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Looking Back, Looking Forward

June 16, 2009, 12:00 am

Over the past several weeks, I took a break from reading online stories about the death of newspapers and got my hands dirty—newsprint dirty. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Reporter’s basement, where we archive all the issues of the paper published since it began in 1974.

The basement isn’t just filled with old newspapers—it also has numerous binders of photo negatives and filing cabinets filled with government documents, press releases and random pieces of paper some paper saver (ahem) couldn’t bear to throw away (I actually spotted my folder-filled filing cabinet, circa 1998, while I was down there…I’d been wondering where it had gotten to).

When we started working on the Reporter’s 35th anniversary issue, the notion of looking through 35 years worth of papers seemed daunting and possibly overkill. But once I started, it was hard to stop reading. Through all its various incarnations, the Reporter has always been an active voice and investigator of the contemporary issues that have defined Santa Fe—from politics to water to development to prison reform to the arts—and the list goes on.

What really struck me, though, was how present the personality of Santa Fe has been in the pages of this paper over the years. So it seemed fitting that our anniversary issue solicit views on the last 3½ decades from the people who call this city home and have helped shape its identity. In the following pages, State Historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez, Mayor David Coss, writer George Johnson, gallery owner Linda Durham and literary maven Ellen Bradbury Reid answer the question I posed to them: “What was the most important thing to happen in Santa Fe over the last 35 years?”

I posed that same question in an online survey (something that couldn’t have been done back in 1974) and received a flood of responses from Santa Feans from all corners of our community. Some of their answers also are included in this issue, as are their online responses to the gambit to envision what Santa Fe will be like 35 years from now.

Santa Fe in 2044 garnered a variety of ideas, from the utopian to the apocalyptic (graphically illustrated by local talent Danny Green). Either way, I hope—and believe—the Reporter will be part of the mix—newsprint or not.
—Julia Goldberg, Editor

Slideshow of select covers through the past 35 years

What’s the most important thing to happen in Santa Fe in the last 35 years?

By Estevan Rael-Gálvez
New Mexico State Historian

As the State Historian of New Mexico, I appreciate this opportunity to help celebrate the Santa Fe Reporter’s anniversary and, in doing so, reflect about the past 35 years. History is not static; it is instead a vibrant process and, between 1974 and 2009, countless events have occurred, all of which have shaped Santa Fe in both small and large ways. Even in these contemporary years, Santa Fe continues to be profoundly shaped by ancient and deeply traditional communities, and their histories and experiences, and yet Santa Fe also shapes and is shaped by regional, national and global events and politics.

Presidential politics in the past 35 years help us to reflect on the two poles in this chronology. On the one end, in 1974, the Watergate scandal resulted in President Nixon resigning from the Office of the President. At the other end, in 2009, President Barack Obama is elected the first African American President of the United States. The presence of New Mexico’s own Gov. Bill Richardson in this historical presidential race also shifted the political paradigm, and raised the spotlight and visibility of New Mexico to an entirely new standard.

Although shaped by the nation and the globe, politics is also always local and pivotal moments define it in time. The 1994 election of Mayor Debbie Jaramillo as the first woman mayor of the City of Santa Fe, stands out as an important moment in history. While the administration of Mayor Debbie Jaramillo was certainly defined by controversy and deeply divided politics, where gender, class and race all held meaning, her contributions are often overlooked. That we can now enjoy the benefits of the Railyard District is due in large part to a vision and goal initiated by Mayor Jaramillo.

The 1980 Prison Riot also stands out during this era, not only as one of the most difficult moments in New Mexican history, but as one of the deadliest prison riots in US history. In the 36 hours that defined that riot, 12 officers were held hostage, some of them beaten, stabbed and sodomized. Thirty-three inmates died at the hands of fellow prisoners, some of the victims were tortured and their bodies mutilated. At least 90 other inmates were seriously injured in the riot, suffering from drug overdoses or beatings, stabbings and rapes inflicted by other convicts. The results and lessons of this riot were not just local, but had an effect upon prison reform nationally.

Presidential and mayoral politics aside, and even tragedy and the resulting prison reform aside, I think that the most important thing to have happened in Santa Fe in the past 35 years was the tribal consultation process that evolved out of the plan to build the Santa Fe Convention Center. In many ways, the question at the heart of the matter was: “who owns the past,” a question that has long defined the undercurrents of Santa Fe politics and culture. Government to government, tribal officials met with city officials and, while unbelievably challenging, the process ended with a precedent-setting agreement between the Pueblo of Tesuque and the City of Santa Fe. One Maori scholar remarked to me that what happened there, at that time, set a new standard of cooperation and respect internationally.


The Arts
By Linda Durham
Owner of Linda Durham Contemporary Art

All the truly great and significant things that have occurred in Santa Fe in the past 35 years are directly or indirectly related to the Arts! That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it!

Here’s a partial, off-the-top-of-my-head list to prove my view: The ever-burgeoning population of artists and artisans—most of whom were/are drawn to this city because of the incredible light and space as well as the vital, artistic and diverse citizenry…a plethora of good galleries…the opera…the Chamber Music Festival (with more than a nod to the years of remarkable O’Keeffe posters)…SITE Santa Fe…Warehouse 21…Center for Contemporary Arts (in all its various incarnations)…the new and improved Lensic…the Lannan Foundation (I’d like to list them twice because I believe their contribution to the health of Santa Fe’s cultural community has been and continues to be enormous) and so…the Lannan Foundation…and, oh, the Santa Fe Art Institute and THE magazine and the Reporter (and I’m not just saying that because I’m tapping out these last minute words for the aforementioned) and so I must mention Pasatiempo...and the culinary arts and the strong and brilliant film community and the poets and writers who read, write and recite here…and the museums…The Folk Art Festival…Indian Market, Spanish Market…bookstores…National Dance Institute of New Mexico…I’m writing these in no particular order and I’ve missed my deadline and, before turning this in to the editor, I want to point out that all of us who live in Santa Fe are positively affected by the art that surrounds us and delights our senses.

We benefit from the Arts—no matter who we are. We are nurtured by the creativity that wafts through the air as we drive, bike, saunter, hike and wander through the streets, canyons, arroyos and barrios of this old town, this great old town! I celebrate all the artists who have built and are building our special city. More than anything, they make it a great place to live!

By Ellen Bradbury Reid
Director of Recursos de Santa Fe

What is the most important thing that happened on the Literary Scene in the past 35 years…? In a small town with big writers like Cormac McCarthy, Pen LaFarge, Natalie Goldberg, Bill deBuys, Bob Shacochis, Fred Turner, Marcia Southwick, Doug Preston, Evan Connell, Sallie Bingham, Kirk Ellis, John Adams, Hampton Sides and who knows who else hiding away under the deep portal of some secluded adobe...most important? That is a tough question.

Santa Fe doesn’t make a big deal of our literary heritage, but it should be better known.

If you want to learn about the distinguished past, Lynn Cline has written a literary history of Santa Fe, and Barbara Harrelson has a great literary walking tour just to get the big background. Music and art currently have the brighter spotlight, but the writers just keep on writing.

We have a town of writers and readers, so many book groups, readings, bookstores like Collected Works and Garcia Street, as well as Borders and the many wonderful used book stores, Nick Potter who has sold books here for almost 400 years...most important literary event? And there is a strong collection of fine small presses: Twin Palms, the venerable Place Press, independent Sunstone and the handmade book-making groups—they love the printed word.

We are blessed by two foundations concerned with literature: the Lannan Foundation and the Witter Bynner Foundation. Recursos de Santa Fe has kept the Southwest Literary Center producing annual writers’ conferences; the Santa Fe Art Institute hosts writers; the Santa Fe Short Story Festival has risen and fallen and may yet rise again. It’s a lot of riches for a smallish town.

However, the most important single force might be the Lannan Foundation. How many places get to hear the amazing selection of authors that come here as a result of this extraordinary program?  The town fills the seats of the Lensic, no problem. We hear internationally known authors read to us, how wonderful, how lucky, how important.


The River
By David Coss
Mayor of Santa Fe

In the 1970s, we were killing the Santa Fe River and didn’t even know it. The Santa Fe River—a resource that had provided joy and sustenance for centuries—was mostly ignored or treated as a problem by post-WWII engineering and development practices. To meet the community’s needs for water, we dammed the river and drilled wells with no thought about conservation. While depleting the flow and the aquifer, we channeled our river so that development could crowd ever closer to its banks. We paved giant parking lots for new malls and directed pollution toward the river. As the water table dropped, the Santa Fe River eroded over 25 feet and nearly disappeared from view.

Luckily, the river was not forgotten by all. Through the ’80s and ’90s, small groups of residents worked and lobbied to restore it. Though a living river was often dismissed as a pipe dream, activists who believed in the cultural, ecological and historical importance of the Santa Fe River kept working. A master plan was developed, the Santa Fe Watershed Association was formed, and federal, state and local governments came together to study and improve the river and surrounding watershed.

Today, a growing number of residents, businesses and community organizations are coming together to address the challenge of reviving a living river. The Santa Fe Watershed has partnered with local businesses to clean and maintain sections of the river. The City of Santa Fe hired a River and Watershed coordinator and reinstated the River Commission. We have contracted with ¡YouthWorks! on erosion control projects, helping young people not only respect and protect the environment in which they live, but also develop job skills that will help them succeed in the future. A new segment of the River Trail was recently completed, and this summer we will begin river channel restoration and trail construction from the Camino Alire Bridge to Frenchy’s Park. Meanwhile, hundreds of people participate in river clean-ups and festivals.

Furthermore, we have taken the step of becoming the first city in the state to set aside water for flow and the creation of a living river in town; in 2009, we will release 700 acre-feet into the river and plan to keep a minimum flow through the summer months.

I am incredibly proud to be mayor at a time when residents are not only conscious, but accepting of the challenge of leaving a sustainable city to future generations. Thanks to the people of Santa Fe, the river is no longer dying. It is returning as a valued community resource, which will connect our community and serve as an indicator not only of the state of our watershed but also the health of our entire city.

By George Johnson
Editor of The Santa Fe Review

Around the time the Reporter opened shop, Santa Fe struck a fateful deal with the Bureau of Reclamation, builder of the nation’s dams. In the past, the town had been contained in size by the water it could sip from the Santa Fe River and the aquifer below. Suddenly we had the potential to approximately double the supply—pumping our share of water from the San Juan-Chama Project 1,700 feet uphill from the Buckman well field on the Rio Grande.

This extra water could have been reserved for conservation, supplementing the Santa Fe River in drier years. Instead it went to development. Santa Fe grew southward and westward, wherever geography allowed. It also grew inward. Like a toenail. Lot splits were approved one after the other, increasing the density, the traffic, the strain on city services. What had been a quiet backwater was becoming a small city, floating on imported water.

The momentum was unstoppable, and before long the new water was all but spent. Stressed to the limit, the Buckman well field was never as productive as anticipated. To support the expanding population, the Santa Fe River was tapped dry. A visiting travel writer mistook it for an arroyo.

There are hints of saner days to come. For all the money and energy it will devour, the Buckman diversion dam and filtration plant, now under construction, will skim Santa Fe’s San Juan-Chama water directly from the Rio Grande, relieving some of the strain on the wells. This spring the city finally began managing the Santa Fe River with the aim of maintaining a seasonal flow.

But I wonder how long that will last.

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