Local legend Barbara “Mother” Hubbard creates bright futures through her American Collegiate Talent Showcase
Written by Ashley M. Biggers
Photography courtesy Barbara Hubbard
Barbara “Mother” Hubbard lives up to the adage of “giving it the old college try.” Barbara became the New Mexico State University Pan American Center director of special events knowing little about the entertainment business, but she turned the more than 12,000-seat arena into a must-stop venue for everyone from Ike & Tina Turner Revue (her first act in 1970) to U2. As she learned the cutthroat entertainment business, she taught. In 1978, she founded the American Collegiate Talent Showcase (ACTS) program to provide scholarships and opportunities to students interested in learning the business.
NMSU offers 14 ACTS endowments and one scholarship totaling $6,500 in awards annually. Artists, such as Jeff Dunham and Reba McEntire, have donated funds for the endowments, while other funds come from ACTS’ proceeds when the organization promotes concerts. Students apply online for the funds, through the university’s general application, and are matched based on their interests for these entertainment-industry related scholarships. Barbara is also instrumental in placing them in jobs at NMSU or internships in the broader entertainment industry, both of which are vital to ACTS.
Las Cruces Legacy
Barbara began her academic career hoping to pursue medicine. Her father was blind, and she aimed to help others like him. When her medical school application stalled, she began teaching. At first, “education was a compromise of a being a female and trying to make a living in those days,” she says.
When she discovered she could earn more than $10,000 a year more working in Las Cruces than in Jonesborough, Tennessee, she moved west to teach biology at Las Cruces High School and physical education at Mayfield High School. After earning her master’s degree in physical education, she began instructing at NMSU in 1966. Knowing she was skilled at public relations — she’s a go-getter even as her 90th birthday approaches this year — her husband, Peirce (then president of NMSU’s Booster Club), and former basketball coach Lou Henson drafted her to become the programming advisor for the Pan Am Center.
Early on, she realized that if she was going to keep her student staff working year round, she was going to have to keep the venue busy outside of basketball season. She began reading industry publications and tracking tours on the Dallas/Phoenix stretch, then “I just picked up the phone and offered a promoter our 12,000-seater arena,” she remembers.
The idea for ACTS first alit in 1972, but it took six years — and a 1973 U.S.O. performance by Bob Hope, who coined her industry nickname — to raise money for the program. Just as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) develops college athletes, the non-profit aims to develop students interested in every aspect of the entertainment business, from performing to managing to technical concert production. Although Barbara retired from NMSU in 1998, she continues to serve as the ACTS director today.
It’s nearly impossible to separate the ACTS program and Barbara’s influence. So much of the program’s core operations flow from her influence: She raises funds for the NMSU scholarships, including the named Peirce and Barbara Hubbard Endowed Scholarship Fund. As Shacoy Parra, guest services manager at the Pan Am Center attests, “Barb rarely says no to a student in need. If someone can’t pay for their books or is a couple hundred short of tuition, Barb always finds a way to help them out.”
Whether directly under her wing at NMSU or via professors reaching out from other locales, Barbara personally oversees the placement of students in internships. “You name it, you do it,” says Sabrina Garza, Expo New Mexico event manager, of learning the business under Barbara’s tutelage.
ACTS in Action
Barbara asks her students to get their hands dirty, which was particularly true of Steve Dixon, who after winning the 1986 ACTS national talent contest, found himself cleaning toilets at the Pan Am Center during a Whitney Houston concert. (The national talent contest is no longer part of ACTS.) Undeterred, Dixon rose through the ranks as an usher, ticket taker, and security guard before he arrived in the marketing office with Barbara.
When he used a background dancer look-a-like contest idea to turn the tide of Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” tour’s lackluster ticket sales, Dixon cemented his place in the office — and the business. After graduation, he started off as a tour accountant (who is responsible for the financial side of touring) for Wynona Judd, became the tour director for *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and Britney Spears, and began his own production design firm to create shows for Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and now Asian bands who similarly fill stadiums.
“People say the definition of luck is when hard work and opportunity intersect. I think that for all of us who have had a career in the industry, Barbara was our luck,” Steve says. “You have this educator who was able to parlay a relationship with the university and the entertainment industry. The music industry, in Nashville, New York, and Los Angeles, loves her and she remains relevant today because she is so authentic. And in her authenticity, you have a pure educator. Every thing she does is about education, and every thing she continues to do is about giving back.”
“She has helped countless students get major jobs in the industry. Personally, I’ve had the opportunity to work on all aspects of a show, from promotion to production with her, and that has helped my understanding and ability to pass that on to current music business students,” says Michael Armendariz, current NMSU music business program coordinator and a former ACTS student.
In 2006, Michael interned at the Timberwood Amphitheater in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he, along with interns from four other universities (ACTS is national in its reach, working with universities from Texas A&M to William and Mary) to run 17 shows in 15 weeks.
Michael is also involved in ACTS (and Barbara’s) next undertaking: establishing an entertainment business minor at NMSU that will include classes from the music and hotel, restaurant, and tourism departments, as well as the college of business. The minor focuses on venue management, from small clubs to major arenas. “This would allow students to work in a wide variety of venues on campus, and potentially within the city. All of these potential internships, jobs, and venues are in place through Barbara’s contacts, and reputation through the city, and it would benefit students for years to come,” Michael says.
Barbara hopes the minor is part of her legacy that includes thousands of students’ entrees into the entertainment business. “It’s the biggest thrill in the world to hear they’ve made the next step,” she says. “It’s better than any paycheck. I’m not on anyone’s payroll. I do it because I love my students, and I love the music business.” m
“Barb rarely says no to a student in need. If someone can’t pay for their books or is a couple hundred short of tuition, Barb always finds a way to help them out.”