Two local art groups, Three Sisters Collective and the Alas de Agua Art Collective, received nearly $100,000 to install 12 murals across Santa Fe—with a side dish of youth education—to highlight Indigenous culture and environmental issues.

The money is divided equally between the two groups, and each plans to create six murals. The grant funds can be used to compensate the artists as well as for art supplies and anything directly related to the project.

The Mural Arts Institute, an arm of Mural Arts Philadelphia, awards this chunk of money to only three grantees in the country for an extensive project that spans two years. (It's the nation's largest public art program, according to its website.)

The collectives intend the murals to address Santa Fe's history of colonialism, cultural erasure and environmental racism. The money comes from the institute's Art & Environment Initiative, which specifically helps local organizations address environmental topics in their area.

The two collectives meet regularly with the Mural Arts Institute and the other two grantees based in Texas and California to work together on each plan.

In Santa Fe, artwork will depict Indigenous iconography around the importance of water, medicinal flora and fauna used by Native people and traditional farming practices as a way to teach local history and spark discussions about current environmental issues.

The collectives' vision goes well beyond the grant's requirement of one completed art installation at the end of the two years. Christina M Castro of the Three Sisters Collective tells SFR she plans to set up a tour of the 12 murals once they're done.

"I really want to create a curriculum around each mural that highlights the original inhabitants of O'gha Po'Oghe, Santa Fe," Castro says. "Placemaking is really important to me and I think that's something that needs to be highlighted, is placemaking the people that built this city…This could be a great field trip, to come to each location of our murals and with a lesson embedded, whether it's about environmental issues or local herbs, maybe even an honor system herb garden, which is something that we've even talked about with regard to what will replace…the obelisk in the Plaza."

O'gha Po'Oghe is the Tewa name for Santa Fe.

Exactly where the murals will go is still up in the air. The collective is looking for both private and city walls to host the future murals, but Castro tells SFR she would like the project to have more access to downtown and intends to lobby to amend ordinances on how public art can be placed in the city's Historic District.

"We want our subsequent murals over the next two years to really be reflective of the people and the stories of the people that are still here," Castro says. "With the leverage of this grant and the prestige of the grant, I really hope it'll help legitimize us in our work."

The first year of the grant consists mostly of planning the project. The collectives use the second year, which begins in June, to paint as well as roll out the educational component. Under the terms of the grant, the murals must be completed by summer 2022.

A lead artist from one of the two collectives spearheads each mural, but Santa Feans will give their ideas for the exact topic and design. That citywide input is used to create a final piece. Whether community conversations will be in person or virtual depends on the spread of COVID-19.

John Paul Granillo, one of the founders of Alas de Agua, says the artwork is not just about Indigenous and Chicanx iconography—it's about making a change in Santa Fe.

"What are the issues in the community and then how do we change some of these things? And how do we get the community to come out to it? Which is going to be hard because we don't even know what the pandemic is going to look like," Granillo tells SFR.

Either way, locals will have a chance to be heard.

"It'll be open to the community to come help paint and create the actual work. I mean, that's our vision…it could all change," says Katy Medley, operations and strategy director for Alas de Agua. "But what won't change is that the community is going to be involved. That's how Alas de Agua and Three Sisters work anyway, for the people, by the people. It's not like an elitist artist gets up there and is like 'This is my design and this is what we're doing.' It's all driven by community conversations and community vision."