Desert heroines honored for community work


A desert heroine is “fierce and brave – as resilient as life in the Chihuahuan desert. She is a gift to Doña Ana County,” according to

Desert Heroines is a photo project by NMCO Studio and the Success Partnership that honors and showcases individuals in Doña Ana County who are making moves, creating legacies and uplifting the community around them.

“NMCO just wanted to use what skills they had to uplift women in our community,” said Success Partnership Communications Coordinator Sommer Mitchell. “We got together and combined resources and funds to make the project better. This year’s theme was ‘Women who advocate for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.’”

Tina Ballew, NMCO Studio chief creative officer and creative director of the Desert Heroines project, said after the nominations, the partnership draws five names at random.

“NMCO basically coordinates and directs a unique photo shoot,” she said. “They get to work with a professional makeup artist – be a star for a day. Most people aren’t in a position to do that for themselves. It’s a gift to honor them.”

Ballew said it’s vital to honor women in history and this is an opportunity to honor some of today’s remarkable community members for their time in history as well.

This year, for the second time, the Desert Heroines project invites the public to a photo exhibit and panel discussion with the women. The gallery showing and the panel discussion are at the Mullennix Bridge Gallery at the New Mexico State University Art Museum, 1308 E University Ave. in Las Cruces.  The panel is from 5:30-7 p.m. at the gallery.

The partnership gathered nominations and worked together on graphics to inspire the community to nominate women who are doing outstanding work in DEI, Mitchell said.

“We highlight all of them for the entire month of March. This year we got over 30 nominations and five are randomly chosen for the photo shoot,” she said. “We bring in food and bring in all these ladies, work with stylists to tweak their individual look and shoot to their work and their vibe. It’s just a really nice feel-good project that lets us appreciate people in the community. Year after year, it’s about these women who are doing incredible work in the community. How wonderful to be able to say thank you to all of them have this amazing story to tell.”

Last year the panel discussion was held at the Doña Ana Arts Council and the room was packed, she said. People were standing elbow to elbow listening to people’s stories.

This year the University Art Gallery is providing space for the event and the artwork. The portraits encapsulate the essence and resilience of individuals and honor a time in history and place.

“This year, Desert Heroines just blew up on social media,” Mitchell said. “Everybody wants to share in the five women. It feels so good and seems like it makes the community feel good too.”

“It’s going to be a beautiful show,” Ballew said.

Desert heroine, NMCO Studio, Dulcinea Lara, Lesley King-Steward, Iliana Perez, Ryan Rox, Athena Huckaby