It is largely agreed that Santa Fe is in a bit of a bubble. Not so much a housing bubble as a boy in a bubble—not that we’d want to compare Santa Fe with John Travolta. But, as a city only loosely tethered to Earth, it often seems that the big economic and cultural factors that batter the rest of the country fail to penetrate, or they settle here only lightly and after plenty of warning.
This theory is set to be tested as our trickle-down economy continues to pour out more bum luck than prosperity. We may not be a company town, but we are still stuck with a tourist economy and, in 2009, it seems certain that the brunt of thinning wallets will be felt with even more ferocity than it was in 2008.
At the heart of tourism in Santa Fe is the culture industry, and it remains to be seen how bad the sting will hurt.
The past year, after all, has been an energetic and explosive one in the annals of art in Santa Fe. It was a biennial year for contemporary juggernaut SITE Santa Fe, whose curator Lance Fung’s energetic exhibition of emerging-artist works spanned the city limits and beyond with bizarre constructions, bright lights and conceptual projects. Art Santa Fe, the international contemporary art fair that began in 1995, went to an annual, rather than biennial, format and had its largest attendance ever in July. Both events took place adjacent to the new Railyard Park, itself now a bona fide architectural attraction. The new Warehouse 21 teen arts center opened in the heart of the Railyard.
At the commercial end of the Railyard development, contemporary galleries continued to join Railyard pioneer James Kelly. In addition to earlier adopters, such as Gebert Contemporary and Box, Evo, William Siegal, Ursa and Tai galleries, Zane Bennett Contemporary Art completed an ambitious, historical renovation across Guadalupe Street, and LewAllen Contemporary began construction on a Railyard home of its own, complete with a rooftop sculpture garden.
Not far away, on Agua Fria Street, the Santa Fe Complex opened its doors and began to stir a brew of science and art. So far the science has been much better than the art, but a recent contract with the City of Santa Fe should provide sufficient support to get the mix right over the next three years. In the meantime, the complex provides a compelling petri dish where slack-jawed teens with emo hairdos and skateboard fetishes can comingle with illustrious theoreticians.
On the alternative-venue side of things, Underground caved in, but The Humble, The Process and Meow Wolf
. Salon Mar Graff, at this point, exists on its own turf between established gallery and renegade art space (and private house party/deluxe dining experience). Keeping it real on Canyon Road, where much of the work is less of a stimulant and more of a powerful sleeping pill in visual form, Cruz Gallery hosted a slew of inventive exhibitions. Cruz also wins best opening food fare for the year for its consistent run of alarmingly spectacular indulgences, including the combination of posole and cheese puffs served at its last opening.
The city itself hosted the first conference on cultural tourism, importing its partners from UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network and several other municipalities to meditate on what it means to encourage a thriving culture industry.
Also of note, Jackie M, Education and Public Programs director for the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, traveled to Washington DC, where First Lady Laura Bush presented her with the Coming Up Taller Award, in recognition of the museum’s Art & Leadership Program for Girls and Boys. The program aims to demonstrate that art is just as valid a path to becoming a community leader as are the more traditional avenues of politics and sports. Shiann Gonzales, a participant and 7th grader from Ortiz Middle School, accompanied Jackie M on the trip to receive the award from Bush as part of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
A rosy year indeed, but next year depends on how impermeable Santa Fe’s bubble really is. The mighty Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles spent the autumn in free fall, no better off than Chrysler, and it appears to be a harbinger of what’s to come as foundations and charitable trusts see their assets shrink.
There are degrees of luxury, even in charity. Giving to arts organizations is more indulgent than giving to health services, shelters, food banks, etc. Galleries have tough times ahead and nonprofits have even tougher times. The prospect of a new global renaissance lingers on the horizon—perhaps the crumbling economy can rearrange values and a new New Deal can include a new WPA—but it is hard to ignore the possibility that those dancing palms are only a mirage.
If anyone out there was thinking of giving me a Christmas present, consider helping out an organization in need instead.