After the city removed a statue of the colonist Diego De Vargas from Cathedral Park in Santa Fe last year—and after the obelisk in the center of the Santa Fe Plaza fell to protestors on Oct. 20, Indigenous Peoples Day 2020 following failed promises from Mayor Alan Webber to remove the monument—the city set about creating a group to help work out the future of such public spaces.
Dubbed Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth, the derisively-called CHART commission has faced a long road of delayed votes, public pressure since then (and Webber has faced a lawsuit). But following a request for proposals the city sent out on March 8, a selection committee is recommending homegrown organization Artful Life to take over the process of deciding what’s next.
Artful Life was founded in 2015 by Santa Fean Valerie Martinez (Diné and Hispanic), a former Santa Fe poet laureate from 2008 to 2010 who worked eight years for local nonprofit Littleglobe as well as the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque and numerous other arts and organizing groups. Martinez co-directs Artful Life alongside local writer and longtime arts organization worker Jenice Gharib.
According to the Artful Life website, the organization’s goal is to create “transformational change through the beauty and power of creative collaboration.”
“We’ll be taking a multi-pronged approach to this—a survey, one-on-one interviews, larger gatherings…And many of these will look a little bit different than the ways people engage in public dialogue,” Martinez said in a Zoom meet-and-greet with reporters on Friday. “We see sometimes the way public dialogue can devolve into not very fruitful conversations, so we spend a lot of time planning these gatherings to prevent this from happening.”
Gharib echoed those sentiments, adding: “We’ve had many long conversations about this and we’re totally committed to the integrity of the project and all of these events. We’re very aware of the complexity of the issue here in Santa Fe.”
Artful Life will still have to clear three more hurdles before the final vote: the City Council’s Finance Committee on July 6, the Quality of Life Committee on July 7 and the Public Works and Utilities Committee on July 12. The full council is expected to take a final, decisive vote on July 14.
Martinez says that if Artful Life is approved, the organization would start by assembling a team through an open-call process. In particular, she’d like young people to apply. Beyond that, the early stages would mainly focus on fact-finding and public input, including from Indigenous New Mexicans who have historically been left out of similar conversations.
“We do understand that, in the past, the engagement has been defined as public forums, town halls, and those are just fine, but in our experience, only certain people have the free time to go to those,” Martinez tells SFR. “We have connections with dozens of individuals and organizations in Santa Fe, so we will be reaching out to them about ways they would like for us to engage in their communities. We’re willing to have meals with people in their own homes if they like; we need to be very responsive to what people tell us about how they want to be met and do everything we can to meet with them.”