The northeast corner of the Santa Fe Community Convention Center on Monday. The city is looking for artists for a mural at the convention center.

City officials are seeking proposals from artists interested in creating a new multicultural mural on two walls of a tower-like structure on Federal Place at the downtown Santa Fe Community Convention Center.

While the city attempts to move forward on the “Culture Connects” public art project, it’s also in the early stages of getting its long-gestating discussions off the ground to address controversial artwork and monuments in public places.

The announcement of the new project also comes as the city has been under fire for failing to prevent the destruction of a fading 40-year-old mural on a state-owned building in the Railyard that is set for an overhaul to make way for a new contemporary art museum.

Gilberto Guzman, one of the lead artists on Multi-Cultural, which adorns the east side of the Halpin State Archives Building on Guadalupe Street, has asked a federal court to halt its destruction. He and other advocates for the artwork argue it has cultural and historical significance and should be preserved.

Should the city hold off on new art installations until it gathers input through its so-called CHART process?

Mayor Alan Webber said no.

“I don’t think everything tucks under CHART,” Webber said, referring to the upcoming talks on “community, history, art, reconciliation and truth.”

“I think there was a very specific mandate for CHART,” the mayor added.

The process, approved in January, provides community members and organizations an opportunity to discuss potentially controversial public art through a series of public meetings. The process will culminate in recommendations to the City Council on what do with some of those existing works, and to inform future public art.

The roots of CHART stretch back to former Mayor Javier Gonzales’ administration, but the effort was revived in the wake of protests last year over art and monuments viewed by demonstrators as culturally insensitive or outright racist.

On Indigenous Peoples Day, a group of Native American activists and their supporters pulled the 152-year-old obelisk known as the Soldiers Monument from its base on the Santa Fe Plaza. Activists had long decried the monument as racist, due to an inscription dedicating it to soldiers who died battling “savage Indians.”

Supporters countered that the Plaza’s longtime centerpiece was a tribute to Union soldiers of the Civil War and an important piece of the city’s history.

A few months before the obelisk’s destruction, the mayor ordered the removal of a statue of conquistador Don Diego de Vargas from downtown Cathedral Park and identified both the Soldiers Monument and the Kit Carson obelisk, erected in 1883 in front of the federal court building, as pieces that should be removed from public spaces.

But the removal stalled over legal concerns regarding ownership of the monuments and their historical protections.

According to the city’s request for proposals for the convention center mural, officials hope the piece will highlight the cultural relevance of art as a means to represent community and to increase awareness of the city’s multicultural history and shared values. The project is budgeted at $50,000, and artists have until April 15 to submit their proposals.

Webber said there is nothing in the CHART mandate that suggests Santa Fe should hold off on moving forward with new art until after the process is completed.

“I don’t think we are going to hit pause in all cases until we get the CHART process through,” he said.

Meanwhile, a movement to save the Railyard mural, half a mile from the convention center, has continued for more than a year.

Multi-Cultural, 18 feet high and 110 feet long, was painted in 1980 by Guzman and a group of other local muralists. The work is now slated for “retirement” by the state Department of Cultural Affairs as part of a Halpin Building renovation to create the future Vladem Contemporary, a satellite wing of the New Mexico Museum of Art. The state intends to acknowledge the mural with a display inside the museum.

Guzman and other supporters of the work aren’t satisfied with the plan.

Earlier this month, Guzman filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent the Department of Cultural Affairs and the city of Santa Fe from destroying Multi-Cultural. Guzman said in the complaint the mural’s destruction would violate his contract for the work.

Dozens of people also rallied in the Railyard on March 10 against the planned destruction. During the event, organized by a local coalition called Keep Santa Fe Multicultural, protesters placed a banner in front of the mural that read, “Gentrification is erasure is gentrification.”

The city and the Department of Cultural Affairs have until April 5 to respond to Guzman’s U.S. District Court petition.

Webber noted the concerns over the long-standing mural, but he added the convention center project was tied to existing funding stretching back to 2018 and was in no way an opportunity to atone for the mural’s potential destruction.

“We’re not replacing one mural with another,” Webber said. “But I think there’s a heightened sensitivity to murals and what they represent.”

Artist Sebastian “Vela” Velazquez, a Santa Fe native, often finds himself pondering what, exactly, murals represent.

Velazquez, whose paintings appear on prominent buildings from Santa Fe to Hawaii, recently completed a mural of slain Santa Fe High School basketball star Fedonta “JB” White at a family member’s home.

Velazquez said he was interested in submitting a proposal for the convention center mural.

But, he said, he believes the city needs to have a conversation about the message it intends to convey through public art.

Murals should tell stories about a city’s past, present and future, he said.

Of course, there is going to be beautification,” Velasquez added. “[A mural is] going to look pretty, but there should be a deeper intention to these murals. That’s what I am working on in my own career.”

Pauline Kanako Kamiyama, director of the city’s Arts and Culture Department, said she’s not too concerned about the eventual convention center mural running afoul of recommendations and findings of the CHART process. She noted the artwork follows the city’s Culture Connects initiative, created to help guide the cultural future of the city.

Kamiyama noted her intention is for the CHART process to become a more robust part of the city’s planning and for it to continue past its one-year time span.

“Not everyone will love it,” Kamiyama said. “but to me, that will help continue the conversations and dialogue.”

Phaedra Haywood, James Barron and Dillon Mullan of The New Mexican contributed to this report.

(9) comments

KT Rivera

I am not convinced the city can protect it's current art work / murals much less any future creations. Three city 'sponsored' murals have already been vandalized over the past three months. I recommend the city first spend some time on determining protection, restoration due to vandalism, and upgrading the ordinances to increase the penalties associated with damaging ~any~ artwork in Santa Fe before they begin new ones.

Paul Davis

I must confess that I do not understand the people who seem to believe that art work (such as murals) should be preserved for ever, or even for as long as possible. Maybe I'm just too much of a cosmpolitan dilettante, but I view art as an expression of possibility, of invention and of imagination. It should never be static, never be permanent, never turn into a legacy but instead should always be a way for humans (individually, or collectively) to express themselves, not to be locked into whatever the past had in mind.

I can understand that an artist who is told that a mural they create will exist for at least (say) 10 years being dismayed and angry if it is torn down after 3 years. But in general, I would prefer that we let the past slip away, and be replaced by today's visions and dreams.

Lee Vigil

I get the impression that Webber believes that rules are for other people ... he makes the rules ... and he decides which ones pertain to him.

joe davis

Why not recreate the Rail yard mural on the convention center?

Rick Martinez

Want to add that there is a long portal that runs on that same side of the building where a mural would work perfect where there is no outside elements that will give a mural a longer life time. Where they want to place the mural now will only look like a billboard not a mural and take away the architectural look of the building. But the real question is why now and why is the Santa Fe Arts and Culture Commission not supporting the Guzman mural

Richard Rosenstock

The City of Santa Fe should be filing a motion to support Gilbert Guzman's federal lawsuit to try and protect the destruction of Multi-Cultural rather than opposing this. The Mayor and Council can do this if they so choose. And, if they don't, the question becomes "which side are you on?" The so-called plans for a convention center mural are irrelevant to the destruction of the existing mural and give the appearance of trying to distract from the City's failure to support the existing mural,

Richard Rosenstock

Santa Fe

Stefanie Beninato

Richard, you don't want CHART but now you think the mural project should run through CHART which is taking months just to get facilitators? I think we citizens should be urging public input on the submittals for a mural on the public bldg--not waiting for a year-long process to be completed.

Richard Reinders

Stefanie it is the hypocrisy I don't like and I believe CHART will be used to hurt the Hispanics.

Richard Reinders

IMO Webber is already deciding what can be done under CHART which hasn't organized a committee yet. He is already making statements that he will be interpreting his rule when it comes to art the public wants to protect. Call your council person and say no to CHART or lose your Hispanic identity in Santa Fe.

Webber is a hypocrite when it comes to art he wants and doesn't want to run it through CHART.

“I don’t think everything tucks under CHART,” Webber said, referring to the upcoming talks on “community, history, art, reconciliation and truth.”

“I think there was a very specific mandate for CHART,” the mayor added.

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