- Associated Press - Friday, January 3, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s plans to turn a state-owned building into a new contemporary art museum have been endorsed by a review board charged with preserving historic enclaves.

The Santa Fe Historic Districts Review Board after meeting Thursday signed off on the revised design of the proposed structure, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported Friday.

The project initially drew sharp criticism for its aesthetics, its height and concerns about a 1980s Chicano mural that will be destroyed to make way for the new museum. Officials say the plans now call for honoring the decades-old mural by projecting it onto a blank wall.

Review Board member Jennifer Biedscheid said experts from the public and private sector both concluded that the “Multi-Cultural” mural was unstable with extensive cracking and, therefore, beyond repair. She said the state’s design team plans to preserve it with the projection idea.

Board member Frank Katz said that would be acceptable. “It’s very sad about the mural, but I accept what the experts say. I would know no differently,” he said. “But I think projection of the mural … is fascinating.”

The mural was created at the end of the Chicano Movement and came as similar murals in Los Angeles and San Diego were created to celebrate Mexican American and Native American culture and history.

The mural’s creation was headed by Gilberto Guzman. Artist Frederico Vigil, a native of Santa Fe, was among those who helped create the piece on the side of the Halpin State Archives building. Vigil was a student of Stephen Pope Dimitroff, who was an apprentice to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

The museum project is being spearheaded by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, which plans to remodel the state-owned Halpin Building into a museum showcasing contemporary art. The building is the former home of the State Records Center and Archives.

The Museum of New Mexico Foundation, which raises money to support state museums, has collected about $12.1 million for the project. The total cost is expected to be $12.5 million. Officials have said the museum will allow for the New Mexico Museum of Art to expand its exhibits and programs.

Construction is scheduled to begin early this year and is expected to be completed sometime in 2021.

A bill passed by the Legislature in 2017 requires state construction projects like this be done in cooperation with city historic district rules, but city approval is not required.

Katz said he was frustrated with the process but said the state did incorporate public feedback.

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