Living Heritage in Santa Fe, N.M.

Just when readers might have suspected that all cultural heritage issues reported on this blog were going to be “negative” or “sad,” Culture in Peril thought to settle these concerns with a tip of the hat to Santa Fe, New Mexico–The City Different.

Heritage stories can be found in the unlikeliest of places. A February 7 article in the New York Times Travel section spotlighted Santa Fe, N.M., as a (the?) modern American city offering a “promise of renewal” to all who visit it. With multiple faces and personalities stretched across a sun-drenched desert landscape, Santa Fe is at one and the same time “a place of healing,” “a spiritual mini-mecca,” “a sumptuous abode,” “a land of hope,” and “a city of trade and markets.” Having visited the American Southwest on only a few occasions, and never Santa Fe itself, I am intrigued by these somewhat vague descriptors: they offer an enchanted glimpse of the city and are convincing enough on words alone that it is the ideal place to settle.

Santa Fe is celebrating its 400th Anniversary this year. While the NYTimes article could have detailed the long history of how Santa Fe came to be as it is today, it instead focuses on the living heritage of the city, in particular its nearly incomparable contemporary arts and culture scene. For example, one rather unique movement, dubbed “guerrilla art,” has been heavily promoted by the Santa Fe Art Institute, wherein artists “work around town, creating graffiti art and recycled art.” The Institute’s director, Diane Karp, says, “We don’t want to turn our kids off art, by trying to bring our ideas to them. It works better the other way around.” Agreed. Meow Wolf, a young art collective, practices this type of ode-to-trash artwork by creating huge public installations composed of, well, junk donated by the city’s residents. One can see these sculptures around the city, providing an aesthetic that is as much inspiring as it is beautiful. Such creative resourcefulness typifies the predominant Santa Fe spirit of conservation and expression.

This theme of sustainable preservation–that is, perpetuating the old for the new–extends beyond just the fine arts in Santa Fe. In fact, an early 20th century city ordinance mandated a unified architectural style, called Spanish Pueblo Revival, which paid homage to the city’s centuries-old cultural legacy. Modern buildings were designed to replicate the local earth-toned adobe pueblo architecture of the southwest, drawing tourists into a contemporary city with a veritable ancient look. The New Mexico State Capitol, the Palace of the Governors, the Art Institute, and a large part of the historic downtown area are all built in this revived style.

The success of Santa Fe’s “cultural tourism,” as it were, has allowed the city to enjoy extraordinary cultural and economic benefits. Governor Bill Richardson attributes much of this success to the city’s Historic Preservation Board, which has been responsible for conserving the attractive elements of “old” Santa Fe–architecture, native culture, history (some might shorten this list to simply “heritage”)–and connecting “new” Santa Fe with the world–sustainability, science, the arts. It is no surprise therefore that Santa Fe has been appointed to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network for its leadership in “sharing experiences, knowledge and best-practices with other cultural clusters on a global platform.”

So, Happy Birthday, Santa Fe. Here’s to you and your bright future.

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This entry was posted in Creative Cities Network, cultural conservation, culture, living heritage, New York Times, Santa Fe, Santa Fe Art Institute. Bookmark the permalink.

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