$575 is the cost of a handcrafted glass-top table by native New Mexican Miguel Chavez.
$735 is the cost of a manufactured New Mexico-style lamp table by Mississippi-based TS Berry furniture company.
"We are excited to announce our licensing partnership with the Museum of New Mexico…The warmth of the finely distressed finishes and designs are grounded in history and connect us with our past."—TS Berry catalog copy
Since 1998, the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, a nonprofit adjunct of the state-run museum, has licensed companies the right to use the museum logo on products “inspired” by its collection.
For nearly as long, Santa Fe City Councilor Miguel Chavez, who also is a small-scale New Mexican woodworker, has protested the practice on the grounds that it allows the museum and out-of-state manufacturers to profit from mass-produced knockoffs of historic New Mexican furniture.
“This seems to me like it’s reverse economic development,” Chavez says.
This month, Chavez was incensed when the city Economic Development Department’s $35,000 grant to the Museum of New Mexico Foundation helped subsidize a “business building” seminar by the foundation held at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. The seminar featured furniture designer Scott Jensen of TS Berry; John Palmer, president of King Hickory Furniture in North Carolina; New York City marketer Anne Martin; and “professional blogger” Britt Bravo from California.
“We’re struggling to stay here, and they get paid to come spend the weekend and tell us more or less what we already know,” Chavez says. “I’m beside myself.”
Museum and city officials defend the arrangement.
“We had some of the leading people in the country here for people to listen to and talk with after their presentations. We had in-depth presentations on licensing. It was exactly what Councilor Chavez had spoken to me about,” the foundation’s executive director, Thomas Aageson, writes to SFR.
City Housing and Community Development Director Kathy McCormick says the seminar was intended to teach local artists how to market their work online and notes to SFR, via email, that “this contract is in keeping with the priority established for arts and culture in the Economic Development Plan.”
Chavez says museum licensing is redundant for those making authentic New Mexican furniture.
Aageson says the seminar was a sellout, with more than 250 in attendance. Chavez was not among them.