New Mexico Museum of Art has big plans

Posted on in category Press

By Jackie Jadrnak / Journal North Reporter

New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe during its construction

This photo shows the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe during its construction. The museum celebrates its centennial in 2017. (Palace of the Governors Photo Archives)

The New Mexico Museum of Art, perched in all its Spanish-Pueblo Revival glory on a corner across from the Santa Fe Plaza, is entering heady times.

First, it will house the rare traveling exhibit of a Shakespeare First Folio, a book almost as old as Santa Fe that contains a complete collection of the bard’s many plays. (Or someone else’s, depending on where you fall on the question of who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. I’ll stick with Shakespeare.)

Dates for that exhibit, taken on tour by the Folger Shakespeare Library, are Feb. 5-28, 2016.

Then, the following year, the museum will celebrate its centennial. Edgar Lee Hewett, the first director of the Museum of New Mexico, spearheaded the 1917 founding of that repository for fine art – practically before Santa Fe’s own artist’s colony had found its footing.

And on top of all that, it appears the museum’s backers are looking to go into its second century with a bigger footprint in the City Different.

“The museum is in the first year of a five-year strategic plan calling for a satellite museum with added exhibition and storage space, restoration of the historic building, and added emphasis on contemporary art in museum programming and collections,” states an article in this spring’s Member News for the Museum of New Mexico Foundation.

Jamie Clements, president and CEO of that foundation, confirmed that early steps are being taken in that direction. “We’re just in the very preliminary assessment planning process,” he said. The foundation has hired a fundraising consultant to do a feasibility study on how much money a fundraising campaign could be expected to yield.

“Probably by mid-May we’ll have a report,” Clements said. “It would go for board approval sometime in June.”

He declined to discuss the details of the plan, though, saying that it’s really museum director Mary Kershaw’s vision and she should be the one to describe it.

Unfortunately, Kershaw did not respond to my emails and phone calls over the past few weeks, so we’re left with what she said in the Member News.

Key to the plan appears to be developing an increasing focus on contemporary art, attracting and engaging visitors of all ages, and increasing the museum’s national and international profile, while still including exhibitions of the museum’s historic regional art.

The problem, Kershaw notes in the Member News, is that the museum already is beyond capacity on its storage space, and its galleries don’t allow for the open spaces and flexible configurations crucial to displays of contemporary art.

So the goal, she says in the article, is a satellite space within walking distance of the Plaza. “The new space that we envision for contemporary art would expand our capacity for exhibitions, learning spaces, social activities, and more storage for our growing collections,” she is quoted as saying. (The article did not display a byline of the author.)

So will Santa Fe one day have a state-run Museum of Contemporary Art? Could be.

“I think it’s an incredibly exciting vision for the Museum of Art going forward,” a vision that also can play an important role in moving the city forward, Clements said.

Shakespeare’s secrets

But back to the bard. Maybe it’s hard to imagine much of a thrill in looking at a dusty book published in 1623. I admit, hearing those words brought to life onstage is a lot more fun.

I couldn’t help notice, though, that the dates of the Folio visit were announced just around the time when the American Council of Trustees and Alumni came out with a study that found that most English majors no longer have to take an in-depth course on Shakespeare’s work, despite the role it played as a foundation for much literature in that language that followed.

I started reading Shakespeare when I was a teen. You hear his name so much, it just seemed the thing to do to see what all the fuss was about. Like so many others, I was enchanted by the rhythm of his words, but flummoxed by their meaning.

It wasn’t until taking a Shakespeare course in college that his incredibly bawdy puns were revealed to me, along with the subversive nature of some of his scripts to the established order.

Sex and anti-authoritarianism – what more could a young person want? Words that had an elitist, hoity- toity image actually were directed straight to the rabble who jammed the dirt floor of his theater.

And for those who think those musty old pages aren’t relevant to today’s world, consider these themes:

  • Rebellious teens who run off and get married in defiance of their parents’ wishes (“Romeo and Juliet”).
  • A youth who sees deadly games being played within his family, but is wracked by indecision of what to do about it (“Hamlet”).
  • An aging man who cedes his property and power to his offspring, only to find he lost his freedom and respect as they took control of his life (“King Lear”).

It might be a good idea to take another look at those dusty pages.

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