Making the Santa Fe Plaza more attractive before the summer season should be a no-brainer.
Yet so little in Santa Fe can be accomplished quickly or without controversy. Perhaps it’s because city leaders wait until the last minute to act.
To be plain, the city should make no permanent changes to the center of the Plaza — where the plain white box covering the obliterated obelisk sits — without a robust community conversation.
That’s because the destruction of the obelisk during what was supposed to be a peaceful gathering on Indigenous Peoples Day in October created a wound that is too fresh and too deep. However, the pace of discussion about what to do next is maddening. The launch of the Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth process to determine not just what happens on the Plaza but across the city has been sluggish at best.
There seems little sense of urgency or immediacy to bringing groups together to begin healing and to consider how Santa Fe wants to tell its story through public art and monuments. What’s so maddening about the foot-dragging is that such process-process-process dawdling might have led to the ugly events that led to the obelisk’s destruction in the first place.
The city hasn’t even hired a team to oversee the process, so we question whether any progress is near.
However, what to do in the heart of the Plaza is a separate discussion from whether we can make the center a more beautiful space right now.
Evidently, removing the base is an expensive and time-consuming process — an open space, with plenty of room for dancing, was our first choice for a temporary solution. But that’s just one thought.
To come up with ideas, the city of Santa Fe Arts Commission will discuss Thursday placing a temporary art installation by the monument. Pauline Kanako Kamiyama, director of the city Arts and Culture Department, says the commission has been asked to form a recommendation on some sort of art to surround the monument.
Call us crazy, but we are in the middle of May, and we think something should have happened by now. Memorial Day is less than two weeks away. That’s the traditional beginning of summer. The monument was destroyed in October, which means more than six months have passed without creating discernible movement, let alone finding a temporary fix. Now the commission must find a solution, recommend it and get the thing in place in time for summer.
Leaving the stump of the monument under a plain box is hardly desirable.
Planning a project at the last minute makes it likely that, in the end, nothing will be done. The City Council evidently has not been part of the conversation yet, and some councilors want their say on what happens in the space. And though council involvement is hardly a guarantee for action — it’s often easier to simply blame the administration — how can their input be considered in time for the installation to be up for the summer?
What’s more, Kanako Kamiyama said the new consultant team, once selected, would be in charge of the temporary installation.
A better idea: The city has an Arts and Culture Department, with Kanako Kamiyama as its director. The city has an Arts Commission. For a temporary installation, the people charged with public art shouldn’t need an outside, costly consultant.
Finally, here’s a suggestion to avoid another agonizing, ugly discussion. It even could bypass the commission.
Cover the box with flowers — a vertical garden is seasonal, appealing and would eliminate the starkness of the ugly box. It doesn’t take a huge debate, with councilors weighing in or various activists groups showing umbrage, to plant flowers. We don’t recall hours spent discussing the hanging baskets, one of the most gorgeous additions to the Plaza in years. On a trellis, put native plants and annuals, and top it off with a big pot of something blazing with red, blue, green, purple and yellow on the top.
Someday, some year, perhaps some decade, the conversation will begin on what to do to replace, repair or otherwise improve the site of the fallen obelisk. Someday, some year, perhaps some decade, a decision will be made. Clearly, that day is not today. Meanwhile, summer is almost here. The Plaza is open as the pandemic eases. Make it beautiful. This should not be controversial.