A white plywood cube surrounds the base of the obelisk on the Santa Fe Plaza that's slated for removal due to its glorification of historical violence against Indigenous people.

Santa Fe employees built the temporary protective covering around the monument Thursday afternoon.

According to a news release sent out earlier that day, the structure will protect the monument from vandalism and will serve as the backdrop for a public art installation aimed at fostering "healing and dialog."

Community members and artists will paint city-sanctioned images and messages on the box on Wednesday, Santa Fe Parks and Recreation Director John Muñoz tells SFR.

"We want people to contact [the city] to share their ideas about hope, reconciliation and healing that will go up on the canvass around the obelisk," says Muñoz, who was at the Plaza pasting poems written by locals about the city onto the face of the box Thursday afternoon.

"We've spent so many years hurting each other, now is the time to come together and respect each other and this is one way," he adds.

The city's move to encase the monument in plywood comes days after someone vandalized the structure in the middle of the night, covering it in graffiti and damaging the marble surface that bears a racist inscription dedicated to soldiers who died fighting "savage Indians."

A poem pasted to the plywood box
A poem pasted to the plywood box

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber promised to move the monument off of the Plaza earlier this month in anticipation of a protest to demand its removal, though it is still unclear whether the city or state have the authority to take it down.

Both officials from the state Department of Indian Affairs and tribal leadership from nearby pueblos have expressed their approval of the removal of the obelisk, saying that it does not accurately represent the complexity of New Mexico's history or the experiences of the Pueblos and tribes, who suffered greatly at the hands of colonizers.

But the decision has also drawn backlash from people who fear that removing the monument will result in the erasure of Spanish colonial history and heritage.

One conservative online blog started a petition asking the city to reverse its decision to take the obelisk and other monuments dedicated to colonizers of the area, including a statue of conquistador Diego de Vargas Zapata y Luján Ponce de León y Contreras that the city quickly removed from Cathedral Park downtown, and an obelisk still located in front of the federal courthouse dedicated to Kit Carson.

Santa Fe Police Department late Thursday said "detectives suspect the damage that occurred on the Plaza Obelisk early Monday morning may be linked to the crimes committed at India Palace," a restaurant a few blocks away that was heavily vandalized the same night. Police have asked  for information about what is reportedly three suspects who were spray painting the monument just before 2 am Monday morning.

Santa Fe Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons involved in the vandalism of each location.

Tips can be submitted at santafecrimestoppers.org or by calling 505-955-5050.

Anyone with information is urged to call Crime Stoppers or Detective Ryan Romero at 505-955-5344.

The city's Historic District Review Board (HDRB) approved the decision to build protection around the obelisk on the Plaza at a meeting Tuesday.

"Santa Fe is a special place on Earth. Together we value our cultures and histories, and together we can determine where in history the obelisk will have its place," says a statement from the city, which invites "general public, local artists, poets and young people" interested in participating in the public art installation to contact the city's arts commission, with ideas.

Muñoz tells SFR participating artists will be expected to wear masks and follow all social distancing protocols.

People who are interested in participating in this public expression of hope and healing can reach  out to the Arts and Culture Department at: ArtsCommission@santafenm.