The field of cartography—the study and practice of map-making—hovers in a murky zone between science and art. A map can record empirical data, from topography to population demographics, but plotting or reading that information is a wildly subjective process. When we examine a visual depiction of a familiar place, it's inevitably laden with personal memories and communal histories. In other words, no two Santa Feans can read a map of their home in the same way. Early this year, four local artists embarked on a 10-month mapping experiment based on this premise. The project spans neighborhoods and artistic mediums, but it started on a plot of land at the city's heart that may dramatically shape
Santa Fe in the coming years.
The property known as the midtown campus has been mapped many times since the Santa Fe University of Art and Design shut down last May. The City of Santa Fe still owns the 64-acre plot off St. Michael's Drive, so the Office of Economic Development invited architects to develop ideas for what it could become. Five firms overlaid images of the zone with renderings of housing units, shopping malls, community centers, parks and even a new plaza.
Meanwhile, Yvette Serrano was perhaps the last person using the campus for what it used to be. She had graduated from SFUAD's graphic design program in the nick of time, and managed to keep the key to her studio on the southern edge of the property. When the locks were finally changed in response to looting on the shuttered campus, the Santa Fe Art Institute had offered her a fellowship. She got a new workspace right next door.
Serrano is one of four participants in the new Story Maps fellowship established by SFAI, a nonprofit arts center with offices on the southwestern corner of the midtown campus. Story Maps invites local creatives—all people of color at an early stretch of their artistic careers—to collaborate with different City of Santa Fe departments and map their community in radical ways. Serrano was paired with the Office of Affordable Housing, so the future of the campus was top of mind when the fellowship began last February.
"It's this void," Serrano says. She's looking down at her own depiction of the midtown campus, which is nothing like the jam-packed proposals the city received. Serrano's is a grainy aerial photo of Santa Fe with a lopsided polygon excised from its center, leaving a gaping hole in place of the campus.
"I was thinking about memory," she continues. "If those buildings aren't there tomorrow, we're still going to remember that we went to school over there somewhere."
By manually clearing the drawing board, Serrano calls attention to the politically charged nature of the development effort. The midtown campus isn't empty land to be sculpted, but a geographically central and historically significant space that sits on a jagged divide of a racially segregated city. It is bordered by traditionally Latinx neighborhoods and a commercial district that's a constant target for redevelopment efforts. In Serrano's work, the potential development represents a civic reckoning for Santa Fe.
"The main thing for me is that the community—the people who are impacted by all of these things—should have the input," she says. "How do we get to the people, versus them getting to meetings and all of that? People are not just going to show up."
The Santa Fe Art Institute has emerged as a key player in this conversation: The institute collaborated with City of Santa Fe to solicit the proposals for the property. Executive Director Jamie Blosser and her team sought to elevate multifaceted stories like this as they conceptualized Story Maps.
"We all have complex histories and identities, which intersect in places like the campus," says Blosser. "Sometimes the narratives that we think are related to a place are completely inaccurate. How can [artists] identify the places we inhabit in different ways? How do those places transform us?"
Blosser and her team developed the program over a year and a half, and secured funding from the Ford Foundation's Art of Change to initiate it. They gave each artist a $10,000 stipend and recruited a team of local, established artists to mentor the fellows through the process. The pilot round is nearly complete, and the participants present their projects in an exhibition and open studio this Friday at SFAI. The institute is already looking ahead to the program's second year: An application for Story Maps 2019 is available at sfai.org, and due by Dec. 7. For this story, Serrano and the other inaugural Story Maps fellows—Mya Green, Terran Last Gun, and Heidi Brandow—designed covers and inserts that offer complex and revelatory visions of Santa Fe.
Just inside the door of the Santa Fe Art Institute's Lumpkins Community Studio, the headquarters for the Story Maps fellowship, two large maps are tethered together by a river of colorful threads. One is a world map, the other shows the City of Santa Fe.
"I asked people to mark where they were born, where they moved here from, and where they live in the city," says Mya Green, pointing at thumbtacks on each map with strings stretched between them. "As you can see, there weren't very many people who were from Santa Fe."
Green moved here two years ago from Baltimore, Maryland, so she's part of that group. She conducted the dual map survey at a Story Maps open studio last summer, and noticed some clear trends in her data.
"Look at this concentration that came from the East Coast," she says. "And most people who participated now live in midtown. I got almost no one from the Southside, not a lot from the downtown area. I think it speaks to who comes to events like this."
In many ways, Story Maps seems specifically designed for Green. She's a poet and writer by trade with an MFA from Sarah Lawrence University, and has never lived in one place for more than five years. Her mother is a scholar and university administrator who moved the family across the world throughout Green's childhood. Green knows how to land in a place, analyze its values and mores, and expose them in concrete poems that are literal and conceptual labyrinths.
"With the maps, I'm focused on what will be visually impactful in a curious way," she explains. "That's also how I feel about my poems. They're kind of puzzles."
Green has thus strategized about how to access different sectors of the community. She was paired with the Office of Economic Development, and attended a series of events during which the department solicited feedback from the community about the midtown campus proposals.
"They held these things all across the city, and about 100 people showed up per day," says Green. "Most of those people were over 65, wealthy and white. The city was saying they wanted to cater to 18- to 45-year-olds who will diversify and stimulate the economy, but the data set they put together didn't represent that at all."
In an attempt to flip the paradigm, Green initiated an event series designed to attract her own cohort.
"What do millennials love? Food and drink," she says. She planned two brunches under the title Desire Project, asking attendees to map out their hopes and dreams—and challenging them to examine how the rest of the community might be affected if those wishes were granted.
"My thing was moving from the personal to the sociocultural to the community context," Green explains. "Sure, you want your wildest dreams to come true, but what does that mean in the context of your community? If these things are made available to me, how does that affect another person's wildest dreams?"
At the first brunch, Green ran into a participation problem again. Thirty people signed up for the experience; only 10 showed up. The second brunch had a similar turnout.
"I was afraid of that," she says, "because I didn't want for the city to say, 'Well, this is anecdotal and invalid.'"
She created another map using the data from the events, marking different places in the community that represent the desires of the participants. The spread is much wider than that of Green's double map survey, dotting every district of Santa Fe and circling its outskirts.
"The people who did come to the brunches came away with a greater cultural understanding of each other," she says.
Green is preparing a dining room installation for this week's exhibition, in the hope of inviting more people to the table.
Mobile Integrated Health Office
Terran Last Gun moved to Santa Fe in 2012 to study at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He graduated in 2016 with a BFA in museum studies and an associate's degree in studio arts. Now he's a full-time artist, and mounted his first solo exhibition at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts earlier this year. He was born and raised in Browning, Montana, on the Blackfeet Reservation.
At SFAI, Last Gun's mapping process started with little clues on scraps of paper. For confidentiality reasons, his project partners at the Mobile Integrated Health Office can only share short passages of their incident reports. "I have to return them when I'm done so they can destroy them," Last Gun says. He pulls a bundle of reports from his backpack. One reads, "Sister found her brother on the porch shaking after hearing loud thump outside. This caused a 10 mm full thickness laceration over the right eye."
MIHO, which started in 2016 as a pilot program by the Santa Fe Fire Department, takes a systemic approach to emergency response. Mental health practitioners are dispatched on emergency calls alongside firefighters, police and paramedics. Their primary mission, however, is to provide preventative care for citizens who frequently call 911.
"Reading the narratives of what they do was totally overwhelming," says Last Gun. "These stories were an eye-opener for me to learn about the community, and what problems we face that a lot of people don't really know about."
He continues, "We definitely have similar issues to what MIHO works with," speaking of his homeland in Montana. "I started learning the dispatch codes that they were using, which I assume are similar for people in my hometown dealing with substance abuse, homelessness and behavioral health issues."
The artist produces a piece of paper with four images printed on it and places it atop the stack of incident reports. The photographs are self portraits that show Last Gun wearing a geometric headpiece inspired by Indigenous ceremonial dress and minimalist sculpture, and holding a sign with a dispatch code on it. They're solemn reenactments of reports that resonated with him. A corresponding screen print lists the significance of each code, along with the number of calls the city received for that code in 2017. It looks like the key for a map. "There were 1,304 'man down' calls and 885 'psych' calls," Last Gun says. "I compared those numbers to building fires, which was only 46."
Early in the fellowship, Last Gun spent 10 to 15 hours a week at the MIHO office, but he only got to tag along for one emergency dispatch. "We were checking out the parks, which is where a lot of MIHO's homeless clients stay, and a call came in," Last Gun says. "It was a psych call about an 11-year-old boy. Recess had ended, and he was trying to hurt himself because he didn't want it to end.
"It was incredible to see how many resources came," Last Gun continues. "There were two police vehicles, a firetruck, an ambulance and us. MIHO helped de-escalate the situation, and then we waited until his mom arrived."
The artist strolls over to a series of drawings pinned to the studio wall. The works use symbols to map out different stages of the emergency dispatch Last Gun witnessed. Circles scattered across the paper represent the shifting positions of the boy, his mother, and the emergency personnel. Red and green lightning bolts that cut across the sketches chart the paths of different responders. Last Gun had never produced work related to social issues before Story Maps, but found a way to adapt his minimal style and create highly unconventional maps.
"[MIHO] thinks it's a great project, and I think it helped [them] see the work they do in a new way," Last Gun says. "When I first started working with them, they wanted me to create a resource booklet for the department. I was like, 'I'm not an intern here, I'm an artist fellow.'"
One week before the Story Maps exhibition opening, Heidi Brandow has mostly created auditory maps. She usually works in painting and photography, but the fellowship inspired her to practice her interview skills. Brandow started her process by recording Parks Division employees and community members as they spoke broadly about their experiences in Santa Fe's parks. (Full disclosure: Brandow shows her artwork at the gallery this writer
directs, form&concept, though the work she produces for Story Maps will not appear there.)
"Then I was talking to Jamie [Blosser], and she brought up the memorials housed within the parks system," Brandow says. "I started researching all of these memorials, and broke them down by demographic information: ethnicity, era, medium, the genders of the artists who were commissioned to do the work." She wasn't particularly surprised to discover that a disproportionate number of men have been memorialized—and have created memorials—in the city's parks. The data she compiled about Indigenous representation was more of a shock.
"Of the 65 or 70 memorials that are on the city's designated list, only four are actually dedicated to Native people," Brandow says. "The obelisk on the Plaza is one of those four—it's considered a Native monument. I was like, 'This is not okay.'"
The obelisk in question originally featured the inscription, "To the heroes who have fallen in the various battles with savage Indians in the Territory of New Mexico." The monument was dedicated in 1868, and though someone chiseled the word "savage" off of the piece in 1974, it's far from a tribute to Native culture.
Brandow is Native Hawaiian and Diné. She spent her early childhood in Hawaii, and attended high school in Santa Fe. She's lived here off and on for over two decades, but her work with Story Maps radically altered her view of the community.
"I like to think that we're a little more up on stuff than the rest of the country," Brandow says. "At the end of the day, we're not talking about it enough, even here. It's such a difficult conversation to have, especially if you're part of a group that's either the oppressor or the oppressed. How do you start that conversation, and how do you do it in a way that's respectful and productive?"
Brandow's narrowed the topic of her interview series, asking Santa Feans of Indigenous descent to imagine memorials they'd like to see in city parks, and collected their responses as audio recordings, videos and written letters. One person suggested a memorial to Native captives who were sold in Santa Fe's slave markets; another suggested a monument to the historic agricultural communities of Apodaca Hill. For Story Maps, Brandow is building a website that includes all of the testimonials. As a whole, they present a bold cultural perspective on who—and what—should be memorialized.
"I had a gentleman talk about a living memorial to corn, beans and squash, which are plants that were the main source of sustenance for this whole region," Brandow says. "It was interesting to be reminded that if Native people had more of a voice in this process, that memorials either wouldn't be in existence, or if they were, they'd be more about place rather than an individual or event."
Yvette Serrano is the only Story Maps fellow from Santa Fe.
"When I first interviewed for the fellowship, I talked about all of these memories of different neighborhoods, especially Agua Fría and Siler," Serrano says.
Her mother is from Guatemala and her dad is from Mexico. They met at Jackalope on Cerrillos Road in the 1980s, where she sold her weavings and he dealt Mexican ceramics. When Serrano was a small child, the family lived in a trailer park off Zafarano Road.
"It's where the Best Buy is now," Serrano says.
She pulls out an enormous sheet of paper with family photos from the trailer park running across it. The images are cropped and stitched together, creating a choppy panorama. "There's no photo of our actual trailer, but this was our neighbor's," Serrano says, pointing at one of the images. Like her map of the midtown campus, this piece features a central element that's both present and missing.
Because of her local roots, Serrano says teaming up with the Office of Affordable Housing felt natural. Early in the fellowship, she visited the domestic abuse agency Esperanza Shelter and created a flowchart of the factors forcing battered women and families onto the streets.
Later, she began visiting the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete's Place on Cerrillos Road.
"I've been going twice a week for about two months," she tells SFR. "I go on resource days, which is when a lot of the people go to either shower, get a meal, or go to the closet. That's where you'll see everyone in one place."
Instead of producing audio recordings of her conversations in the shelter, she scribbled down quotes and made sure to preserve the anonymity of the speaker. Sometimes no one was willing to talk to her, so she'd sit and sketch people. The materials she gathered became a zine, which she'll present at the Story Maps exhibition.
"In the beginning I thought, 'What's the point of doing this? No one trusts anybody. How are we supposed to begin if we don't even have that?'" Serrano says. "But then, the more I went, it's gotten a little bit easier. I feel like things can change, and we have that opportunity. It's just that getting everyone in the same room is so hard."
Perhaps all Santa Fe needs to come together is a good map.
5:30 pm Friday Nov. 30. Free.
Through Dec. 21.
Santa Fe Art Institute,
1600 St. Michael's Drive, 424-5050