State of the Arts
Michael Abatemarco on the renovations at the New Mexico History Museum
Last fall, the New Mexico Museum of Art celebrated its 100th birthday by making a few changes aimed at restoring some of the Pueblo Revival-style building’s interiors to their original luster. The drab brown painted floors were stripped and refinished, bringing back their original bright gleam. The skylights in the first-floor gallery ceilings, long sealed over, were uncovered, bringing in some natural light. The loading dock, plagued by flooding during heavy rains, got a whole new roof. These were welcome, and in some cases necessary, changes.
Now the New Mexico History Museum is planning some upgrades to its lobby, too, to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars. The museum, having yet to mark its decade anniversary, doesn’t quite have the pedigree of its Palace Avenue neighbor — so the reason why the upgrades, which will include a makerspace and new signage, are necessary is a bit of I a head-scratcher. “The lobby has been notoriously difficult for people to understand and navigate in the last 10 years. It has almost no wayfinding,” Andrew Wulf, the museum’s executive director, said. The Museum of New Mexico Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the state museum system though development for exhibitions and educational programs, is in the midst of a campaign to raise the funds. “We’re about halfway through that campaign and hoping to complete it by next summer,” said Jamie Clements, the foundation’s president and chief executive officer. Some changes have already been made, but they don’t all bode well for what the near future has in store.
Makerspaces in cultural institutions have been trending for nearly as long as the History Museum has been around. It first opened on Memorial Day weekend in 2009. The museum’s original concept for renovation, developed in 2016, was to transform the now-defunct Cowden Café into a makerspace and learning center. That plan was scrapped. “We moved the makerspace to the lobby because it’s very difficult to find that café space,” Wulf said. “We’re trying to make a congregant space. There’s no shortage of curricula that we’re currently developing that looks at some of the most analog making history here, from weaving yucca sandals to making mini-robots based on technology they’re using at Los Alamos.”
The museum had plans for a similar space in the nook between the lobby and museum gift shop several months ago. That plan, too, was abandoned. The new makerspace will be situated on the landing Wulf described as the crossover area because it is adjacent to the entrance leading to the Palace courtyard. “As I understand, it will be a flexible space,” Clements said. “They’ll have the ability to move walls and furnishing and whatnot to make it an open space for other activities.” According to Clements and Wulf, the funding raised by the foundation thus far comes from local donors, and the campaign is about $80,000 away from reaching its $250,000 goal.
In advance of these additions, the museum received a brand-new paint job featuring a murky and oppressive