By Monty Little
Santa Fe, NM ”“ In the City Different, fine art is pivotal to its culture; moreover, galleries across the city use art’s nature as a tourist grabber. Santa Fe was built and thrives on art, but there is another side of art slowly emerging around the city. It’s mysteriously creative, often engaging the public in eclectic dialogues by using subversive methods, and it wholeheartedly penetrates Santa Fe’s adobe walls. It’s street art. But will the movement die before it is displayed in Santa Fe?
What exactly is street art, and how does compare to graffiti? According to a graffiti artist known as Jurne, he simplifies graffiti in few words on Graffuturism’s website, “If it’s illegal and its main focus is the letterform(s), its graffiti.” Graffiti, also known as “throw ups,” are letterforms created strictly from a spray can or marker. Although these letterforms are done with immense creativity, they are seen as an illegal crime, since all artists create them without the consent of the wall’s owner.
On the flip side, street art is done with many mediums including, wheat-paste, stencil, installations, and more. Street artists push a composition – whether it’s political, entails satire, or comic fashion – ultimately, the artist encourages public dialogue in their work.
“Street art is something that is an intentional act that creates a visual diaglogue,” says Jemez Pueblo street artist Jacque Fraqua. “I like to create art in places where people have to see them, where they would really have to make an effort to escape the art or the message. It still can penetrate into their subconscious.”
But Santa Fe’s frenzy for art stops in the galleries, and the expansion of street art halts outside its city limits. “In the early 2000’s, there was virtually no street art/graffiti in Santa Fe proper,” Fragua says. “I constantly try to ”˜stay up’ in the public sphere, especially in the Santa Fe environment. I like to place patterns, symbols, and icons that represent the good parts of my cultural upbringing.”
Although the city attracts many artists, there’s not much of a street art scene. In fact, there seems to be a dichotomy between public and private art. In a recent feud between the Liza Williams Gallery, near downtown Santa Fe, and the City of Santa Fe, Liza Williams and husband, Mack Diltz, were cited for commissioning five artists to paint a mural on the exterior of their gallery wall.
“There was a mural done on our neighboring wall, and it looked like it was finished in 1989, since it was signed like that,” Diltz says. “We had five artists do a mural on our wall, since business was slow for them, and someone sent an anonymous complaint. Then we got cited by the city.”
According to Diltz, the Liza Williams Gallery sought approval through the Historical Preservation Board. “The liaison helped us by granting us the proper paperwork, and got us a meeting with the Historical Design Review Board. Little did we know, it was David Rasch, who at the end voted against us.” Currently, David Rasch heads Santa Fe’s Historical Preservation Board, and keeps a close eye on the city’s five historical districts, which includes the Downtown area, Canyon Road, West Guadalupe, Transition, and the Don Gasper area. The board’s main interests are buildings that are over 100 years old, which make up 20 percent of Santa Fe’s buildings. With monthly meetings, the Historical Preservation Board takes aim at keeping those districts preserved and uniform.
Not only is the Historical Preservation Board taking aim at graffiti, the Anti-Graffiti office, another department under the city, is stepping in to help keep Santa Fe’s buildings clean. The department helps Santa Fe Police by charging any individual illegally marking on a wall through a hotline. Residents can call in to make an anonymous tip and can organizing groups to help keep watch on buildings around their neighborhoods. If caught, an individual could face up to $500, and possible jail time.
With the ordinance in effect, Fraqua says it will not demoralize artists from painting on the streets. “It will weed out the passionate from the weekend warriors. Santa Fe is so passive, I believe it’ll just get covered up in more stucco-brown, until someone comes along and pushes everyone again to go harder and up the ante.”
In response to street art’s presence in Santa Fe, Historical Preservation Board director, David Rasch, says he’s seen less graffiti now, then before. “Artists are more frightened and they think it’s a very restrictive process, Rasch says. “With work done illegally it will get taken down. They just need to ask. We want to promote art.”