Past as prologue

Posted on in category Press

MichaeAbatemarco / Santa Fe New Mexican

The Halpin Building, at the intersection of Montezuma Avenue and Guadalupe Street, has been put to some good uses over the years. The former home of the state archives housed museum artifacts while the New Mexico History Museum was being constructed and served as a temporary location for archaeological collections until the Center for New Mexico Archaeology opened in 2012. Now the building, which features a quote from Winston Churchill on its crumbling north-side wall, is gearing up for permanent use as a contemporary art museum — a second, satellite location for the New Mexico Museum of Art. The project is part of the museum’s Centennial Campaign, a three-year drive that launches early in 2016 and aims to raise $10 million.

The existing museum on Palace Avenue, which celebrates its 100th birthday in 2017, was founded as a contemporary art museum, although it now has a more historical focus on 20th-century art. “To build a contemporary art museum in Santa Fe in 1917 was a really bold move,” museum director Mary Kershaw told Pasatiempo. “Robert Henri was this major American artist from the East Coast, and he came out here to take his avant- garde ideas and put them into practice,” she said. “He found a fertile ground with Edgar Lee Hewett and with the artists living here.” Henri (1865-1929) was an influential painter. He suggested that the museum, established by archaeologist Hewett (1865-1946) as an art gallery for the newly formed Museum of New Mexico, create an open-door policy for contemporary artists who could simply add their name to an exhibit roster and show their work. “One hundred years later, where are we?” Kershaw said. “Instead of being this big, fantastic art museum, we’re now the tiniest state museum space in Santa Fe.”

The plan, made in consultation with Toronto-based Lord Cultural Resources, is to establish one museum at two locations, with the original building exhibiting the historical collections. The Centennial Campaign seeks $8.5 million to renovate the Halpin Building by installing a climate-control system and making structural upgrades. The funding would create an education suite with classrooms, hands-on art-making studios for students, an artist-in-residence studio, a kitchen and café, a new loading dock, a landscaped exterior public area, a new elevator, a collection storage area, and exhibit spaces. The repurposed Halpin would add 8,000 square feet of exhibit space to the museum and 33,950 square feet of new space overall — much of it dedicated to the other proposed functions — to the existing museum’s 55,125 square feet.

An additional $500,000 will be used for a bridge fund. “When you’re engaged in a capital campaign, it reduces annual support, because you’re focused on those major gifts,” said Jamie Clements, president and CEO of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation. “So a portion of that money will go into a bridge fund so we can continue to fund exhibitions and programming for the museum during the campaign.”

The final million of the $10 million is for the Shonnard House property; sculptor Eugenie Shonnard (1886-1978) bequeathed her former residence to the foundation, which now leases the old Hewett House on Lincoln Avenue from the state but wants to move all of its staff and departments to a central location. “We’ve already moved our shops and licensing staff over to the Shonnard,” Clements said. “It’s a little over an acre of property. There’s a main house and a studio, and we need to add a third structure so that the foundation staff here at the Hewett House can vacate and move over there.”

In addition to the Centennial Campaign, the museum will ask the state to pay for a downtown campus expansion that has been considered at least twice before under previous directors. After the foundation staff vacates the Hewett House, the museum can incorporate the Hewett into the downtown campus for use as office space and educational classrooms, among other purposes. “The state has already invested about $1.5 million in restoring the New Mexico Museum of Art,” Clements said. An additional $7.7 million in legislative funds will be sought over the next five years and would allow the art museum to do a complete overhaul of its old and inefficient HVAC system; open the covered skylights in the galleries; strip and refinish the painted cement floors and add more collection storage room in the basement, where staff offices are located; improve the electrical system; and add amenities, such as a café. The lobby also needs new information kiosks and an admissions desk, digital information screens to replace the current signage, and better lighting. “We will be making improvements with the state funding as we go along,” Kershaw said. “The concept is really to restore the original elegance of the building.”

Meanwhile, the Halpin continues to house some of the Palace of the Governor’s collections, and those will have to be moved elsewhere. “Collection storage is a big issue for all four state museums,” Clements said. “For all intents and purposes, they’ve all run out of storage. There is a big solution that would address all the museums, which would be to have the state fund a storage facility at the Center for New Mexico Archaeology out at [N.M.] 599. That Bureau of Land Management land will come into the state’s possession, I’m told, over the next couple of years. There’s one large storage facility out there. It was built to accommodate an expansion. The Department of Cultural Affairs estimates that it’s a $2 million project to expand that facility to accommodate all four museums.” — M.A.

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