Sunday, January 9, 2011

Doin’ What Comes Naturally

We all do it but why? Why is it so important to us? Few among us are recluses. We are social animals who need interaction and approval from our fellow beings. We all work the crowd or at least wish to whatever our motive.

When we first bought our house in Santa Fe, New Mexico we had visited often but only knew a few people well. For anyone who arrives in a new place you know it can become very lonely very quickly unless you get to know the locals.

But how do you make a concerted effort to meet people? We really had no idea. Since school all our friends and social acquaintances were art related. My mother once asked me, “don’t you have any friends?” Well, I felt I had many but most I had met through work. I do not have a business in New Mexico and living in a town of about 70,000 in the American Southwest is rather different from New York and its 7-8 million inhabitants!

In our first apartment in New York, we saw our neighbor exactly once in 5 years and that was my making a date for a specific purpose. He was the only other person living on our floor in a five floor walk up. By contrast when we first got our house in Santa Fe I was working out front and suddenly I hear someone yell, “Hey, I’m you neighbor”. I realized as a typical New Yorker I had neither looked at nor listened to a passer by. In other words it is obligatory to say hello. I had to rethink my attitude.

So we devised a plan going forward. We would make note of any names of people we enjoyed speaking with at dinner parties or cocktails and art people that we naturally gravitated to. Then on January 1 every year we would invite them all to an open house. It became a tradition and we just gave our 11th open house.

It has been an amazing social experiment. Facebook writ small! Being collectors of Native American Art and naturally attracted to the museum world, it started out, and remains mainly an art crowd. At this time of year there are many visitors to Santa Fe and that gave us the opportunity to invite visiting friends as well. At our first open house we had a curator from the Portland Art Museum and a woman who worked at a photography gallery here walk in and hug warmly. Naturally, we were rather surprised but it turned out that they had attended the University of New Mexico together years before. The next year several museum people met but they were from several museums around the country. One year two long time museum directors from here in Santa Fe met for the very first time!

Over the years we have met scientists, writers, politicians, and even a few government types who were working on secret projects in D.C. Don’t forget we live not far from Los Alamos. This year people from many fields came. A lawyer talked to a Los Alamos editor whom he had known from University days, teachers met individuals who wanted to teach and museum people who could discuss museum exhibition exchanges. In a state with a small population you are more apt to encounter people from a wider circle. In New York one usually only gets to speak to the Mayor or Governor or local councilperson at a fundraiser! Here we have had Christmas dinner with the governor, were invited to a chocolate party by a city councilwoman and chatted with the mayor and state legislators often.

I used to worry whether enough people would show up? Are we that interesting? How can we keep people coming? Then last year a guest kindly explained all, when she said, “I love your parties I always meet someone interesting and get to speak with friends that I haven’t seen all year.” What wonderful opportunities networking gives us to expand our horizons personally and professionally.