State of the Arts Michael Abatemaro takes a dim view of the proposal to appropriate monies from the state’s Art in Public Places fund and divert them to the Dept. of Cultural Affairs
I don’t know much about the inner workings of state government, but I know a bad deal when I see one. On April 11, The New Mexican published a “Reader View” that was written by Tisa Gabriel, a former director of the New Mexico Arts division of the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), and James Rutherford, a former director of the Governor’s Gallery. At issue was a proposal, buried deep in the House version of Senate Bill 159, that would appropriate two and a half million dollars in funds from New Mexico Arts’ Art in Public Places program (AIPP) and divert them for use by the DCA for repairs, renovations, and upgrades to equipment and infrastructure at state museums, historic sites, and monuments. But for those institutions, that amount would just be a drop in the bucket — a short-term fix at best. For the AIPP, this funding is critical. As Gabriel and Rutherford wrote in their op-ed piece, the loss of the funds would be devastating to the state’s artistic community. During the last legislative session, the amendment outlining the proposal to divert the AIPP funds was added but died in the Senate. As a result, no vote took place, and the bill died. But the possibility of a special session means the issue could be brought back up again — if state legislators aren’t vigilant.
“It’s not part of the bill that passed the state Senate unanimously,” Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) told
Pasatiempo. “This is part of a whole effort by the House Republicans to rewrite the Capital Outlay Bill at the last minute that led to the thing blowing up. In the original bill, in Section 62, it clearly states that, pursuant to Section 13-4A-4, which is the Art in Public Places law, the appropriations authorized in this act include 1 percent for the Art in Public Places fund. That also was removed in the House amendment. Not only do they take from already appropriated money that went into this fund, they actually take out the requirement under law that one percent for projects — I believe it’s in excess of $100,000 — go into Art in Public Places. Both these proposed amendments directly violate New Mexico law.”
Section 43 of the amended bill states that “notwithstanding the provisions of the Art in Public Places Act to the contrary, two million five hundred thousand dollars ($2,500,000) is appropriated from the Art in Public Places fund to the Cultural Affairs Department for expenditure in fiscal years 2015 through 2019.” The devil, as they say, is in the details. In this case, it’s in the particular language used. “That ‘not withstanding’ language is an attempt to bypass the law,” Wirth said. “I, as a lawyer, do not think that’s appropriate. I’m certainly not going to support it and will do everything in my power to make sure we don’t see language like this again.”
Most of the funding for DCA improvement projects (capital outlay projects ) for 2015 comes from severance tax bonds. Among the projects are improvements to the Museum Hill campus, the Hispanic Cultural Center, and the Santa Fe Children’s Museum. The total amount for all the DCA projects comes to $4,510,290. That number includes the $2,500,000 allotted to AIPP programs. It would be disconcerting to see an arts organization that relies on state funding for its survival find itself forced to fund projects outside its purview. The AIPP, in existence since 1986, recognizes artists for their work primarily through three initiatives: the New Mexico Only, Acclaimed Artist Series, and commissions programs. The first initiative allows public sites to purchase existing artwork by established artists; the second allows for the purchase of existing artwork by New Mexico artists at any stage of their career. In both cases, the works become part of the state’s permanent public-art collection. The commissions involve site-specific installations that are integrated into the architecture of public buildings or are made in response to the sites where they’re located.
Some recent examples of AIPP-funded commissions are Santa Fe artist Nicolas Gadbois’ illuminated bas-relief on the campus of the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos; three stained-glass windows designed by Virginia artist Maureen Melville for the New Mexico School for the Deaf; and Southeast-based artist Ivan Toth Depeña’s Inside/Out, an interactive light installation that premieres at the WisePies Arena
(the Pit) at the University of New Mexico on Friday, May 8, during UNM’s graduation ceremonies. The AIPP also sponsors TIME (Temporary Installations Made for the Environment), a biennial exhibit series that has commissioned more than 50 works since its inception in 2005, including last year’s Pull of the Moon collaboration between Navajo artist Bert Benally and Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. Since 1986, the AIPP has placed more than 2,500 works of art throughout New Mexico’s 33 counties.
Erin Currier, a local artist represented by Blue Rain Gallery, applied to AIPP two years ago and learned last year that she was a finalist. The artist was recently notified that the state is interested in acquiring her work. In a letter to legislators, the governor, and Veronica Gonzales, the DCA’s secretary, she outlined the many ways in which artists contribute to the state’s economy. “I know firsthand the economic challenges and uncertainties that the life of an artist engenders,” she wrote. “The purchase of my work through the Art in Public Places program not only contributes to Blue Rain Gallery’s earnings — and the many people employed there — and sustains me for a 3-6 month period while I continue to develop my own work, it also directly supports the larger local art economy in the sense that nearly half of my annual earnings are spent photographing my work with a local photographer, having panels built by a Taos craftsman, buying art supplies locally at Valdez and Artisan (both owned for generations by local families), scanning drawings at the locally owned Visions Photo Lab, even buying small works by my colleagues through galleries and private studios in Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.”
Had it passed, the bill would have resulted in a robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul situation, though, in this case, Peter and Paul are friends. “Those of us who support artists and support museums are one and the same,” Rutherford told Pasatiempo. “We understand and appreciate the quality-of-life enhancements that art provides. We must resist being pitted against one another. One of the real objectionable things about the way they tried to do this in the House amendment was to take from artists to fund museum repairs.” Currier likened it to taking funding from local farmers in order to expand the Farmers Market building. “Artists and museums are mutually beneficial and interdependent on one another,” she said.
Right now, the $264 million funding for capital outlay projects statewide is on the table. Clearly, the House amendment was shortsighted: Funds that have already been allocated and, in some cases, already contracted out to individual artist projects, cannot be reclaimed and sent somewhere else without causing a ruckus. House Republicans accepted Gov. Martinez’s plans for some projects and made cuts elsewhere. The shame of it is that the AIPP law itself was the result of a bipartisan effort. “You can’t just ignore state law by saying you’re doing it, and that’s what the House amendment tried to do,” Wirth said. “Fortunately, that failed.”
Left to right, Bert Benally: Pull of the Moon (detail), 2014, mixedmedia installation created for Temporary Installations Made for the Environment (TIME); Federico Muelas: Blue Flower/Flor Azul, 2013, Pearl Hall, University of New Mexico; Shawn Trentlage and Darcy Ferrill: Signs + Symbols, 2014, Connor Hall, New Mexico School for the Deaf Connor Hall, 2014