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Program brings art to Hobbs residents for four decades

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Barbara Dunford has a passion for art, one she’s shared with Hobbs residents for more than 40 years through regular art classes offered by the city.

Growing up in Chicago the oldest of eight children, Dunford didn’t have a lot of time for art, she said. But she always had a love of the arts, taking whatever opportunities she could find in high school to create.

Today, Dunford provides art instruction in a variety of media to people of virtually all ages as the official city art teacher.

Prior to the pandemic, classes were offered at the Hobbs Senior Center, primarily to Hobbsans age 13 and older. The city also offers a special summer art camp to introduce children age 6 to 11 to the arts. The class moved to the Hobbs Teen Center this year, she said.

“As part of the opening for the new classes at the Teen Center, we’re offering a Journey Through the Arts class,” Dunford said. The program “was created about 15 years ago specifically for 6 to 11 year olds.”

The class is designed with its young attendees in mind, with simpler projects than what she might teach to older teens or adults in other areas of the overall program, Dunford said. The first class of the final session this summer focused on what the young people did to celebrate the Independence Day holiday, for example.

“It’s a way for them to realize we’re here for a fun class, but we’re still learning about who they are, at least I am,” Dunford said. “And, they’re learning about art.

“The left side of the brain — the reading, the analytical — that’s all important,” she said. “But so is art — that’s where our creativity comes from.”

Art has applications to a wide variety of disciplines, Dunford said, from engineering to construction and more. Classes cover all possible media, from acrylics to pastels and clay. And, to make the classes accessible to more young people, the city provides all the materials they will need for the four-week class.

But art is not just a summer activity in Hobbs. Through the city Recreation Department, Dunford teaches art classes year round at the Hobbs Senior Center.

What would become the Hobbs art education program actually started in Albuquerque, when Dunford was still a junior college student, taking art and secondary education classes after she moved her family from Chicago to New Mexico. She was approached to develop an art program as part of a larger pilot project to provide community education programing through various schools in the Albuquerque school system.

Dunford continued her education after the family relocated to Hobbs, at New Mexico Junior College. She was again approached by one of her then teachers to apply for a soon-to-be open position as the community art instructor at the senior center, caused by a pending retirement.

“I was told I needed to go to the senior center,” Dunford said. “The teacher there was retiring, teaching adults and kids art classes.”

In those days, the arts programs in Hobbs were primarily part time. Dunford transferred much of the program she’d developed in Albuquerque to Hobbs, with strong support from the city.

“I stepped into the program and set up my class,” she said. “The city said, ‘Come on, let’s go.’”

Those first classes were only nine-months out of the year, pretty much following the regular Hobbs Municipal School academic year, she said. There wasn’t a lot of interest in summer art classes, she was told. But that was soon to change.

“It just kind of grew from there,” Dunford said. “It grew to full time, year round. The city said they could offer more classes and put me on full time.”

An arts program like the city of Hobbs offers is a rarity, said Michal Hughes, Hobbs Recreation Superintendent. That the city hosts art classes at all is indicative of its commitment to making Hobbs a good place to live.

“I don’t think this is something that’s not mirrored through the rest of (the Recreation) department,” he said. “The city commission is very committed to providing what they call ‘quality of life initiatives’ for the city of Hobbs. The art program is just one of them.”

The art program “adds to the community, enhances the way people look at the world,” Hughes said. “There’s art and there’s beauty in everything, but you have to stop and pay attention to it. The art classes give the students the opportunity to take a slower approach or maybe a stop, take a second look at certain aspects of life and appreciate its beauty.”

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