NMSU alum and spouse support arts, community in words and deeds

NMSU alum and spouse support arts, community in words and deeds

Rama and Ammu Devasthali have spent nearly three decades devoted to the cause of arts in southern New Mexico. Later this month, their dedication will be honored with an award from New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

Head and shoulders of man and woman standing side by side
Rama and Ammu Devasthali will be honored by Gov. Susana Martinez at the 2016 annual Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts on Friday, Sept. 23, at a ceremony at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe. (Photo by Wendy Ewing)

“Rama and I truly believe that art is essential to the well-being of society as a whole – all forms of art,” Ammu Devasthali said. “If we can contribute in any small way to help the arts thrive in our part of the state, then it is our duty and responsibility to do so.”

The Devasthalis, credited with raising millions of dollars to support the arts in New Mexico through their leadership and advocacy, are among eight artists and major contributors who will receive the 2016 annual Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts on Friday, Sept. 23, at a ceremony at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe.

“Rama and I are truly honored to receive this award from Governor Martinez,” she said. “We are especially grateful that this nomination came from members of our community. It is not about us, but about shining a spotlight on the arts here in southern New Mexico.”

A love of art began early in life for Ammu Devasthali, who was impressed as a child by a religious painting with an elaborate combination of collage and embroidery in her grandparents’ home in India.

“My parents always surrounded us with folk art, religious art, theater and music,” she said. “For Rama, the experience was a little different. Although he was not exposed to a lot of art while growing up, he really learned to appreciate all forms of art while studying in Russia and later in the U.S.” Ammu earned her bachelor’s degree in Russian studies and a master’s and Ph.D. in Soviet literature at Moscow State University.

The Devasthalis moved to Las Cruces in 1987 with their two children. Ammu earned master’s degrees in printmaking and painting at New Mexico State University in the 1990s. For more than 20 years, Dr. Rama Devasthali was the president and managing partner of Las Cruces Radiology Associates.

“The business success which has accompanied professional success has enabled Ammu and me to give back to the community,” he said. “A big part of this is our support for the arts, which tend to be first in line for spending cuts when budgets are tight.”

Ammu Devasthali chaired the fundraising committee for the ASNMSU Center for the Arts and the couple has taken the lead in raising private funds to rebuild D.W. Williams Hall, which houses NMSU’s Art Department and University Art Gallery.

If approved by voters in November, $22.5 million is planned for a new visual arts facility to replace D.W. Williams Hall. The funding is part General Obligation Bond C for higher education projects. No tax increases are associated with these bonds.

As a graduate of NMSU’s fine arts program in addition to her other degrees, Devasthali said she sees the value of integrating an arts education with other disciplines. “Arts education helps people to think with their senses. More often than not in a university, you educate a person in the discipline of their choice and they’re taught to think with their minds. But I think a university should go beyond educating a person in their individual discipline, and that’s what art does. It teaches a person not only to think with their mind, but to think with their senses.”

She has her own stories about D.W. Williams Hall, which was built in 1938 as a gymnasium and repurposed in 1974 as the Department of Art.

“The original concrete bleachers are still there, in fact they hold up the walls of the building,” Devasthali said. “I remember sitting on the steps of the bleachers for critiques. There is a lot of wasted square footage even though the art students and faculty have found all kinds of creative ways to use the space under the concrete bleachers.”

Although she remembers her years as a student at NMSU fondly, she is serious about the need for improved art facilities. She pointed to a 2014 report commissioned by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, which says the arts and culture industry contributes $5.6 billion a year to the state’s economy. She adds the study conducted by UNM in 2014 shows that one in 10 jobs in New Mexico is arts and culture related.

“In order to continue to grow this industry, we need to be able to provide our students with a state-of-the-art facility,” she said. “While our amazing faculty is well equipped to provide a 21st century arts education for our students, our current facility, D.W. Williams Hall, falls far short of what is needed to do so. A new visual arts facility is long overdue. Our students deserve this.”

For the Devasthalis, there is no better reward for their contributions of time and money than seeing the betterment of the Las Cruces community and the region. The couple created the Devasthali Family Foundation Donor-Advised Fund through the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico in 2011.

“There are many ways to give,” Ammu said. “People usually think it’s about giving money. It’s not. Not everybody can afford to financially support an endeavor, but you can volunteer your time. You can volunteer your expertise. There’s so much more joy in the giving than in receiving. You don’t really get that till you start giving.”

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