The New Mexico History Museum's new director has already been on the job since May 2019, but now it's official: As of last week, the Department of Cultural Affairs dropped the "interim" from in front of Billy Garrett's job title. Garrett oversees daily operations at the museum and at its other sites, the Palace of the Governors, Palace Press, Fray Angelico Chavez History Library, Palace Photo Archives and Portal Native American Artisans Program. SFR first met Garrett, a retired National Parks Service worker, when he ran for lieutenant governor in the last general election. We were happy to visit with him again to chat about the future for the history museum. (Julie Ann Grimm)
What are your short-term and long-term strategies today that will matter most to the people of New Mexico?
We are installing more exhibitions. We are getting exhibitions in the museum on a regular rotating basis and the short-term is really something that has been accomplished effective today. We had the Herzstein gallery in the Domenici Building, the new part of the history building, was closed for more than a year, and we have a new exhibition in that space that is a really great exhibition. So being able to start getting some new exhibitions in the museum as a whole, I think, is really important. On the longer perspective, the next really big challenge we have is to finish the rehabilitation of the Palace of the Governors so we can start getting exhibitions and activity back into that building. I say that with a bit of an asterisk because we are going to allow programs in the building and have tours, so long as we can do that while working around construction activity.
The target date for its reopening seems to keep shifting. What is going on at the Palace of the Governors?
The short answer is we don't have the funding to do all the work that needs to be done so we are in the process of assessing where we are and in the process of getting that funding. This is absolutely going to be phased. We are moving forward as we have money to continue the work. An important part of this is that we are done with a lot of the work that would have kept people out of the building. So we can now allow tours and whenever I have the opportunity to make sure the building can be open for people, we are going to do that… We had Christmas at the Palace… People loved it and we opened up some ad space for musical venues. We had four going on at the same time.
You served as a county commissioner in Doña Ana County but you moved to Santa Fe at some point. How does that geographical change inform your work?
I grew up in Las Cruces and then was fortunate to have a career with the National Park Service where I worked all over the country and then returned to Las Cruces. And the work I was doing as county commissioner, you are connecting with other counties and the work being done at state government. So, I developed a very good sense of what New Mexico is as a whole. …As somebody from the south and the position I have now, I really want to be able to make sure this museum, as we put together exhibits and programs, we think about both audiences—people coming from other parts of the state to some degree want to see themselves in the exhibitions and hear about what they are doing too…I have always loved the north. And I have a deep love of my own homeland in the south.