The ‘Multicultural’ mural’s long goodbye

Oct. 3—Adios to “Multicultural,” the colorful, but faded, mural that has been part of Santa Fe’s streetscape since 1980, gracing a huge building wall on Guadalupe.

Under an agreement intended to settle pending litigation, the mural created by Chicano artist Gilberto Guzman and others will be covered with new stucco as construction of a new modern art museum proceeds, a win for the state Department of Cultural Affairs and its plans for the old Halpin Building.

It’s a loss, though, for supporters of restoring and keeping Guzman’s mural, who maintained during public protests that its removal would continue erosion of traditional Hispanic culture in favor of upscale gentrification in Santa Fe.

As part of Cultural Affair’s legal agreement with Guzman, a small replica of “Multicultural” will be displayed permanently in the new Vladem Contemporary museum’s lobby and another rendering of the artwork, about 4 by 6 feet, will be stationed outside for at least 12 years. A nice touch is that a smartphone app is supposed to be created to provide photos and other materials relevant to “Multicultural,” including information on Guzman’s federal lawsuit that tried to save it.

His lawyer says Guzman achieved the “essence” of what he wanted by keeping its image accessible to the public, according to reporting on the settlement by the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Cultural Affairs’ position was that the 40-year-old mural and the stucco it was painted on were crumbling beyond the point of saving, and that, as an outdoor mural, “Multicultural” wasn’t meant to last forever. There is, in fact, a reference in the contract under which Guzmán undertook the mural to the artwork’s “natural life.”

But the department never undertook to come up with an estimate for how much a potential restoration of the mural would add to the $12 million museum project, or to explore whether money could be raised to pay for it. There was no question that “Multicultural” was in poor condition. But considering the cultural divide the prospective loss of the mural created, Cultural Affairs should have gone the extra mile, and laid the possible costs of restoring and maintaining Guzman’s art on the table. Some art historians believed the mural could be restored if the powers that be really wanted to do it.

The mural depicted an Indigenous woman spreading her arms across the wall. Other New Mexican and Indigenous elements were incorporated in a surreal, almost childish, style. It’s good that, under the settlement, people will still be able to take in, interpret and learn about what Guzman and his partners created.

Guzman and Cultural Affairs issued a joint statement saying the opposing parties in the litigation “share the community’s sadness” that the mural will not remain and that “we still have the opportunity to preserve the mural’s deeper meaning, which symbolizes the state’s multicultural history and diversity, where we coexist and make room for all citizens of diverse backgrounds.”

What now?

Regardless of opposing views on the fate of “Multicultural” and, in the communal spirit of the lawsuit settlement, we should all get behind the idea that Cultural Affairs, with help from a $4 million donation by Robert and Ellen Vladem, can move forward and create a new world-class museum showcasing the non-traditional side of New Mexico art. We can never have too many great museums.

Angelia S. Rico

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