The Bigger the Skies, the Bigger the Ideas

By Gary Oppedahl and Autumn Gray

In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to a new.” – DH Lawrence

 

Smokey Bear, the atomic bomb, Microsoft and the breakfast burrito – the similarities are striking.

They all have profoundly influenced our nation’s culture. All of them have experienced at least some degree of controversy. And all are products of New Mexico (though parts of Texas dare to call the breakfast burrito a breakfast taco and claim the misnamed creation as their own).

What elusive quality about the Land of Enchantment inspired the creativity behind these inventions? Or that led artistic and social visionaries like Georgia O’Keeffe, Mabel Dodge Lujan and Millicent Rogers to choose to move here, relinquishing their Gatsby-like lives in New York? Or that lead so many Albuquerque residents of today to take the uncertain but adventurous path toward entrepreneurship and new discovery?

It could be as O’Keeffe observed – that in New Mexico “one seems to have more sky than earth in one’s world.” Or, as Willa Cather wrote, “Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth (is) the floor of the sky.”

Anyone who has been to New Mexico knows that looking upward or out toward the horizon is to see infinity and to feel that you exist in a space without bounds. Even in the rare instance that clouds tuck in the expansive blue for a brief nap, the shift from turquoise to gray doesn’t oppress. Instead of a low ceiling taking shape, as is typical of an overcast sky elsewhere, here clouds merely provide a different view of forever.

That kind of environmental freedom naturally extends to freedom of thought. Clarity of mind exposes new possibilities or exposes dormant ideas that could otherwise have remained buried.

But environment alone is not always enough to help a person transcend ordinary thought and begin to see and act in extraordinary new ways. The ability to actualize innovative ideas often requires an inclusive and supportive culture that not only allows but also encourages full freedom of expression. New Mexico is known for that, too.

For example, in Albuquerque there is physical diversity – a population dense with varied nationalities, colors, creeds and sexual orientations – but there is also diversity of thought and dialogue.

Freedom to express opinions and beliefs is so pervasive that residents of every stripe and circle and triangle routinely gather at coffee shops, in co-working spaces, in innovation district hangouts, at bars and even at City Hall to share ideas and engage in open conversation. Walk into a microbrewery, and you’ll see someone with pink hair and piercings talking with someone in a three-piece suit, and a six-person table occupied by six different skin colors will be expressing 15 different opinions.

To facilitate the collision of ideas, the City of Albuquerque’s mayor, Richard Berry, convened public, private, and philanthropic organizations together to accomplish a common goal, a pipeline to success. Along with the University of New Mexico, the Central New Mexico Community College, Nusenda Credit Union, Bernalillo County and other partners, are building new spaces Downtown to ensure ideas become actualized and turned into something that helps the world.

In Albuquerque, we know that when diversity of thought embodied in people who want to make a difference meet, talk and create together, history can be made – even down to changing what the nation eats for breakfast.

This blog was first published in the Albuquerque Journal.

 

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