An agreement that seeks to settle a long-running controversy over the fate of an iconic mural depicting Santa Fe’s multicultural heritage was met Monday with mixed reactions by those who tried to preserve the artwork.
Multi-Cultural, painted by Chicano artist Gilberto Guzman and others some 40 years ago on an exterior wall of the state-owned Halpin Building on Guadalupe Street in the Santa Fe Railyard, will be stuccoed over during construction of the new Vladem Contemporary art museum.
But a small replica of the mural will be a permanent fixture inside the state museum under the agreement signed Friday.
“Compromise is the foundation of democracy, and I think this resolution, now that it is written in stone, is as good as we could have expected,” said Joe Schepps, a local businessman who had hired an art conservator to try determine whether the mural could be preserved.
“I just think that the odds were stacked against keeping the mural,” added Schepps, a historic preservationist who is president and co-owner of the Inn on the Alameda.
The state Department of Cultural Affairs and the Museum of New Mexico Foundation “were against it, and it’s their project,” he said, “so at least they are going to preserve it in a miniature form.”
Guzman filed a lawsuit in federal court last year seeking to preserve the massive painting. A federal judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction to stop its removal, saying Guzman’s petition failed to meet the criteria for such a measure. But the judge later ordered the department and Guzman to meet for mediation to try to resolve the issue.
Under the settlement the two sides reached, the department must permanently display in the lobby area of the future art museum a small replica of the mural, which Guzman will create with the help of assistants if he so chooses.
“I think [the settlement] preserved the essence of what Gilberto wanted, and that was to keep art attainable,” Guzman’s attorney, Penelope Quintero, said, adding the public will be able to see the small-scale version of the mural in an area of the museum that doesn’t require admission.
“So, it’s still free and accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford [the admission] or who just wouldn’t walk into a full-on museum,” she said.
The department will pay Guzman up to $52,000, including $32,000 within 10 days of the two sides executing the agreement. That payment will be made to the law firm that represented Guzman in his litigation against the department.
The department also will pay Guzman “a sum not to exceed” $10,000 for labor and materials involved in creating the replica, which must be delivered to the department no later than June 30, 2022. Guzman will receive an additional $10,000 as a commission for the artwork.
The agreement calls on the department to create a “high-definition rendering of the mural” outside the museum with “explanatory text to be mutually and reasonably agreed to” between the department and Guzman. The rendering, which will be about 4 feet by 6 feet, must remain a part of the museum for a minimum of 12 years.
The department also is required to create an “application accessible by smart phone” that will be placed alongside the rendering. The application will be used “to access the history, photos, articles, information on the lawsuit, an oral history and other matters related to the mural and which will allow the user [to see], using augmented reality, the mural on the side of the museum.”
Quintero said the interpretive panel also will be free to the public.
“The exhibition outside … is going to be out there for people to reflect back on what was there once,” she said. “It’s going to have historical facts, possibly even information about the lawsuit, and that’s a big win for artists. I think, overall, it brought attention to the case and to the rights that artists are afforded and that they might not otherwise know about, so I think that exposure was bigger than this case.”
Asked why the interpretive panel would only be up for a minimum of 12 years and not longer, Quintero said the back-and-forth settlement negotiations are confidential.
“But I will say that it wasn’t where we started,” she said. “We would have loved everything to be permanent, but that’s just what we eventually could get [the department] to agree to.”
Efforts to reach Guzman for comment were unsuccessful.
Quintero said Guzman, who is aging, wanted to resolve the case. According to published reports, he is in his late 80s.
“It was a fight that we were prepared to fight,” Quintero said. “But at the end, Gilberto is not getting any younger, and I think he wanted something preserved long-term that he could actually see happen. ... It would have been a lot more stressful for him to fight it for years and years because that’s how long litigation can take.”
Longtime community activist Rick Martinez, who had urged Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and the City Council to pass a resolution in support of the mural and “honor it in some way,” said he was disappointed it took litigation to resolve the dispute. Its planned removal had stirred assertions of gentrification and the erasure of long-held cultural traditions.
“There should have been some kind of compromise [between the Department of Cultural Affairs] and the citizens of Santa Fe and with Guzman about how to deal with it,” he said. “That was never done. [The department] was stubborn and stood [its] ground.”
Martinez also said he was “really mad” elected officials didn’t take a more active stance to try to resolve the controversy.
“Those are the ones that really just disappoint me,” he said.
Though he’s pleased a small replica of the mural will be on permanent display, Martinez decried the loss of the mural from the wall.
“Fifty years from now, someone is going to chip away at that wall and start peeling it off and discover that there was a mural here and say, ‘Who’s the idiots that allowed this to happen?’ ” he said, laughing. “My [advocacy] for the mural was never to keep it completely there. My [advocacy] of the mural was to honor it in some way, and that could have been with a smaller version below the windows that are facing Guadalupe Street.”
Daniel Zillmann, a spokesman for the Department of Cultural Affairs, said the state was “grateful to have reached a settlement with Mr. Guzman.”
In a joint statement, Guzman and the department acknowledged people in the community who wanted to preserve the mural.
“Even though the parties share the community’s sadness [the mural] will not remain, we still have an opportunity to preserve the mural’s deeper meaning, which symbolizes the state’s multicultural history and diversity, where we coexist and make room for all citizens of diverse backgrounds,” they wrote. “We honor all those who participated in its creation and believed in the principles it was created to express.”