The city of Santa Fe’s plan to address controversial monuments and other public art is finally getting off the ground more than a year after Mayor Alan Webber called for the review and nine months after the downtown Plaza’s centerpiece, an obelisk dedicated to Civil War soldiers, was toppled by protesters.
But the process known as CHART is already facing criticism, including over a consultant hired to lead the effort.
City councilors approved a $254,000 contract last week with the Albuquerque-based firm Artful Life to facilitate its Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth process, kicking off what is expected to be 10 months of group discussions.
Webber said about 300 people and organizations have signed up to participate, and he has reached out to other community organizations, including the Catholic clergy, the Spanish fraternal organization Caballeros De Vargas and the NAACP.
“There really is an open opportunity for folks to participate,” Webber said. “That is why I have been speaking to a broad cross section of Santa Fe. I have spoken to the leadership of the Caballeros, the leadership of the Fiesta Council. I think there is a lot of individuals and a lot of people in Santa Fe who want to see a unified community.”
Several community members raised concerns about comments made by Artful Life Founding Director Valerie Martinez about her Native American background during a City Council meeting Wednesday. Some of the critics argued Martinez’s characterization of her heritage gave a false impression of Indigenous representation.
Martinez, a Santa Fe native, has said she took a 23andMe DNA test that found she not only has Hispanic heritage but also Indigenous background on her mother’s side. She said she knew of the lineage before she took the test.
“I am mixed blood,” Martinez said. “This is who I am, as most people who are from New Mexico are.”
Martinez clarified during Wednesday’s meeting she has never claimed to be a part of any Indigenous community.
Carrie Wood, a member of the Santa Fe Indigenous Center’s board and the Navajo Nation, said during public comments at the meeting she had reached out to Martinez about the problem of using 23andMe results as a basis for her claim.
Wood said she’s been discussing the issue with her tribal government.
Karen Buller, chairwoman of the Santa Fe Indigenous Center board and a member of the Comanche Nation, said an interview Monday that Native American community members she has spoken with continue to take issue with Martinez’s comments characterizing her heritage.
Buller called the comments “odd,” but said she appreciated Martinez’s willingness to address the issue publicly.
“As far as the community, the Native American community wants our city officials and contractors to make an effort to hear us and understand us, and we don’t want people to insinuate they know what we think and know what we want,” Buller said.
Martinez said that kind of feedback was important to her and Artful Life.
The CHART process, based on a similar framework in Albuquerque, was approved in January to help the city address monuments after a year in which the Soldiers Monument on the Plaza was destroyed during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally, a Don Diego de Vargas statue was removed from Cathedral Park and efforts were made to remove an obelisk dedicated to Kit Carson that stands outside a federal building.
The destruction of the Soldiers Monument, which long had created controversy over an inscription dedicated to soldiers who died in battle with “savage Indians,” has faced legal pushback from Union Protectiva de Santa Fe, which bills itself as one of the oldest Spanish cultural organizations in the city.
The organization is suing the city of Santa Fe and Webber to force the monument’s reparation. In the meantime, the lawsuit calls for an injunction on any art at the Plaza until the lawsuit can be heard.
Union Protectiva de Santa Fe President Virgil Vigil declined to comment due to the lawsuit.
Jenice Gharib, Artful Life’s co-founder, said while the group doesn’t have an answer now, she expects dialogue to lead to some kind of solution for the obelisk.
“We do want the community to come up with ways to move forward,” Gharib said. “I think that is the first part, the truth. … It is dialogue. The second is reconciliation; take action.”
Ron Trujillo, who recently stepped down as president of the fraternal organization Caballeros DeVargas over a decision to send a letter to Webber requesting the return of the de Vargas statue, said he’s concerned about the end result CHART will bring.
“As much as they say they are going to do this or do that, in my opinion this is already a done deal,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo made an erroneous claim that Artful Life was involved in Albuquerque’s reconciliation process, which Martinez denied during Wednesday’s meeting.
Martinez also pushed back against a claim she was involved in the decision to end the Entrada at Fiesta de Santa. Martinez said she became involved in the process long after the decision was made to end the annual tradition, a reenactment of de Vargas’ reconquest of Santa Fe.
Webber said CHART’s outcome will be based on the community discussions.
“We are about to embark on a community dialogue, and its outcomes will be determined by the participation of the people from across our community,” Webber said.
Webber added he expects the conversation to include statues that may not exist yet as well as the ones that do.
“Where are the statues dedicated to farmers or teachers or nurses?” Webber questioned. “The ones dedicated to healers? So many are devoted to generals. People who won battles of some kind get a statue. But Santa Fe, the cultural interplay that is the source of our strength was really based on faith and family and farming and shared values.”
Webber added he hoped CHART would bring in more than just members of the Hispanic and Indigenous communities.
Martinez said Artful Life plans to issue an open call for CHART team members after the city’s agreement with the group is finalized.
She hopes to have the first official CHART event in September, she added.