Regardless of the reason, eliminating a 1980s-era mural as part of the creation of a new, $12.5 million contemporary art museum in the Santa Fe Railyard doesn’t sit well.

The mural, Multi-Cultural, displays the original peoples of this area, its creation a gift of the Chicano Movement — when large-scale paintings in public spaces became places to display the stories of people often overlooked, whether Native or Hispano.

Muralist Gilberto Guzman — rightly a Santa Fe Living Treasure — led the project, with such noted artists as Frederico Vigil, David Bradley, Cassandra Mains, John Sandford, Rosemary Stearns, Linda Lomahaftewa and Zara Kriegstein joining in its creation.

To many in Santa Fe, removal of the mural is another step in the continuing gentrification of our town. A fancy art museum, named for the sorts of donors who have the money to fork over $4 million, hardly feels welcoming to many.

The mural belonged to locals. The museum will be for newcomers. That’s the unfortunate perception.

In this classic us-versus-them story, the state Department of Cultural Affairs has fallen short in explaining why the mural’s instability necessitates its removal. This evidently is less about aesthetics than about this reality: Outdoor murals disintegrate over time.

At a Historic Districts Review Board meeting last week, we learned that the mural has been recorded and its image will be projected on a blank wall once the museum is completed. That’s progress, but not nearly enough considering its iconic status and the loss of other murals, including ones at Nava Elementary School and City Hall.

The state should find a better way to honor the mural’s significance to our town. Among its images are a corn goddess, the Rio Grande Gorge, Indian frybread and Spanish armor, a complex representation of cultural interactions and civic pride.

Building a new museum to house contemporary art boosts the Railyard and Santa Fe — although we remain concerned about operating funds, considering the perennial cash shortfalls for museums. This one will function as an annex to the New Mexico Museum of Art on the Plaza, with the contemporary branch in the former Joseph Halpin State Records Center at the corner of Guadalupe and Montezuma streets.

Once the place where railroads carted in freight to be unloaded in warehouses, the Santa Fe Railyard has morphed into a space with galleries, shops, the farmers market and other attractions. The grit is gone.

A new museum focusing in contemporary works will further enrich the Railyard, with collaborations and partnerships possible among the galleries, Site Santa Fe and the just-relocated New Mexico School for the Arts. But all of that can happen without leaving a bad taste behind. Find ways to build this museum with the goodwill of the community — all of it.

The state did an admirable job of working with the Historic Districts Review Board to alter the museum’s original design, focusing on concerns about height, aesthetics and its place within a historic district.

Just as there was give and take in designing a building to house contemporary artworks appropriately, there can be more efforts to preserve this mural. Perhaps the wall cannot be saved, but something more permanent than a projection is possible. Consider a photograph as part of an exhibit explaining the history of building — including paying tribute to Halpin and his work — going back to the structure’s original function as a warehouse for Charles Ilfeld & Co.

More broadly, perhaps it is time to bring back the era of large public works projects to involve artists from this place, including training young people. In 2020, murals might not be the answer, but surely the Department of Cultural Affairs — headed by a local, Debra Garcia y Griego — and the city of Santa Fe could find collaborative projects to beautify the town while enhancing our sense of place. The Halpin mural could be re-created, too, another way of preserving an important piece of community art — is there a place in the Railyard where that would work, if not at the museum annex?

Retrace steps, bring in artists and community members, but don’t allow a mural depicting the original inhabitants to become an afterthought. When people stand up and say they are not being heard, listen. Take the time to get this right, because a museum celebrating art should not be the vehicle through which art is erased, and through that, a community left behind.

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(4) comments

Erin Currier

This is an EXCELLENT essay-- it lucidly articulates my own concerns when I first learned of the forthcoming contemporary art museum, and the pans to destroy the mural. That mural is as significant to the integrity of Santa Fe as the Plaza itself is; surely a skilled Urban Designer could incorporate the mural into the museum's design, and hire a team of skilled local muralists to restore and protect it.

To destroy that mural is criminal-- and moronic: ( akin to destroying the magnificent Tree in the courtyard of the Shed.). As a contemporary artist who exhibits at the Railyard, a lover of both contemporary museums AND murals, I implore: Please Save that Mural!!!

Erin Currier

Nicoletta Munroe

Let us return to the inception of this state project. The New Mexico Museum of Art proposed incorporating the Halpin building to be a storage space. Then, the idea of a two-story contemporary art building emerged. We have lost the thread of the inception of the project. Perhaps a one-story art space will honor the project. The mural may be restored by the original artists, or re-contextualized in the creation of a new mural. Why is the museum not invested in a mural within the project?

Ultimately, the historic district benefits if the original Territorial building is saved.

The historic landmark, the Sanbusco center, is now covered in plastic siding in disregard of its original context, texture, and historic status. The neighborhood is suffering because of the loss of the Sanbusco center as an anchor building. The proposed two-story building Valdem contemporary will place a shadow on the adjacent properties and further erode the stability of the historic district. The situation is a case of cultural genocide.

William Craig

The editorial writers should read the paper’s own corrections. The editorial states: “... we learned that the mural has been recorded and its image will be projected on a blank wall once the museum is completed.”

The original Friday story stated in its final paragraph: “She [Biedscheid] said the state’s design team plans to honor the mural by projecting it onto a blank wall.”

The current web version states: “She said the state’s design team has said it is considering honoring the mural by projecting it onto a blank wall.”

This is followed by an appended correction that states: “... the earlier story incorrectly reported that city Historic Districts Review Board member Jennifer Biedscheid said the state government’s design team for the museum plans to honor [the] mural by projecting it onto a wall. The idea is only a recommendation. The errors were made in editing.”

Later the editorial states: “Building a new museum to house contemporary art boosts the Railyard and Santa Fe ...” Actually the construction would cause a quite a bit of disruption in a very congested neighborhood. Moviegoers at the Jean Cocteau would be subjected to noise and vibrations (the bad kind), and people would have even more trouble accessing the train station and its little visitor info office.

The arrival of the NM School for the Arts a block away shows that the Railyard is ready for its close-up as a vibrant, lively arts/entertainment district (think Violet Crown, Cowgirl, etc.) — the Vladem’s sterile big box looming over it would have a deadening effect.

Why not build it on Museum Hill? There are already multiple state-owned museums there, with plenty of room for more. Or would the neighbors in the nearby mansions cry NIMBY?

William Schmitt

People must understand that outdoor murals are painted with the understanding that they are temporary and will disintegrate over time, The muralists themselves understand this. If a wall is designated as a place for a mural and it's understood that the work will last only for a period of time, then thinking long term, provisions could be made to replace the work with new work after a designated period of time. If the public understands that murals are a work in progress and the image will change over time, like the graffiti murals around town, then the emotional attachment will not be to a specific image but to the process. Change happens. Anticipate it. I suggest that Vladem designate the wall as a mural wall and hire a new generation of Chicano or local artists to paint a new mural. Good for the community who want a mural, good for the artists who need work, good for a new member of the community becoming a good member of the community. Look for the win win.

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