There may never have been a more important time for Santa Fe to appoint a new city historian.
Valerie Rangel steps into the position at a key moment for the city, as it attempts to address public art and cultural woes through its newly minted Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth process, commonly known as CHART.
Though city historian is a role that’s been largely honorary and typically under the radar, Rangel, 44, said she sees the position evolving against the backdrop of simmering tensions over race, history and public monuments.
And despite the controversies, she said she’s ready to help unpack some of Santa Fe’s difficult history.
“I really wanted to tell hidden truths and share knowledge that should be known and uplift the voices of those communities,” she said.
Rangel, who came to New Mexico in 1999 and to Santa Fe in 2007, said she didn’t plan to participate as a facilitator in the upcoming conversations under the CHART umbrella but feels she has something to both add and gather from the process’ community engagement efforts.
There’s much to discuss: Emotions spilled over on Indigenous Peoples Day 2020, when a group of protestors pulled the Soldiers’ Monument — which has long drawn the ire of some Native Americans for a plaque that once included the words “savage Indians” — from its pedestal in the middle of the Plaza. That incident was preceded a few months earlier by a controversial decision to remove a statue of Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas from Cathedral Park.
The city has gone a little over a year without a historian. Andrew Lovato was last appointed to the position in 2018. Before him, Ana Pacheco held the role until 2017. It’s a two-year commitment, and pays $5,000 a year.
City Arts and Culture Department Director Pauline Kanako Kamiyama said if there had been a city historian around at the time the obelisk fell, his or her expertise would have been put to good use. But she added she didn’t want to put the pressure of addressing such a complex issue on one individual’s shoulders.
Kanako-Kamiyama said Rangel’s proposal to examine Santa Fe with a “bird’s-eye lens,” was “unique” and led to her selection.
With the role goes a personal project. Rangel said she intends to work with ArcGIS, a mapping and data visualization software, that will help create a story map that looks at the different layers of Santa Fe’s history, including its economic, spiritual, architectural and environmental background.
“I think in a visual format sometimes, and I think if I had something to offer, it’s not only in history but being creative as well,” Rangel said. “Providing hidden truths in an accessible manner, that is what I want to bring.”
She said CHART may help inform that project.
“I don’t have any control over the CHART process,” Rangel said. “But I do know what I can bring in my role as city historian, and that is a diversity of perspectives.”
Kanako Kamiyama said she expects Rangel to participate in CHART for the first year and gather information and provide feedback, before moving onto her mapping project, which would seem to tie together the threads of her background.
Rangel earned a university studies degree with a concentration on freshwater studies and cultural anthropology from the University of New Mexico, as well as a master’s degree in natural resources and environmental planning. She also worked as an archivist for the state Records Center and Archives.
Kanako Kamiyama said CHART, which many hope will result in a decision on what will replace the obelisk, is about a more complex set of issues than just monuments and public art — and will require open dialogue to help address a variety of concerns.
“It’s really about the sharing of our stories and how we define ‘our,’ ” Kanako Kamiyama said.
The process is expected to begin later this fall after a group of meeting facilitators are selected and trained. Last Thursday was the final day to submit applications to be a facilitator. The process is expected to last at least a year.
With the help of community participation, CHART is expected to result in a set of recommendations for the City Council on various cultural issues and topics, including monuments.
Rangel said she met with Artful Life Executive Director Valerie Martinez — who heads the group that will guide the CHART process — to discuss the yearlong plan for the effort. She’s offered her help but said she mostly plans to listen and learn.
“Equity can’t happen without justice,” Rangel said, “and in order for us to have a system level change, you really need to have an honest dialogue and that comes from an understanding of our lived experiences.”