Albuquerque-based Artful Life will facilitate a series of public discussions on controversial monuments in Santa Fe as part of a process that city officials hope will lead to reconciliation.
The City Council unanimously approved a contract with the organization late Wednesday, more than nine months after protesters toppled the Plaza obelisk during a demonstration on Indigenous Peoples Day.
”There are no safety rails to democracy,” Mayor Alan Webber said before the vote. “Democracy is an experiment that has to be proven every single day, and tested and affirmed every day. We do that by participating in this process, by proving that Santa Fe can rise to this occasion, the ways we’ve done in the past by putting our best selves forward.”
Webber spearheaded the Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth process, which will include public meetings, fact-finding and peer-to-peer feedback.
The framework is modeled after a similar process that took place in Albuquerque, though Artful Life had no role in that process.
Artful Life is led by Valerie Martinez, Santa Fe’s former poet laureate, and Jenice Gharib, grants program and policy director for New Mexico Arts, the state arts agency.
The group describes itself as an “organization dedicated to transformational change through the beauty and power of creative collaboration.”
Santa Fe has budgeted around $265,000 for the CHART process.
Members of the public raised concerns over Martinez’s claims of having Diné and Pueblo ancestry, but she said Wednesday she was not affiliated with any Indigenous groups.
Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler questioned Martinez about her involvement in the city’s decision to end the Entrada, a controversial pageant that commemorated the Spanish reclaiming Santa Fe from Native Americans in 1692.
Martinez said she became involved in that process after the decision was made to drop the Entrada.
Councilor Renee Villarreal raised questions about Martinez’s mother, who serves on the city’s Arts Commission, and any potential conflict of interest.
Pauline Kanako Kamiyama, director of the city’s Arts and Culture Department, said Martinez’s mother did not serve on the selection committee.
Councilor Michael Garcia raised questions about a meeting between Webber and Artful Life and the public perception of bias surrounding the selection process.
“This proposal has only created more division within our community, which is saddening,” Garcia said. “This is a process that should be bringing us together, but to hear people say things like, ‘Your voice is not being heard,’ it’s really having me question are we getting this process right.”
Webber said he reached out to Artful Life after the selection committee recommended the group facilitate the CHART process. He said he wanted to discuss how the group intended to introduce itself to the city and rebuked Garcia for what he said was an attempt to impugn his ethics.
”When you say we are giving the appearance of bias, there is no appearance of bias that took place,” Webber said. “What you are creating is the appearance of bias, rather than detecting it, and insofar as you attempt to impugn my integrity, I simply find that unacceptable.”
Councilor Signe Lindell said she didn’t see anything as being predetermined.
“I don’t know what we call success or failure and what the outcome of this is,” Lindell said. “Is this the right process? We don’t know, but we have identified this process, and it took a lot of time doing it, and I think it deserves our commitment to work as hard as we can at it to see where it does take us.”