If a "memorial arts complex" sounds a bit more like a psychological condition than a mixed campus for cultural activities, that's because it only exists as fallout after many years of the arts organizations defending themselves from encroachment by the Bataan Memorial Museum and the state's Department of Military Affairs, which planned to cover the property with helicopters and heavy artillery. They had even insisted at one point that the James Turrell installation (finally on the verge of restoration after many shenanigans betwixt CCA, SITE Santa Fe and the Lannan Foundation) in the southwest corner of CCA's lot was, in fact, a historic munitions bunker. Finally, the last two years have seen the property transferred from Military Affairs to Cultural Affairs with that department's cabinet secretary, Stuart Ashman, and state Rep. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, working to secure 99-year leases for the arts organizations on site, as well as long-term security for the military museum (which, by the way, is well worth a visit. It can't help its land-grabbing lusts; it's an ingrained behavior).
To commemorate the groundbreaking, we were introduced to "the next president of the United States," who, surprise, turned out to be New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Donor Dr. Albert Waxman recently introduced Richardson in Florida and also is a benefactor to CCA; the new gallery is named for him and his wife. Richardson stood not far from where Steve Fitch's folksy neon "Radiation Pines" sculpture once enticed visitors toward the nightly feature at the Cinematheque, and made vague allusions to a time when he used to hang out there after losing his first attempt at public office. Really, though, it was a platform for a liberal Dem to sound off on his support for the military and New Mexico's once and future sacrifices to the ongoing necessity of war. Brig. Gen. Kenny Montoya, adjutant general for the New Mexico National Guard, was front and center. The whole transfer of the property and the resulting long-term leases and organizational stability could never have occurred without his blessing, and each speaker took a turn-I'm not sure what the phrase would be-carefully polishing his beret, we'll call it.
Secretary Ashman went so far as to admonish the press, which-typically, it turns out-had overhyped the danger to the cultural institutions during lease negotiations and demonized the military, who, in the end, are just a bunch of good guys laying their lives on the line so that the rest of us can be free enough to indulge ourselves in the pleasantries of arts and culture. Gee, and I thought we'd broken the news to a public with the right to know that some of the city's most beloved institutions were under threat of losing their leases and galvanized a groundswell of support that couldn't be ignored by the Legislature [Cover story, July 28, 2004: "CCA Under Siege"]. Ashman,
I guess, says, "to-mah-toe."
Still, the kissy-face message of the day was that the ultimate compromise was a good one and we can all live happily in détente, if not true peace. The level of board participation and support that CCA has garnered since securing its long-term facilities will be a tremendous asset to the community, and memorializing the complex on behalf of New Mexico's Bataan veterans is an important part of our state history to recall. As painful and drawn-out a process as it has been for CCA to get to the point where it's able to make the remarkable-if politically sycophantic and minorly corporate-strides that it has recently, I truly felt sorry for Gen. Montoya during the groundbreaking ceremony. Not only did he and his fellow representatives of Bataan have to endure the groundbreaking ceremony being a riff on a Shinto celebration (instead of involving rice wine, it featured a more regionally appropriate bottle of tequila. But the seal was never cracked, which, I suppose, is how you know the organization you're dealing with is all growed up.), but Montoya was bodily subjected to the two most priceless "off-camera" moments of the whole shenanigan.
One: A significant and regular CCA donor, who shall remain nameless, danced the kowtow, as she happily and vapidly exclaimed to the general, "Oh, but that's what the army is fighting for: Peace!" And, two: Internationally renowned video artist Woody Vasulka physically gripped the general in a close inspection of the patterning on Montoya's digitized camouflage and gave him the full 3-D critique as though he were a walking Nam June Paik installation. The general got the glory, but the frisky old artist had the last laugh.