Our View: Art museum spreads its wings

Posted on in category Editorial

The New Mexican

The New Mexico Museum of Art wants to expand.

Not on its historic site on the corner of Palace and Lincoln avenues , but in a satellite location where a more contemporary brand of art will be presented. It’ s exciting news , not just for the Museum of Art but for the Railyard District, another sign that the area is living up to its potential.

The chosen location is the Halpin Buildin g, the former home of the State Records Center and Archives at the southwest corner of Guadalupe Street and Montezuma Avenue. As neighbors have said loudly and often, the abandoned building has been a beacon for vag rants, with a weedy lot and graffiti-covered walls. As one of the entrances to the Railyard District, it has been a drag on the neighborhood.

A contemporary art museum, on the other hand, fits in well with shopping, movies and the other contemporary galleries in the vicinity. It would be near the refurbished Jean Cocteau Cinema and close to the final Rail Runner Express train stop. Once open, the museum could offer another draw to people wanting to experience a different kind of Santa Fe. With the eventual opening of the New Mexico School for the Arts – a statewide charter arts high school – in the old Sanbusco Market Center, the museum can collaborate with students and teachers , further enriching the cultural ambience of the neighborhood.

However, despite liking the idea , we have a lot of questions – the first of which is whether an already strapped Department of Cultural Affairs can afford the expansion. A three-year campaign to raise the money starts next month, with a target opening date of 2020. The Museum of New Mexico Foundation estimates it will need to raise some $8.5 million for Halpin Building renovations and fundraising costs. Considering the decrepit nature of the state-owned Halpin Building, we can’t help but wonder if it would be cheaper to tear down and start over (somehow recording or preserving the mural, of course).

Work on a satellite site is just the beginning. The Department of Cultural Affairs will be seeking to increase Museum of Art operating funds by $1 million a year, and wants another $6 million for renovations, preservation and improvements at the current museum. That would be part of the museum’s five-year capital improvement plans, a worthy investment in one of the best models of Pueblo Revival architecture in the nation. However, given the state’ s lousy budget forecast, it’ s unclear whether these funds are available.

The decision to move to a satellite location came after expansion downtown did not work. (It’ s a shame that attempts to purchase the old Sears building failed). That said, it’s understandable that the Museum of Art wants to expand. It has less exhibition space, 11,098 square feet, and total space, 55,125 square feet, than the museums oflndian Arts & Culture and International Folk Art, officials say. The New Mexico History Museum has the most room, with 26,046 square feet of exhibition space and 118,759 square feet total. The new building would give the Museum of Art another 34,000 square feet of space.

There’s no space for storage or dedicated classrooms, or the right type of gallery spaces for more contemporary pieces in the current museum on the Plaza. All of that would be possible in the satellite museum. Storage space is especially important so that collectors wanting to donate their pieces will be able to do so in New Mexico. That’ s the only way the mu seum ‘ s collection can be updated.

While this is an exciting concept, many questions remain. First, let’s have a vigorous conversation about costs and location . Then , if the Railyard site makes the most sense, let’ s make sure the Halpin Building can be reclaimed and that money to operate it is available. It makes little sense to expand when the state already has trouble taking care of existing structures.

Santa Fe loves its museums, but everyone involved should remember that we have a lot of museums to love – let’s not build beyond our capacity to support both the structures and exhibitions, whether for new or existing museums.


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