If only on a temporary basis, the site of the toppled Plaza obelisk soon could catch people’s attention once again.
The city of Santa Fe’s Arts Commission on Thursday is scheduled to discuss a temporary art installation near what was the controversial Soldiers’ Monument, felled by protesters in October.
Pauline Kanako-Kamiyama, director of the city’s Arts and Culture Department, said the commission has been tasked with coming up with a recommendation to city officials for the area surrounding the stub of the monument as a temporary way to highlight the start of the summer and continued recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Kanako-Kamiyama said it will be up to the commission to decide how to gather ideas and what to discuss. The recommendation — whether a particular artwork, a series of installments or something else — will then be sent to City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill for review.
If a decision is made to go forward with a recommendation, the city could move on to an implementation phase, with an art installation to stay on the site from one to three months, Kanako-Kamiyama said.
“Ideally, it would be nice for the beautification project to happen as summer starts,” Kanako-Kamiyama said. “It’s really a celebration of coming through this last year and four months of sorts.”
City spokesman Dave Herndon said LaPan Hill was not available for comment.
The stub of the obelisk is covered by what amounts to a large, white wooden box. The monument was destroyed on Indigenous Peoples Day after what started as a peaceful three-day rally took a turn. The demonstration ended with some protesters in handcuffs and the 132-year-old monument in pieces.
Seven people were charged in the weeks following the monument’s destruction.
In response, the city formulated what it called CHART, or the Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth process, in January to address potentially insensitive public art and gather a variety of viewpoints about Santa Fe’s history.
City officials have said the goal is to hold a series of conversations and meetings that ultimately could lead to recommendations for the City Council on what to do with public spaces. The city is currently working through the procurement process to select a consultant team to oversee the CHART process.
Mayor Alan Webber called the discussion the “first step toward trying to make the Plaza look better.”
“It would be nice to have something that people would feel good about at the Plaza before we get the CHART process going,” Webber said. “We really shouldn’t wait for the entire process to run before we try to make the Plaza look nicer for the next 90 days or so.”
But some city councilors say the Plaza shouldn’t be touched until the CHART process gets rolling.
City Councilor Michael Garcia said he had not yet seen any proposed ideas for the Plaza but was concerned city staff members would make a decision for the space outside the City Council’s authority.
“At the end of the day, we must remember that this is the community’s space, and the decision should be left up to the community as to how that space is filled with art or any other type of objects,” Garcia said. “Community input is critical on this matter, and unfortunately the community is left out the process.”
Webber said the process is still malleable, but he added the Arts Commission had said it wanted to be part of the larger conversation about art in public spaces.
“I have to be very clear: We are not looking for something that adds to the political debate,” he said.
Councilor Chris Rivera said he was unaware of a plan to move forward with a temporary installation but would prefer to see what is possible before the city takes action.
He added he feels the CHART process is taking too long to get started.
“This temporary art installation is going to stir things up again,” Rivera said.
Kanako-Kamiyama said that once the consultant team has been selected for the CHART process, it will take over any subsequent temporary installations at the Plaza. She reiterated the initial installation would be temporary.
Councilor Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez said the aesthetics of a white box in the city’s cultural center is an eyesore, and a temporary installation might be for the best as tourist season kicks off.
“I think that the most important piece that is mentioned is that this is temporary,” Cassutt-Sanchez said. “The CHART process is in place for a larger decision about what happens at the Plaza.”
Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler said she would like to see how CHART handles the installations and any additional conversations about city public spaces that come out of that process.
No matter what is selected, either permanently or temporarily, some likely will be unhappy, Vigil Coppler said.
“The beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder,” she said.