Santa Fe's city government exists to do a lot of things.
Curating a large art collection isn't something many of its citizens—or its staff—might have expected.
In 2009, the city bought the campus of the soon-to-close College of Santa Fe. The deal was a lock, stock and barrel purchase that included the Fogelson Library and all of its contents. As a result, the city now owns the Beaumont Newhall collection: 2,000 pieces of art from prints to paintings to pictures and pots.
With last year's closure of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and no educational partner in place, curating an art collection is exactly what's needed.
Wednesday night, the City Council approved a resolution that lets the city begin to loan out much of the collection to local nonprofit galleries, opening up the art to a new set of eyes.
"I think it's a rare situation. It wasn't necessarily a primary consideration when the city bought the land in 2009," Rod Lambert tells SFR. He manages the Community Gallery at the convention center and has been with the city's Arts Commission for more than a decade.
"Every object in that collection tells a story," he says.
Lambert explains that the biggest priority for Santa Fe is to ensure everything in the collection is secure from theft, loss or damage. The city has software to track the entire inventory, and has done so at least twice since buying the property, as well as a couple of other spot checks on smaller parts of the collection.
"Right now they're just not being used. They were intended for academic purposes, to let the public and students study them," Lambert says.
That changes with Wednesday's Council vote.
"There's been several organizations we've spoken with regarding different parts of the collection," Lambert explains. And while nothing solid has been inked, it's likely space can be found inside of a month for some of the art, according to a memo from former Arts Commission director Debra Garcia y Griego.
Lambert says a handful of fiber arts pieces that were on display for a late summer exhibition of the collection have been temporarily lent to the Folk Art Museum, but the resolution provides the lever he needs to move forward with loans.
The city plans to keep the collection in local spaces, and they'll be evaluated in terms of space, security and staff expertise. The measure lets the city recall the art for any reason during the term of any loans it might sign.
The collection includes photography curated by former SFUAD professor David Scheinbaum, as well as a large assemblage of prehistoric ceramics.
Lambert is especially taken with the collection's monotypes, which are printed works that were largely produced during the College of Santa Fe era. The school held "monothons" that began as 24-hour events in the printing department. They benefitted printmaking students at the college. Artists would essentially rent the print shop by the hour and work with a master printmaker to create artwork.
The college would select one print from each session, Lambert says, and auction it off at the end of the event to raise money. It also kept unsold works, amassing a collection of several hundred monotypes. As the event grew to a weekend, then three or four days, the college's collection grew.
"I learned a lot when we did the monotype show. I could talk for a day," he laughs.
There's not much intrinsic value to the pieces, maybe a few hundred dollars each, but Lambert says the collection tells a vital part of Santa Fe's story. City Council chambers are currently adorned with more than a dozen framed monotypes.
"We used to be a works-on-paper town," Lambert says. "They're all one-of-a-kind."