Public protests couldn’t save the mural.
Neither could a recent federal court appeal.
But a local businessman intent on finding a way to preserve artist Gilberto Guzman’s mural in downtown Santa Fe has appealed to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to buy him some time to do just that.
Joe Schepps, president and co-owner of the Inn on the Alameda, has paid for a California-based restoration expert to come to Santa Fe to review the mural and see if it can be saved — and if so, how.
“I’m in a race to stop it from being washed away,” Schepps said. “It’s worth a compromise even at the 11th hour.”
Schepps placed a paid ad in The New Mexican Wednesday asking Lujan Grisham to step in and “allow time for this professional attempt to preserve the mural. Construction does not need to be halted.”
He said he also hand-delivered a copy of that letter to the Governor’s Office on Monday.
The Halpin Building, on which the 40-year-old mural is painted, is scheduled to be renovated and turned into the Vladem Contemporary, a modern art branch of the New Mexico Museum of Art.
The decision to remove the mural as part of changes to the building has been a source of controversy, with opponents saying it is an example of cultural disrespect and the gentrification of the city.
Scott Haskins, president and head of conservation efforts for the California-based Fine Arts Conservation Laboratories, said by phone Schepps has contracted with his company to have a conservationist examine the mural and determine whether it can be stabilized and restored.
But he and Schepps said that plan depends on whether the state Department of Cultural Affairs, which is overseeing the museum effort, agrees to let Haskins’ company review the project. Schepps said that expert is scheduled to arrive Wednesday and can visit the site Thursday. Haskins said his expert would probably only need “a couple of hours” at the site.
A spokesman for the Department of Cultural Affairs in an email Wednesday suggested that would be unlikely.
“The process of determining that it cannot be preserved involved several years of assessments under the prior administration as well as the current one,” spokesman Daniel Zillman wrote. “The state appreciates the intentions of members of the community seeking a different path, but the architectural, construction, and budgetary facts of the situation require this resolution.”
He added “neither the Museum of Art nor the Department of Cultural Affairs have been contacted by any third-party seeking access to the site.”
Schepps said Wednesday that while he did speak to a foreman at the construction site, he had not reached out to the Department of Cultural Affairs. He said he planned to do so.
So far, all efforts to save the mural have failed. A federal judge in Albuquerque recently declined to issue a preliminary injunction that would halt the removal of the mural, saying the artist’s petition failed to meet the criteria for such a measure.
Guzman’s federal lawsuit seeking permanent protection for the mural and ownership interests under the Visual Rights Act is still pending, according to court records. But U.S. District Judge Kea W. Riggs’ ruling means the mural’s future is tenuous while the lawsuit works its way through the legal system.
Theresa Sanchez, a friend of Guzman’s who has become his spokeswoman, said she still holds on to a slim hope the court could step in to either preserve the mural or allow Guzman to create a new one, with the help of other artists, for the new museum. “We’re just pleading one more time, please revisit this,” she said.
Schepps, who has lived in Santa Fe for 50 years and who has been involved in fundraising and restoration efforts in the Railyard in the past, first got interested in preserving the mural early in 2020.
“I think this new building [museum] needs this mural,” he said. “It anchors it to the Railyard.”
He said if any effort to preserve the mural is initiated based on the California conservation expert’s report, he would find a way to raise funds for the restoration project.
In the interim, construction is underway at the Halpin Building, and a large tarp has been placed over the mural.