A representative from the New Mexico History Museum's Board of Regents announced at a public hearing Friday that the comment period for proposed rule changes to the the Palace of the Governors portal vendor program has been extended from May 18 to Nov. 1.

The reason for the change, according to Regent Joe Thompson, is to provide more time for public input on the rule changes, which have been received poorly by artists in the program.

"We're leaving the rule-making record open until Nov. 1, 2018," Thompson said, prompting applause from the room of several dozen people in the Bataan Memorial Building. "I encourage anyone wishing to provide written comment to do so until then."

The proposed rules, which are accessible on the homepage of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs' website, include stricter guidelines for assessing applicants' jewelry-making for admission to the program, including a requirement for applicants to demonstrate their craft in front of two members of a vendors group called the portal committee with whom they have no familial relations.

The rules would also institutionalize penalties for particular acts, including sexual harassment and selling false merchandise, that range from a few days suspension to termination from the program.

Several of the artists who spoke in the first hour of the public hearing on April 6 voiced concern with what they characterized as the museum’s poor outreach efforts to discuss the contemplated rule changes.

“Some rules need to be changed,” said artist Elizabeth Tapia, but she said those changes should happen internally among the artists, and not handed down from the state. “Please leave our program alone. Let us do it.”

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Members of the public attended a meeting about proposed rule changes to the portal artists program. | Aaron Cantú

Some commentators referenced a provision in the proposal that would give the museum’s director the ability to close nominations for portal committee officers at the director’s discretion. The committee is composed of artists and makes various decisions on all artists’ behalf.

“We don’t need outside influence, we can handle it ourselves; we don’t need to be running [things] by the museum,” said Lajun Chavez, an artist from Santo Domingo Pueblo. “Everything is trying to be taken away from us, everything, and we have to constantly fight back.”

Rosaly Torres from Jemez Pueblo said she wanted more “support” from the museum, including better channels of communication. “I would appreciate if museum people could work with us too, and let us know what’s going on, instead of working behind our backs.”

The need for better communication was a theme others touched on. Ray Garcia, an artist from San Felipe Pueblo, recommended the museum create a digital forum, such as a group email chain, where artists could instantly be in communication with each other and the museum.

"It's important for the state and Cultural Affairs Department to have time to meet with [portal committee members] from time to time, maybe semi-annual meetings, so they can learn [about] the hardship we go through as artists," he said.

Last week, the Cultural Affairs department emailed the following statement to SFR:

"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 says the Cultural Affairs department won't comment further on the proposed rule changes until after the rule making process is complete.