Let’s Envision Midtown Santa Fe

by Jamie Blosser, SFAI Executive Director

In case you didn’t see My View in the Santa Fe New Mexican this past Sunday, September 22, please read below for SFAI’s vision for Midtown!

The Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) is one of the few organizations still in operation on the Midtown Site (formerly known as the College of Santa Fe and the Santa Fe University of Art and Design). Located in the colorful Visual Arts Center designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, SFAI will be celebrating 35 years in 2020!

Because SFAI’s future is entwined with the future of the Midtown Site, over the last year we have taken an active role in helping to determine an equitable outcome for its redevelopment: stewarding design and planning visions by local architect teams; bringing Harvard Loeb Fellows to Santa Fe to provide the City with expert governance, development, and implementation strategies for the site; and receiving a highly competitive Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to map our local cultural assets, develop site activations, and engage with the community on how Santa Fe can better serve local artists and culture-bearers.

The Midtown Site, in the geographic center of Santa Fe, has the potential to positively redefine St. Michael’s Drive and what Santa Fe development looks like. It is sixty-four acres – approximately the size of downtown Santa Fe, bounded to the east and north by Paseo de Peralta, and from the west and south by Guadalupe and Alameda. Try to imagine, instead of a cloistered campus that is fenced along its entire perimeter, a thriving Midtown district with homes, small businesses, parks, grocery stores, restaurants, healthcare, social services, educational institutions, and arts and culture organizations all connected through green and walkable infrastructure. Mayor Webber says we have to get the Midtown Site right, and we at SFAI believe that getting it right will require connectivity – connecting neighborhoods with excellent urban design and pedestrian zones, and connecting financial capital with bold, community-based policies focused on development without displacement.

We at SFAI also envision a Midtown Site that redefines how Santa Fe invests in local artists and regional Indigenous and Hispanic/Chicano/Latinx cultures and communities. A cursory review (more thorough research will be conducted through the NEA grant in 2020) shows that only 24% of local artists and only 15% of artists of color are represented in local galleries. While gallery representation is only one barometer of support for the arts, it is important to understand who benefits from our reputation as an international arts center – and who does not.

The arts landscape is also changing dramatically, and we need to change with it. People will always purchase art they love, but digital and installation art is significantly changing how we collect, and major collectors are dwindling. Instead, we are seeing audiences move toward experiential, experimental, and immersive art, and toward the types of work we support at SFAI – by artists who are breaking boundaries between art and activism, between traditional and contemporary, and between disciplines. Artists are exploring thrilling new genres using technology, performance art, social practice, and mixed media – all of which need to be supported locally if we are to remain an international arts center into the 21st century.

So just as much as smart policy, urban planning, and investment, “getting it right” on the Midtown Site also means connecting our regional arts, culture, and creative sectors with economic and leadership opportunities that do not rely solely on the tourist market. With the City currently initiating a comprehensive planning and development strategy that will culminate early next year, SFAI is prepared to leverage that process, by asking: What would a thriving Midtown district and the Santa Fe art ecosystem look like, if we collectively invested in the artistic talent, distinct expressions, and creativity of our own community – what that looks like now, rather than nostalgia for what it has been? We hope you will help us answer this question! Stay tuned for announcements about the community engagement work we are undertaking through the NEA Our Town grant, by signing up for our newsletter at sfai.org.

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