Sunday, March 27, 2016

What is Culture?

Two questions are being asked in Santa Fe right now and being repeated throughout the Country:  What is Culture and where is Culture?  It is known as Cultural Mapping.  The name given to it here is  “Culture Connects Santa Fe”.  The concept is to connect different communities within a city through culture.

To achieve this goal the Mayor, Javier Gonzalez, appointed a blue ribbon project committee headed by JoAnn Balzer, who sits on many boards of the cultural institutions here as well as being a major contributor to them.  A search was then begun to find a professional to come up with a report.  A Native New Mexican, Estevan Rael-Gálvez, was found to lead the way.  Rael-Gálvez was the State Historian, as well as Executive Director of the  National Hispanic Cultural Center and Senior Vice President for Historic Sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  He is tasked with coming up with a report for the Mayor and City Council, identifying the multiple expressions that make up the culture of Santa Fe, and projecting how to use it to improve the quality of life in the city.  Here is an image of Rael-Galvez with constituents at one of the Culture Connects meetings.

Politics are never simple and the Mayor has put the entire project into the hands of the City Arts Commission most ably run by director Debra Garcia y Griego.  There are nine commissioners headed by the chairman of the Century Bank and in the interest of full disclosure, for this project, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel was asked to be the liaison between the commission and the project committee.

The committee was sent out to interview individuals from all parts of the city as to what do they think of as culture.  With my background it is art, theater, film, music and the like.  For others it is quite different.  One gentleman spoke about walking in the foothills and mountains. Others thought of parades, religion, wearing Indian Jewelry these were some responses to what Santa Fe Culture meant to various constituencies.

There have also been open houses around Santa Fe to aid in the mapping.  Around a large room in a museum or public library or convention center tables are set up.  At one of them we were asked to say where we were comfortable in the city and where not.  Many placed their color coded green dots for being comfortable on the main plaza or near cultural arts institutions.   Many put their red dots of where they were uncomfortable in what was perceived to be Hispanic neighborhoods.  Interestingly, a significant number of the red dots went up in a gated community which is known as a place where some of the wealthiest Santa Feans live who have been criticized in the past for using too much of the Southwest’s precious water for their golf course.

A second table was set up like a board game. It had us putting markers on places where we might like to find different aspects of culture, including visual, performing  and culinary arts.  Of course, many obvious places were shown, but also possibilities such as schools and parking lots.   Schools are usually dormant in the evening so activities can certainly be offered there and when parking lots were mentioned I right away thought of drive-in movies, a whole culture that has all but disappeared.   I wonder what the increase in attendance at bars is for young people now that they can’t escape to the local drive in.  When Rael-Galvez brought up, only half jokingly, putting a Georgia O’Keeffe in a Laundromat, Robert Kret, director of the Georgia O’Keeffe museum and a member of the blue ribbon committee, did not scoff.

For the activity I found the most fun we were given colored post-its to write what Santa Fe’s culture sounds, tastes, looks, smells and feels like to us.  One of my responses was roasting chilies which one smells in parts of town every fall.  Someone else said it sounds like church bells. Another said it looks like rainbows, which often shine like halos over the mountains.  If I had thought of it at the time I would have added the clouds, since many say this part of the world is all about the skies.

Each town and city has its own culture but when you dig a little deeper, you find that each constituency has its own culture, and then it comes down to the individual.  In Santa Fe we have three basic constituencies, Native American, Hispanic and Anglo who arrived here in that order.  We also find, however, that there are divisions within these categories: for Native Americans which pueblo or tribe you come from; for the Hispanics, whether your family came  from Spain, Mexico, Cuba or Central America; for Anglos if you were you born here, how long have you lived here or are you a seasonal visitor.

It will be up to Estevan Rael-Gálvez and the Mayor to try to bring us all together so that we can begin to communicate better through culture and make sure that no one feels left out!

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