39,000 for each of the budget’s 13 ASUNM line items.

In total, $510,225 from this year’s spring budget bill was proposed for ASUNM line items, comprising 74 percent of the budget. ASUNM Student Special Events alone, despite being cut over $100,000 from its initial request, was recommended to receive about $160,000.

The non-ASUNM entity recommended to receive the most funding was Agora, with about $26,500.

Those agencies do go through the same budget process and must answer the same questions all other student groups are asked. Williams said among the information the groups requesting funding must provide are the number of active members in their groups, their fundraising efforts, the impact they plan to make on campus and how they would use the funds allotted to them.

The proposed 2017 spring budget bill will be deliberated over at ASUNM’s next Senate meeting on Wednesday. If passed, it will go on to ASUNM President Kyle Biederwolf.

Student groups write letter to University admin criticizing Yiannopoulos visit

This story first appeared in the Daily Lobo. It can be viewed by visiting

As the visit of controversial Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos looms ever nearer, local opposition to his arrival and speaking event is ramping up.

A slew of UNM student groups have placed their names on a letter sent to University administration earlier this week condemning the upcoming event to be held Jan. 27 in the SUB, calling it a contradiction of UNM policy.

The letter alleges that Yiannopoulos’ talk will lead to “physical violence and expand bias against us,” referring to undocumented students, indigenous students, Muslims, LGBTQ and other minority members of the UNM community whose concerns are raised in the letter.

It specifically refers to a section of UNM policy about visiting speakers, which states that their messages must have “educational value.” Citing particularly controversial actions by Yiannopoulos from the past, the groups represented in the letter claim that he does not do so, but instead spreads “hate speech that continues to terrorize students.”

It also claims that Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric is especially derogatory towards Muslims, the LGBTQ community, the mentally ill and the indigenous. The letter specifically cites an instance in which Yiannopoulos “personally attacked” individual transgender students at a University of Wisconsin event in December.

Similar rhetoric during his visit to UNM next week, especially if directed at a particular student or students, could potentially be interpreted as sexual harassment and a Title IX violation by the University. Such a violation could lead to a cut in federal funds for UNM.

The letter goes on to say that “we…will do everything in our power to protect students from fascism and violence.”

The groups represented in the letter are KIVA Club, MEChA, Black Student Union, Queer Student Alliance, Muslim Student Association, Dream Team, the Red Nation and Showing Up for Racial Justice. The statement also serves as a precursor to a meeting that leaders of some of these groups will have with UNM administrators on Thursday concerning the visit.

The letter adds fuel to a blaze whose sparks have been glimpsed at other university campuses nationwide. His visits to other institutions have already been met with opposition, and previous engagements at UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara have been cancelled after protests.

Local groups are hoping the same happens at the University of New Mexico, as the Red Nation is planning a protest to shut down the event by “taking the room, the stage and the mic,” according to the protest’s Facebook page.

Yiannopoulos’ visit to UNM is part of his “Dangerous Faggot” tour, and he is being officially hosted by UNM College Republicans. Group leaders say that their hope for the visit is the opening of new and necessary avenues for discussion.

“In all the years that I’ve been here, I’ve been involved in student groups and we’ve tried to conduct ourselves civilly and politely and have good discussions with people while also recognizing that there’s a line that can’t be crossed,” Ryan Ansloan, president of UNM College Republicans last semester, told the Daily Lobo in December. “So often the other side just hasn’t been willing to come to that table.”

Muslim students more fearful now than after 9/11

This story first appeared in the Daily Lobo. It can be viewed on

Serene Akkad was in disbelief. She feared how she, as well as other Muslim Americans, would be viewed after this. It was something unprecedented for her community, and the potential aftershocks could be devastating.

There are two events now inked into U.S. history that this description could apply to. The first is September 11.

Akkad, who is also president of the Muslim Student Association at UNM, watched as the election results and Electoral College vote projections came in, and like many other Americans — Trump and Clinton supporters alike — she couldn’t believe what was unfolding.

“There’s no words to describe it. How can someone with such hateful rhetoric become our president?” she said. “The president is someone we look up to, and to have someone like that come into office is just scary.”

Bayan Jaber, also a Muslim American student and MSA member, said the outcome of the election, as well as what has transpired in the days since, was only the latest development in a resurgence of Islamophobia across the country.

As the New York Times recently reported, there was a 67 percent spike in hate crimes against Muslim Americans from 2014 to 2015. There were levels of anti-Islam acts last year not seen since the 9/11 attacks. Even before Election Day, Akkad said her mom would plead with her to not wear her headscarf in public.

“It takes you by shock,” Jaber said.

In some ways, nothing has changed. The group has always emphasized unity, Akkad said. Sticking together against the sometimes hateful culture of a post-9/11 America is something Muslims in the U.S. are accustomed to.

In other ways, however, they are more fearful that their peers might view them in a negative light. The leader of their country has at times personified that culture, and because of that Jaber said she and other Muslim Americans now have to “walk on eggshells.”

“What’s scarier than anything is that people are listening to him and constantly supporting him,” Jaber said. “He’s made statements that you can’t simply apologize for — and he didn’t even do that.”

BY NICK FOJUD UNM Muslim Student Association President Serene Akkad, left, and MSA member Bayan Jaber attend a march against hate in front of the UNM Bookstore on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016.

Both Jaber and Akkad acknowledge that there will always be people who look at them differently for wearing a headscarf, or after being told they are Arab. However, they felt that the nation was progressing in the right direction, socially, under eights years of President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.

Now, Jaber said, it feels like the country has taken “10 steps back.”

When asked what a Trump presidency means for young Muslim Americans, Akkad and Jaber were at a loss for words, a silence that speaks volumes about how they say Muslims feel all the time, and now to a heightened degree.

“It’s hardly ever that we’re given a voice,” Akkad said.

Akkad said the levels of hate that they have come across now are much higher than immediately following 9/11, a time when “no one would come out of their houses for weeks.”

Trump’s proposals from his campaign — which also included a national registry of all Muslims in the U.S. — were embraced by some, but criticized by others for containing racist undertones. Many view his election last week as an affirmation that it’s now acceptable to lash out against others with different lifestyles.

Jaber said people should just view their Muslim peers as who they are — students exercising their freedom of speech and religion who go through the same peaks and valleys that any other college students do.

“We’re just as patriotic as the next American,” Akkad said. “We contribute just as much to American society as anyone else. We’re lawyers, we’re doctors, we’re politicians.”

Akkad said that while she is in favor of screening people coming into the country, Trump’s proposed policy of completely banning an entire group of people crosses a line that they never knew could be crossed.

“I don’t think we ever thought that it was going to get to this point,” Jaber said. “But it has.”

Akkad, who wears a traditional headscarf, said it has never led to instigation or harmful words thrown her way before Election Day.

Since then, she said people at three different places have told her to “take that thing off your head” and “you don’t belong here, go back to your country,” even though she was born and raised in New Mexico.

Jaber said in a country that encourages freedom and justice, those acts — as well as others that have occurred around the country — make the U.S. look hypocritical to the rest of the world.

For a community that can’t actively do very much about how other people perceive them, non-Muslim allies can still help, Akkad said, if by no other means than by speaking out and getting to know a Muslim American student.

“Put a face to a Muslim,” Jaber said. “Meet a Muslim, hang out with a Muslim, have coffee with a Muslim.”

And many have. After a male student recently attempted to pull the headscarf off a female peer in Zimmerman Library, the MSA received messages of support, a comforting reassurance to the group.

“We just have to stick together,” Jaber said, “and protect one another more than anything.”

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