Two wealthy retirees from Chicago gave a few million dollars to put their names on a Santa Fe museum whose construction will erase an iconic mural created by a Chicano artist.
Around 75 people rallied Saturday in the Railyard to say they’ve heard this story before. They were part of a Gentrification Walking Tour organized by the coalition Keep Santa Fe Multicultural.
“Losing that mural represents a lot of what we’ve been fighting against in Santa Fe for decades now,” said Rick Martinez, a 1973 Santa Fe High graduate who said he first organized against development for the sake of outsiders in 1990 when Ski Santa Fe wanted to build a chairlift from Big Tesuque.
“We had a good group of young and old out here today, which is important because standing up to this sort of thing is going to take all of us,” he said.
Last month, the state began construction on the Vladem Contemporary satellite wing of the New Mexico Museum of Art. In 2018, Bob Vladem, a partner in a number of Pennsylvania car dealerships who started trucking and logistics companies, and his wife, Ellen Vladem, gave a $4 million gift to the museum.
According to a news release from the Department of Cultural Affairs, the mural will be “retired as a part of the renovation, and the museum plans to acknowledge the mural and its history with a display in the interior.”
On Saturday, speakers at the rally drew parallels between the mural — painted by Chicano artist Gilberto Guzman and others — and previous waves of gentrification in the Railyard and other parts of Santa Fe.
The walking tour started near the O’Gah Po’Geh Community Altar, a community art project that bears the Tewa name for the current city of Santa Fe, before progressing to Warehouse 21, a former teen arts center that closed in 2019 and is for sale.
“My first memories of drawing and music were Warehouse 21. It was a beautiful space, a place in downtown Santa Fe where kids from our community could come together. It’s gone now,” Artemisio Romero y Carver, a senior at New Mexico School for the Arts, said outside the vacant building.
“Opulence requires poverty. Through here and the mural and the ways they’ve removed nonwhite expression, images, faces and words from this place, the only way that I can describe that is the cleaning of a murder scene,” he added.
Last month, a report from local housing advocacy nonprofit Chainbreaker Collective found about 5,700 Santa Fe households — at least 31 percent of renters — are at risk of eviction when state and federal moratoriums expire.
The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness estimates the city is short of affordable housing by 5,000 units. Meanwhile, in the final quarter of 2020, 557 homes in Santa Fe County sold for a record median price of $537,764, a 19.5 percent increase from the same period in 2019.
“I am speaking from lived experience. My family is working class. We live in trailer parks. We make up the people who clean homes and build houses for wealthy white people who come from out of state. The one sector that has seen continual growth throughout the pandemic is construction,” Hernan Gomez Chavez, a local welder and sculptor, said in front of the Railyard’s decorative water tower.
“The people who live here, work here and maintain our city are not living sustainably because these wealthy people and our city government are not investing in us,” he added.
The demonstration concluded in front of the mural on Guadalupe Street, with a 120-foot long banner that read, “Gentrification is erasure is gentrification.”
“It’s the reality of what’s happening with the mural. Erasure is imminent,” said Alicia Inez Guzmán, a Chicana writer from Truchas now living in Santa Fe. “Our public space matters, and when it starts to shift toward a romantic projection of what people want Santa Fe to be rather than what it actually is for the people from here, that’s a problem.”