By TISA GABRIEL,
Former New Mexico Arts Division Director 1983-1988
Former Director of the Governor’s Gallery 1986-1992
Tucked away in the Capital Outlay Bill, which died in the final hours of the recent Legislative session is a clause that should be of great concern to artists, supporters of the arts, and indeed anyone who appreciates the quality of life enhancements that public art provides.
Section 43 of the House amendment takes $2.4 million from the Art in Public Places fund that has already been designated to specific projects across the state – at least half of which ($1.2 million) is allocated for specific projects in rural areas in counties outside of Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Dona Ana – and redirects its use to the Department of Cultural Affairs to support repairs and upgrades of the State’s museums and historic sites.
While the priorities outlined by the museums are clearly worthy of support, paying for them at the expense of artists and their communities is highly objectionable, and sets a dangerous precedent going forward.
The Art in Public Places program was created to facilitate the acquisition and placement of artwork in state-funded buildings across the state. Since its passage with overwhelming bipartisan support in 1986, under the leadership of a conservative coalition in both Houses, the Art in Public Places Act has become a hugely successful program of the Department of Cultural Affairs.
New Mexico’s tremendous public art collection provides enjoyment and educational opportunities for residents and visitors alike, and is a valuable asset that belongs to everyone, regardless of political party, county of residence, or income level. One can go to any of the 33 counties of our state and find outstanding artworks of all types in state and local office buildings, universities and community colleges, and parks.
It has resulted in national and international recognition – just recently USA Today recognized the Albuquerque International Sunport as the 2nd Best Airport for Art in the country, and ranked the State Capitol #6 in the nation because of its art collection.
In addition to being a great cultural investment for our State, the Art in Public Places program provides much needed economic support for the state’s artistic community, as the vast majority of the more than 2,500 works purchased to date have been produced by New Mexico artists. This support has a significant multiplier effect that improves the overall economic health of all our communities. The program backs myriad art forms including everything from oil paintings to stained glass, textiles, ceramics, photography, monumental sculpture, and more.
At the heart of an arts and cultural sector that contributes significantly to the state’s economy are more than 8,000 independent artists, and while the business community’s request for a special session to fund a capital outlay bill to promote jobs is indeed valid, shifting art money to fund repairs is simply an ill-conceived shell game that redirects which New Mexicans will be put to work.
The New Mexico State Museum system is one of the largest and most important in the country, drawing visitors and accolades from throughout the world. The estimated $40 million in maintenance and upgrades that State museums require deserves a long-term plan for sustained annual investment.
The last minute plan devised in the latest amendment does not address this problem, because AIPP funds will have a minimal impact with no long-term plan for sustainability, and the loss of these funds will be devastating to the state’s artistic community.
Now is not the time to decimate the AIPP program for a short-term fix – our political leaders need to revisit this issue and come up with a different plan. Creative thinking was at hand in 1986 when the Legislature found a way to make a small and sustained annual investment in Art in Public Places, ensuring that art reaches every county.
An appropriate solution will require those who truly care about these programs to have their voices heard now by policymakers. We urge you to contact your local legislators (list at www.nmlegis.gov), Gov. Susanna Martinez (505.476.2200), and Secretary of Cultural Affairs Veronica Gonzales (505.827.6364), and ask them to leave the Art in Public Places fund alone.
New Mexico Legislature – member search:
NM Arts – AIPP:
UNM – BBER Study: