In SITE The mu­seum’s mis­sion and func­tion


Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Jennifer Levin

WE wanted SITE to feel more wel­com­ing than in the past. Too many peo­ple had no idea what this place was, be­cause if you stood out­side, you didn’t know what went on in­side. So, we pushed the build­ing closer to the side­walk and essentially flipped the front off of it so that you can see in,” Irene Hof­mann, Phillips Di­rec­tor and Chief Cu­ra­tor of SITE Santa Fe, said in the weeks be­fore the re­open­ing of the mu­seum’s newly ex­panded fa­cil­ity in the Rai­l­yard.

The ren­o­va­tion is a con­crete-and-steel man­i­fes­ta­tion of deeply held philo­soph­i­cal ideas about SITE’s long-term mis­sion. As an in­sti­tu­tion, SITE is based on the Euro­pean model of the kun­sthalle — a Ger­man word mean­ing “art hall” — a non­col­lect­ing in­sti­tu­tion that presents art on loan from other mu­se­ums or col­lec­tions. Kun­sthalles be­gan emerg­ing in the United States about 35 years ago. Ex­am­ples in­clude the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Den­ver, Philadel­phia’s In­sti­tute of Con­tem­po­rary Art, and the Con­tem­po­rary Arts Mu­seum Hous­ton. Built in a for­merly win­dow­less beer ware­house, SITE opened in the sum­mer of 1995 with Long­ing and Be­long­ing: From the Far­away

Nearby. It was the first in­ter­na­tional bi­en­nial of con­tem­po­rary art in the United States, Hof­mann said, and in­stantly marked SITE as a vi­tal art-world travel des­ti­na­tion. It also rep­re­sented a new era for Santa Fe, which was al­ready a top art mar­ket but not known for cut­ting-edge con­tem­po­rary work.

In the years since — even as many other non­col­lect­ing mu­se­ums have closed or changed their mis­sions — SITE has stayed the course, or­ga­niz­ing bi­en­ni­als and other ex­hi­bi­tions, pub­lic pro­grams, and ed­u­ca­tional ini­tia­tives. But its bi­en­nial ceased to be a unique event some time ago. “There are around 200 bi­en­ni­als in the world now. Af­ter a while, they all started to look the same — the same cu­ra­tors and the same artists,” Hof­mann said.

When she joined SITE in 2010 — af­ter five years as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and cu­ra­tor of the Con­tem­po­rary Mu­seum in Bal­ti­more and pre­vi­ous po­si­tions at the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago, Walker Art Cen­ter in Minneapolis, and New Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art in New York — Hof­mann worked with SITE staff and an in­ter­na­tional group of cu­ra­tors and mu­seum pro­fes­sion­als to rad­i­cally re­think SITE’s bi­en­nial. The re­sult was a new di­rec­tion that fused an in­ter­na­tional scope with a re­gional fo­cus. Since 2014, the or­ga­niz­ing theme has been art of the Amer­i­cas, and has in­cluded an eclec­tic ar­ray of artists from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and re­gions un­der one um­brella. Hof­mann said that of­ten, in­dige­nous artists and artists of color from North and South Amer­ica are ex­hib­ited in the United States in eth­ni­cally or cul­tur­ally spe­cific shows. She wanted to break through that struc­ture while at the same time giv­ing voice to the im­por­tant role cul­ture plays in one’s art-mak­ing. A cu­ra­to­rial team brings mul­ti­ple perspectives to the selec­tion and in­stal­la­tion of works, pay­ing close at­ten­tion to how artists who choose to work with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties un­der­stand Santa Fe’s cul­ture and his­tory. “There is a lot about con­tem­po­rary art and con­tem­po­rary art mu­se­ums that can come off as elit­ist. My hope was that once the bi­en­nial started to re­flect our com­mu­nity, our au­di­ence would be­come more di­verse. The build­ing is a ma­jor next step in this process.”

New tem­per­a­ture and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­trols mean Hof­mann can pro­tect a broader ar­ray of art­works in dif­fer­ent medi­ums from Santa Fe’s rapidly shift­ing hu­mid­ity and pres­sure sys­tems. The ex­panded front area of SITE fea­tures a store, a cof­fee and snack bar, and a new gallery space, called SITElab, which is open to the pub­lic ev­ery day with no ad­mis­sion fee. There is also a mez­za­nine where vis­i­tors are free to eat lunch or re­lax in the sun­shine. The SITE staff wel­comes young vis­i­tors as well, and they hope teenagers feel in­vited to en­joy the new spa­ces. Ad­mis­sion to the en­tire fa­cil­ity is free on Fri­days and un­til noon on

Satur­days — and it’s free ev­ery day for any­one un­der eigh­teen. Ex­hi­bi­tion tours are al­ways avail­able from guides sta­tioned through­out the build­ing; SITE guides are trained to dis­cuss the art in a way that al­lows vis­i­tors to de­velop and trust their own ob­ser­va­tions about the work.

There is more to SITE than bi­en­ni­als and other for­mal art ex­hi­bi­tions. There are pub­lic pro­grams and lec­tures, in­clud­ing artist talks, per­for­mances, and film screen­ings. Joanne Le­frak, di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion and cu­ra­tor of pub­lic prac­tice, con­sid­ers pub­lic pro­gram­ming an art medium unto it­self, and has sev­eral new ideas in the works, in­clud­ing Digest This!, which pairs con­tem­po­rary art with avant-garde cui­sine. Ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams in­clude in­tern­ship and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment for high school, un­der­grad­u­ate, and grad­u­ate stu­dents in cu­ra­to­rial work and other mu­seum ca­reers. SITE pro­vides a slate of pro­grams for Santa Fe pub­lic school stu­dents in el­e­men­tary, mid­dle, and high school, and with the Ade­lante pro­gram for stu­dents ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness and the Bridge Academy for stu­dents un­der long-term sus­pen­sion. They also work with in­car­cer­ated teenagers in the Santa Fe County Youth De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram.

SITE ed­u­ca­tors aim to fill in gaps in in­struc­tion rather than im­pos­ing ideas from the out­side. They work closely with teach­ers to make any school visit or project at SITE rel­e­vant to Com­mon Core stan­dards and a teacher’s in­di­vid­ual les­son plans. Five hun­dred to 800 el­e­men­tary stu­dents from Ti­tle One schools (an eco­nomic marker de­ter­mined by the num­ber of stu­dents el­i­gi­ble for free or re­duced-price lunch) par­tic­i­pate in Rai­l­yard Stu­dents Days each year, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween SITE and the Rai­l­yard Park Con­ser­vancy that com­bines science and art ed­u­ca­tion. A more ex­tended ex­pe­ri­ence can be found in the Zine Pro­gram, in which mid­dle and high school stu­dents work with an artist in res­i­dence to cre­ate small mag­a­zines or­ga­nized around a theme. “An up­com­ing zine project is with [R.] Luke Dubois,” Le­frak said. “He makes th­ese word-based im­ages drawn from pres­i­den­tial State of the Union ad­dresses. He’ll be con­nect­ing with his­tory classes.” Le­frak added that the pro­gram is flex­i­ble enough to ac­com­mo­date me­dia other than print. When stu­dents from a health class worked with artist-in-res­i­dence Linda Mary Mon­tano, they con­ducted video in­ter­views about body im­age.

The goal of SITE ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams is to in­spire par­tic­i­pants to think cre­atively and crit­i­cally about ideas, rather than sim­ply ex­per­i­ment­ing with tra­di­tional medi­ums like paint­ing or sculp­ture. Though art-mak­ing is a strong com­po­nent of the ex­pe­ri­ence, just as cru­cial is the con­nec­tion SITE ed­u­ca­tors and artists in res­i­dence make with stu­dents. Matthew Con­tos, the school pro­grams man­ager, has a background in so­cial ser­vices, drug and al­co­hol coun­sel­ing, and trauma-in­formed care. His first pri­or­i­ties are mak­ing sure that the most at-risk stu­dents know they can rely on the mu­seum staff and artists show­ing up ev­ery week, and that they are of­fer­ing pro­grams of suf­fi­cient length and depth. Sig­nif­i­cant ef­fort goes into work­ing with schools and or­ga­ni­za­tions to cre­ate suc­cess­ful, sus­tain­able pro­grams, in­clud­ing build­ing bud­gets around stipends, gas cards, and meals for stu­dent artists, such as when the young moth­ers of Ade­lante did an artist-in-res­i­dence project with New York-based in­dus­trial de­sign artist Xeno­bia Bai­ley at the Santa Fe Botan­i­cal Gar­dens in the sum­mer of 2017. They made line draw­ings and pup­pets with their young sons, dis­cussing cul­tural eq­uity is­sues with Bai­ley. She urged them to ob­serve their cul­ture in their en­vi­ron­ment — point­ing out, for in­stance, that the color pal­ette of her life in New York is very dif­fer­ent from the color pal­ette of their lives in New Mex­ico. “The pup­pets re­flected their cul­ture, which was dif­fer­ent de­pend­ing on who it was,” Con­tos said. The line draw­ings are be­ing re­pro­duced and bound as col­or­ing books that will be sold at the SITE store as well as by Ade­lante par­tic­i­pants.

Ul­ti­mately, SITE’s goal is to be a gath­er­ing place for lo­cals and vis­i­tors, art ex­perts and art mak­ers, and peo­ple who might have never be­fore set foot in an art mu­seum. “If we have a more con­cep­tual or chal­leng­ing ex­hi­bi­tion in the main space, SITElab is go­ing to have some­thing that’s maybe more ac­ces­si­ble or a dif­fer­ent kind of en­try point,” Hof­mann said. “There can be some­thing for ev­ery­one, or any­one, at any time.”

“I think SITE would do a bil­lion more things if we had all the money in the world,” Con­tos said. “Santa Fe is small, and I run into kids I work with around town. They tell me they never re­al­ized an art mu­seum would care and show up. If show­ing up mat­ters, we want to show up for the next 10 years. Ev­ery­one is in­vited to come and join us, or we’ll come to you.”



The New Mex­i­can

Phillips Di­rec­tor and Chief Cu­ra­tor Irene Hof­mann; pho­tos Gabriela Cam­pos /

Schools pro­gram man­ager Matthew Con­tos and di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion Joanne Le­frak

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