In the 1880s, local historian James Ivey writes, an “unscrupulous group of Santa Fe businessmen” staged a bogus 350th anniversary “in an effort to boost tourism.”
Today’s civic leaders stand on more solid ground with their 400th anniversary plans, which commence Sept. 5 with a concert at Fort Marcy Park.
Yet this anniversary suffers from steadily dwindling expectations. Invited guests President Barack Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and King Juan Carlos I of Spain remain unconfirmed. It’s questionable if ticket sales and sponsorships will sustain two years of events.
“It’s a complete disaster,” Michael Moquin, a preservationist who has feuded with anniversary organizers, says.
The Santa Fe City Council didn’t begin preparations until 2004, with a resolution declaring that “since at least 1607, Santa Fe has survived valiantly…with Hispanics living side by side with the Pueblo Indians.”
As organizers played catch-up, Santa Fe’s “founding” year was pushed back to 1610. Later resolutions changed the “celebration” to a “commemoration”—an acknowledgement that, as historian David Weber writes, the colonists ruled with “force and fear.”
Last year, organizers told KOB-TV they needed at least $7 million. The city has contributed $794,000 to Santa Fe 400th Anniversary, Inc., a nonprofit established to run the events. The state contributed $350,000.
The nonprofit’s largest private donation came last week: $50,000 from Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company. Other donations have been closer to $1,000, Executive Director Libby Dover says. She refuses to provide the nonprofit’s operating balance. “We’re definitely going to have to fundraise more,” Dover says. “The economy’s tough on everybody.”
The nonprofit’s biggest expense is salary for six full-time staff members, Dover says. An outdoor cinema event will cost $60,000. An educational webcast will cost $250,000.
Contractors include Ballantines PR and the Los Angeles-based Sharpe Alliance.
One deal approved before Dover’s hiring raises questions about whether the city will get its bang for the buck.
In 2007, City Manager Galen Buller approved a $20,000 contract with La Herencia, a small quarterly historical magazine. It called for four articles of four pages each on the “genealogy of the fourteen founding families.” Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Keith Toler requested costs be split between the Santa Fe Civic Center and 400th Anniversary, Inc. “I said, ‘I can’t justify $20,000,’” Toler says.
Toler says he “inherited” the contract. “I tried to get out of it but couldn’t,” he says.
A 2006 City Council resolution sponsored by Councilors Matthew Ortiz and Patti Bushee declared La Herencia the “official” anniversary publication. Bushee says she does not recall the resolution. Ortiz, via email, defended the contract and resolution, writing: “I introduced, sponsored, and passed the resolution re: 400th b/c I’m proud of my culture and I’m proud that my family has been in s.f. for hundreds of years. I named la herencia w/in that resolution b/c la herencia is a local publication that has been promoting and highlighting the culture and people that derive from those settlers of sf/nm 400 years ago.”
Asked what else $20,000 might buy in advertising, Toler offered as an example Texas Monthly, a nationally acclaimed magazine with a circulation of 300,000; it charges the CVB $12,600 for a half-page color ad.
La Herencia Publisher Ana Pacheco put its circulation at 10,000 in an interview with New Mexico Business Weekly. Pacheco tells SFR she runs 5,000 additional copies for hotel distribution. La Herencia’s contract continues at $2,500 per issue, Dover says.
Whether or not the city overpaid, the advertorials’ focus on “founding families” underscores what critics call the anniversary’s colonialist bent. Last year, Santa Ana Pueblo Councilor Manuel Cristobal called for an anniversary boycott.
Though organizers have sought to mend fences, Moquin derides their efforts as seeking “token Native American representation.”
Five of 26 board members of 400th Anniversary, Inc. also serve on the Fiesta Council. Three proclaim indigenous affiliation, though it’s unclear how much they’re participating. Newly appointed board member Connie Tsosie Gaussoin, a Navajo artist, has been to one meeting so far. She joined at the invitation of Chairman Maurice Bonal. “We go way back,” Gaussoin says of Bonal.
Bonal did not return SFR’s messages.