Morning Word

NM Department of Cultural Affairs in Turmoil

Lensic Performing Arts Center to expand programming

NM Department of Cultural Affairs in turmoil

The recent termination of New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies Director Eric Blinman has prompted nearly 120 museum professionals and public citizens to send a letter to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham raising concerns about Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary Debra Garcia y Griego. The letter says the group believes Garcia y Griego’s management style “results in a lack of ability to retain high quality, senior level executive management with demonstrated expertise in their subject areas” and Blinman’s firing “shows her inability to constructively address the department’s many challenges and bureaucratic failures. Rather than seek collaborative solutions, manage and take responsibility for her department’s internal administrative functions and address shortcomings, she instead punitively looks for scapegoats.” According to the Albuquerque Journal, since Garcia y Griego became secretary in 2019, three executive directors at the National Hispanic Cultural Center have been let go and it is currently being run by interim directors. She also has had director vacancies at five other state-run museums, and four non-executive director positions also were fired. Blinman tells the Journal he remains stunned by his termination—he had worked for the department since 1988: “I’ve had witnesses and people who have experienced the bullying and threats and retaliation from the secretary,” he said. The letter to the governor implores her to withdraw Garcia y Griego from consideration of a second term. A governor’s spokeswoman tells New Mexico Political Report the governor’s office received the letter but would not comment on personnel matters: “The governor remains fully supportive of and confident in the leadership of Secretary Garcia y Griego and looks forward to her continued work to carry out the mission of the department,” she said.

Lensic announces expansion

The Lensic Performing Arts Center yesterday announced a new initiative to expand programming beyond its West San Francisco Street theater. Lensic 360 will encompass shows at venues across Santa Fe, as well as ones in Albuquerque, Taos and beyond. “It extends our reach in how we get into the communities where people live,” Lensic Executive Director Joel Aalberts tells SFR. “We already do so many things that are focused on the community as a whole, this makes those opportunities greater and allows us to engage with different arts experiences.” The move comes as two concert promotion veterans join the Lensic’s staff. Both Jamie Lenfestey and Tim Franke have decamped Albuquerque-based AMP Concerts and will be serving as director and associate director, respectively, for the Lensic’s new program. “This was not something I’d seen on the radar screen,” Lenfestey tell SFR of the move, “but [Aalberts] had been looking for ways for the Lensic to expand its reach as the premier performing arts center in the state. It’s one stage; there are only so many days in the year and there’s just so much more we can do.” Among other plans, Lensic 360 intends to bid for the Santa Fe Bandstand summer series—as does AMP, Executive Director Neal Copperman tells SFR. “AMP’s schedule is full of killer shows in venues across Santa Fe, with plenty more in the works,” Copperman says in a written statement. “We wish Jamie and Tim well in their new endeavors and look forward to continuing to provide Santa Fe with plenty of great concerts in the future.”

Baldwin pleads not guilty in Rust case

Rust actor and producer Alec Baldwin pled not guilty yesterday to charges of involuntary manslaughter for his role in the Oct. 21 fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the film’s set in Santa Fe. Both Baldwin and Rust Assistant Director David Halls, who has entered a plea agreement for charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon, waived their first appearances in court, which were originally scheduled for today. Under First Judicial District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer’s conditions of release, Baldwin can’t consume alcohol or possess a firearm, and his conversations with other potential Rust witnesses—the production is slated to resume this spring—can’t include discussions of the Oct. 21 shooting. Rust Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, whom First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies also has charged with involuntary manslaughter, will have her first appearance this morning, which will be livestreamed to the New Mexico Courts YouTube channel starting at 10:15 am.

As Baldwin’s case proceeds, The Hollywood Reporter consulted with several legal experts about his prospects. All think the Rust actor and producer is likely to want a trial rather than a plea agreement following Carmack-Altwies’ recent dismissal of an enhanced gun charge for both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed that would have carried five-year mandatory sentences. James Brosnahan, who represented producers for The Crow when Brandon Lee was killed by a bullet on-set, describes Carmack-Altwies’ inclusion of the enhancement as a “big whopper mistake” and tells THR the mis-step will rouse Baldwin to vindicate himself. “His career is at the front of his mind,” Brosnahan says. “This isn’t going to end in a plea.” Former US Attorney for the District of New Mexico John Anderson concurs: “Downgrading charges and decreasing exposure to incarceration increases the likelihood that defendants stick to their guns and go to trial,” he says.

Dr. Scrase says goodbye

Today marks the final day for Dr. David Scrase as New Mexico’s Human Services Cabinet Secretary. Not his final day on the planet—he’s got in the neighborhood of 6,371 of those left, based on his own calculations. SFR learned of Scrase’s penchant for tracking his own mortality during a “farewell” interview in advance of his retirement. In addition to running HSD since 2019, Scrase notably stepped in to also run the health department for the better part of the last two years during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He says he did not realize the toll running both departments had taken until he stepped back from the health department following the December appointment of Patrick Allen to fill the role. Scrase says he intends to spend time with family, travel, and continuing seeing patients through the University of New Mexico (a geriatrician, he saw patients throughout the pandemic as well). While Scrase’s weekly COVID-19 briefings made him a familiar face to many New Mexicans, he does not count his work on the pandemic as his biggest achievement for state government. Rather, he counts HSD’s expansion of funding through Medicaid, by $2.5 billion; increasing Medicaid providers and doubling behavioral health visits as his most important contributions. As for advice for his successor: “Number one is to make sure every single decision you make is based on your certainty that it will benefit low-income people in New Mexico,” he says. “Two is to use the financial resources that we have to always drive improvements in quality of care and access to care. Three would be to serve the people of New Mexico with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported Feb. 23New cases: 231; 668,518 total cases. Deaths: three; Santa Fe County has had 398 total deaths; 9,020 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 63. Patients on ventilators: 10

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Feb. 23 “community levels” map shows the entire state has green—low levels—for the second consecutive week. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.

Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via; Check availability for additional free COVID-19 tests through Project ACT; CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453. DOH encourages residents to download the NM Notify app and to report positive COVID-19 home tests on the app.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Listen up

A new exhibition at The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, California Stars: Huivaniūs Pütsiv (through Jan. 13, 2024), takes its name from a loose translation of the Chemehuevi language: “stars with us/around us,” and explores landmark First California artists and their impacts on contemporary Native American art. On the most recent episode of the Coffee and Culture podcast, Wheelwright Museum Chief Curator Andrea Hanley talks with host Matthew Chase-Daniel about the exhibition, and the Wheelwright’s longstanding relationship with First California artists. “For me, the exhibition was a really exciting thing for me to do,” Hanley says. “I was really interested in…honoring and illuminating and looking at the inspiration that all of these artists have provided.”

Smooth as glass

Truth be told, we did not find all of Travel Off Path’s 2023 “off the beaten path” recommendations for Santa Fe visitors to be particularly outré (Meow Wolf and Ten Thousand Waves are not exactly well-kept secrets). But #6, a visit to Liquid Light Glass Studio and Gallery to view take a glass-blowing class constitutes a legitimately novel suggestion—and it sounds like fun. Speaking of glass and fun, New Mexico Museum of Art’s new exhibition, The Nature of Glass, opens tomorrow (through Dec. 31, 2023) and features a variety of works from the museum’s growing glass collection, including pieces by Judy Chicago, Stacey Neff, Robert Wilson, William Morris, Silvia Levenson and Tony Jojola, using techniques ranging from blown, hotwired, etched, assemblage, sand carved, cast, kiln-formed and stained (to name a few). “Studio glass has a strong presence and a faithful following in New Mexico,” NMMOA Executive Director Mark White said in a news release about the exhibition. “The Nature of Glass includes some of the finest examples of studio glass in the museum’s collection, and it will appeal to a broad audience.” We’re sold: The Nature of Glass is one of SFR’s Picks of the week.

Indigenous eating

In its story on “The Indigenous Wintery Pantry: Recipes for Today’s Kitchen” Yes! magazine tapped food leaders from several tribes and pueblos, including the Pueblo of Zuni and the Ramah Chapter of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. “Food is at the center of our culture, of our gatherings,” Kenzi Bowekaty, food sovereignty leader of the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project, tells Yes!. “The goal is to fill our bellies and our souls. The Zuni word for this is yu’yashkwi, to sustain life and be nourished as a people.” The project offers classes that teach children how to cook “their ancestors’ crops and wild-gathered plants—called yepnan łash:ina, or traditional and sacred foods,” such as one recent class featuring homemade blue tortillas. Gardening also plays a role for Zuni and other Native communities. Randy Chatto, project coordinator for the Indian Health Service at Ramah Navajo, tells Yes! “growing, preserving, and storing food have pulled us through for centuries”—a point underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic. The story also spotlights the Puyallup Tribe in Washington State and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, with recipes from all, including Zuni Breakfast Porridge and Ramah Navajo Big Sagebrush Tea.

Caution to the wind

The National Weather Service forecasts two days of relatively calm weather: Today will be mostly sunny, with a high temperature near 45 degrees and southeast wind 10 to 15 mph becoming northwest in the afternoon. Saturday will be mostly cloudy with a high temperature near 52 degrees and southeast winds 5 to 10 mph. Sunday’s forecast includes an 80% chance for precipitation, with rain and snow showers in the morning, turning into snow showers in the afternoon, with a high temperature near 47 degrees and 25 to 30 mph winds that could gust as high as 50 mph.

Thanks for reading! The Word is happy Flaco the owl remains free (here’s National Geographic’s back story about the recent spate of zoo crimes and the New Yorker’s story about Flaco’s fans in Central Park).

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