One of the most popular tourist destinations on the Plaza is also the site of unresolved tensions between the Native American artists and the New Mexico History Museum.
Among vendors who sit in front of the Palace of the Governors with jewelry and crafts on display, one complaint keeps coming up: Access to the museum's bathrooms.
The recent rise in tensions stems from what fifth-generation vendor Maya Quintana says was a surprise announcement by the museum, which administers the program, that it had submitted suggested rule changes for the portal program to the museum's board of regents for review. The board is chosen by the governor's office.
The proposal includes stricter guidelines for assessing applicants' jewelry-making for admission to the program, including a provision that says applicants must demonstrate their craft in front of two members of a vendors group called the portal committee with whom they have no familial relations.
The proposed rules would also institutionalize penalties for particular acts, including sexual harassment and selling false merchandise.
"We found out in a committee meeting a little less [than] a month ago," says Quintana, who is from Zia Pueblo but now lives in Cochiti. "That's when [Seth MacFarland, portal program coordinator and museum operations director] brought it to our attention."
The board of regents that oversees the museum plans to hold a hearing on May 18 at the Jemez Historic Site, where Quintana says vendors will share their grievances with the board. In the meantime, she says, vendors have internally been suggesting "a bunch of revisions" to the proposed rules.
The group of vendors is also drafting a petition to submit to the board before the hearing. It asks for more vendor representation in portal program decisions and new protocols for how rule changes are proposed. Quintana declined to share a copy of the petition with SFR at publication time.
In an email, Department of Cultural Affairs spokeswoman Claudia Gallardo provided the following statement:
"The Department of Cultural Affairs and the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors have made a concerted effort to involve the Portal Committee in these changes since the changes were contemplated in the Spring of 2016. Specifically, the Committee members have received prior drafts of the proposed rule and have had an opportunity to provide their comments."
The statement Gallardo emailed to SFR said the department placed ads about "the notice of rulemaking" in the New Mexico Register, the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican about a month ago.
But Quintana said that vendors' proactive stance against the museum's unilateral decision to submit rule changes is inspiring some to voice other longstanding concerns, including what they see as a reluctance by the museum to grant access to museum facilities.
"Now with us standing up against the museum, the vendors are complaining that they're feeling like they're being threatened every time [they use the restroom] in the museum," she says.
Museum Director Andrew Wulf did not return several phone calls or a text message from SFR by publication time.
Portal Committee chairman and Navajo artist Michael Gorman says museum officials promised vendors around the time the New Mexico History Museum was opened in May 2009 that they would be permitted to use bathrooms and a lounge-like area where they could warm themselves in the winter, store items inside free lockers and use kitchen appliances such as a coffee maker.
None of this has come to fruition after nearly a decade, says Gorman. Instead, vendors who enter the museum to use the bathroom are required to sign a logbook that the museum says is for security purposes.
"A lot of people don't like when they go in, they have to sign the book," Gorman says. "I'm fine with [it]—I mean, I would expect that out of any public building, I don't think that's unreasonable, but some people don't like that [and] they feel it's some sort of infringement."
According to Eleanor Castro, owner of the Burrito Company restaurant on Washington Avenue a block away from the portal, vendors often visit her establishment to use the restroom. In a recent five-minute visit to the restaurant, SFR observed at least two vendors enter the restaurant solely to use the restroom.
Castro doesn't appear to mind. She says she enjoys a special relationship with the artists, for whom she has hosted Christmas parties over the last couple years.
"My bathroom is open to them, they get a discount [on food and beverages]. I have a party for them once a year. I cherish them; they're just hard-working people," Castro tells SFR. "I'll do anything for them."
But Gorman, who has been in a leadership position in the portal program for 20 years, says that vendors using the facilities of the Burrito Company and other downtown establishments are burdening them in a way that shouldn't be happening.
It's possible that the petition the committee submits to the board of regents will address bathrooms and other lingering issues.
"I think [the committee] probably wants to let the board of regents do their business before anything's decided on, because ultimately it's up to the regents."
If the regents vote in support of the rule changes, they could take effect in late June or early July at the earliest, according to the Cultural Affairs Department. They could also postpone a vote in order to incorporate comments from committee members and others.