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Jan 25

The Bus Stops Here

Posted on January 25, 2022 at 12:59 PM by Ceci Vasconcellos

There is a very cool art piece in the City’s public art collection that doubles as a bus shelter on University Avenue (at Main Street) near Whataburger restaurant. I call it the Minecraft shelter.

My son has spent hours of his life playing Minecraft, a popular video game where players build blocky, 3D worlds, and he is not alone. Gamers of all ages love Minecraft and would love this bus shelter that easily fits the game’s aesthetic. Created in 2006, years before the game was released, this design was way before its time. 

The art shelter is sculpted with geometric shapes whose curves and angles balance to form a bench seat, backing and shade. Matching components house the trash receptacle. Its faded paint looks like it might have once been a bright silver with vibrant turquoise and coral red accents but it’s hard to tell; maybe it was meant to look subtle.    

My attention was drawn to the shelter when I saw a photo of it in our virtual City Art Tour. The many times I have driven by that corner, I had never noticed it. Curious to see what it looked like in person, I took a drive out to see it. I was not disappointed. While the functional art piece could use some refreshing, the design is strong and ageless. And it is still in use on RoadRunner Transit Route 4. I immediately decided we were going to restore this interactive sculpture to its former glory with a little cleaning and fresh paint. I think the artist would appreciate that. 

I wish I knew where the artist is now. From my research, I believe his name is Santos Contreras, who was a graduate student at New Mexico State University in 2006. Mr. Contreras won an Artstop competition that year which resulted in the art shelter installation. I’ve tried contacting him through his last known whereabouts, but the trail has gone cold. It would be nice to ask him about the inspiration behind the design and maybe discover the true name of this very, very cool art shelter. Until then, it will remain unofficially the Minecraft shelter. Santos, if you see this, call me!

                                                       Maquette of artistic shelter made of cardboard and tapeModel of Artistic Shelter  


Artistic bus shelter with Whataburger in background located on University Ave.Installed Artistic Shelter

Rubber Ducks blog is brought to you by the Las Cruces Public Art program to share ideas, information, discussions, trends and all things public art. Please send comments and ideas for future blogs to

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Dec 21

Art That Keeps Giving

Posted on December 21, 2021 at 1:48 PM by Ceci Vasconcellos

Art That Keeps Giving

If you’ve ever doubted the power of public art, take a trip downtown to the Plaza de Las Cruces during the holidays and observe children and adults playing and laughing around the oversized Christmas gifts, snowmen, penguins, sleds, the Polar Express, and taking silly (and serious) selfies in front of the giant Christmas tree to share on social media. 

Temporary installations like the decorative structures on the Plaza create a festive and interactive destination for residents and visitors alike. They also illustrate how public art doesn’t have to be serious and can add energy to a place, making it engaging for everyone. 

Exhibits, temporary and permanent, can bring other spaces alive throughout the city when we match the proper place with the right idea. Imagine permanent public artworks that define our neighborhoods or parks as must-see destinations. It’s exciting how much opportunity there is to implement more public art throughout our community! 

Looking forward to the creative work we have ahead of us as we welcome the new year. We wish all of you a very merry holiday and healthy, prosperous New Year. 

Man posing behind snowman photo prop. Silly family photo in Sled photo prop.
Two kids posing behind snowman photo prop.Person posing behind Gingerbread Boy photo prop.

Family posing in front of Christmas tree

Photo Caption: Being silly with my family. Photo above from left to right - Marina, Vincent, me, Mark and Christine. (All photo credit: Christine Madrid)

Rubber Ducks blog is brought to you by the Las Cruces Public Art program to share ideas, information, discussions, trends and all things public art. Please send comments and ideas for future blogs to

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Dec 21

Purple Shades of Refuge

Posted on December 21, 2021 at 8:46 AM by Ceci Vasconcellos

Purple Shades of Refuge

I must be honest – when I first saw the big purple octopus-looking structure in Lions Park, I didn’t get it. Why was there a disfigured sea creature near the swimming pool? Was it some sort of play structure deemed too dangerous for children? Did it tie in with tennis somehow? What was the ball on top? Did the swirls represent an athletic symbol… no, they’re snails maybe …which has nothing to do with tennis. Hmmmm This purple giant not only seemed out of place, but it was just so…confusing. 

Still, it intrigued me. 

I got out of my car. I wanted to see it up close. I walked underneath it to explore its inner workings. It was a hot day but as I entered, I immediately noticed the temperature underneath was much cooler. Ahhh. It felt like I was in a cave. There was a circular slab of concrete in the middle, perfect for sitting or even laying on to look up at the cone like shape of the top. At the base of the structure, there were handprints of all sizes with names associated to them embedded in the concrete. There was a story here…I was sure.

Years later, when I became art coordinator, I discovSierra Middle School Children helping artist with constructionered the purple giant is one of the City’s public art pieces and it was time to give it some TLC maintenance. I was excited, because I knew I would have the opportunity to meet the artist who created this intriguing piece of art and finally get the story behind its creation and how he drew great inspiration from the area in which we live.

This is the story of Refuge. Local artist Andrew Nagem designed and constructed Refuge over two-and-a-half-years with the help of hundreds of local school children. Nagem used ancient engineering techniques that cause the refreshing air flow to happen naturally, which is why the temperature remains comfortable underneath the structure. Pretty cool, right? He also used local landmark, La Cueva (near Dripping Springs), as inspiration for the four cave-like entrance points that face north, south, east, and west.

Nagem also explained the structure depicts four abstract figures resting back-to-back symbolizing community. The heads allude to the fossils found in the Robledo Mountains and other surrounding mountains as well as to nature, that binds us together. The purple color is a tribute to the color of the Organ Mountains at sunset as well as the positive feelings allegedly generated by purple amethyst crystals. 

Sculpture in the primed phaseDavid Twitty, welder, sitting on top of Refuge structure

 Top Photo: Artist Andrew Nagem works with Sierra Middle School students on Refuge.*      Left Photo: Sculpture under construction.*   Right Photo: Help from Dona Ana Community College Welding Technology.* 

The globe on top, representing Earth, is covered with ceramic tiles depicting local plants and animals made by Las Cruces and White Sands Missile Range schoolchildren in the mid-90’s. The circular bench underneath the sculpture is made of Rio Grande River stone and carved with a labyrinth “from the indigenous cultures that represents the link between human brain activity and the connection to the Earth as a whole” according to the artist, making it the perfect place to rest from the heat. The names and handprints of many of the children who helped construct Refuge are preserved in the cement floor, reflecting the pride they must have felt when the project was completed in 1995.

Refuge bench with labyrinth

                           Ceramic tiles being made for sculptureRefuge Globe with ceramic animals on top of sculpture 

Photos from Left to Right:  Ceramic elements designed and sculpted by school children.*  Close-up of tiles as they look today. Stone slab labyrinth sits in center of Refuge. 

After seeing it many times driving by, exploring it up close, and listening to the artist talk about Refuge, the purple giant has grown on me. I like it. Sometimes public art is like that. Sometimes, no matter how often an art piece is seen, it just doesn’t inspire appreciation. That’s ok. Sometimes, its story needs to be told to truly appreciate the beauty of it. Go sit in the cool shade of this purple cave and maybe, just maybe you’ll hear the whispers of the children’s voices telling you their story of creating Refuge.

Refuge at night in Lions Park

Night photo of Refuge in present time.*

* Photo credit: Andrew Nagem 

Rubber Ducks blog is brought to you by the Las Cruces Public Art program to share ideas, information, discussions, trends and all things public art.

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