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NM History Museum director let go

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The executive director of the New Mexico History Museum has been let go.

Andrew Wulf, who held the position since 2015 and set off a handful of cultural controversies during his tenure, served his last day as head of the museum on Friday. The museum includes the historic Palace of the Governors on the Santa Fe Plaza.

Andrew Wulf

Some of Wulf’s calls as director that drew criticism included removing devils from their decadeslong roles as the villains in Santa Fe’s annual Las Posadas procession, a traditional Christmas season re-enactment of the Holy Family’s search for shelter before Jesus’ birth; an attempt to keep organizers of the Fiesta de Santa Fe from nailing wooden Hispanic family crests on the Palace’s exterior, as had been done for years; and failure to include a local Hispanic speaker in a public forum over the contentious issues surrounding the Fiesta and the Entrada, the pageant that re-enacts the Spaniards’ return to Santa Fe 12 years after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

Debra Garcia y Griego, secretary-designate of the state Department of Cultural Affairs, said Monday that the department is looking to go in a “different direction with the history museum.” She declined to elaborate further.

Reached by phone, Wulf said his dismissal came as a surprise, but that he knew it was a possibility given the change in gubernatorial administrations. He was hired under then-Gov. Susana Martinez.

“We leave on good terms, off to a brighter future, and it was an honor to be at the helm of what I think is the best regional history museum in the world,” Wulf said.

Garcia y Griego, formerly head of the Santa Fe Arts Commission, who recently was appointed to head Cultural Affairs by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents – which oversees all state government museums – will be putting together a search committee to advertise for Wulf’s successor and select finalists.

She said DCA thanks Wulf for his service over the past four years. “We wish him luck in his future endeavors.”

Wulf came to the New Mexico History Museum after serving as supervisory museum curator at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California. He’d also previously worked at Los Angeles’ Skirball Museum and Cultural Center, the University of Southern California’s Fisher Museum of Art and Special Collections, and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

He said he’s proud of the museum team’s work opening up “new dialogue and new conversations” about New Mexico history during his tenure, specifically mentioning programs on lowriders, crypto-Judaism and New Mexico’s Native American cultures.

Some of Wulf’s decisions during his tenure were later reversed. For example, his 2017 decision to swap out Las Posadas’ devils with innkeepers was reversed after one performance. The devils were back in December 2018.

Wulf said the rooftop devils, who are always booed vigorously by crowds on the Plaza as they reject Mary and Joseph’s requests for shelter, were not part of traditional Hispanic Las Posadas pageants elsewhere. But they had always been the bad guys at the Santa Fe event, which grew out of a neighborhood version of Las Posadas, since the History Museum took it over in the 1980s.

Last year, then-DCA Secretary Veronica Gonzales directed the department to allow the Fiesta Council to hang family coats of arms at the Palace after Wulf in a letter asked for an end to the tradition due to “cumulative damage” to the 400-year-old building. Fiesta leaders said the colorful crests were actually nailed into pieces of lumber temporarily attached to Palace beams with screws.

Asked if the controversies played a role in his dismissal, Garcia y Griego said she “really can’t speak to them.” Wulf said he doesn’t know if they had an impact. “I would hope not because there’s a much larger picture than those two incidents,” he said.

A symposium Wulf organized in 2017 on Fiesta and the Entrada, which had become the focus of Native American protests, didn’t include a presenter who was Hispanic. Wulf said at the time that Hispanic historians had passed when asked to speak.

The Entrada was ended last year after negotiations that included Fiesta leaders, pueblo officials and the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

Wulf said he plans to remain working in the museum field. Asked if he’ll stay in New Mexico, “We’ll see,” he said.

For the time being, Garcia y Griego will direct the New Mexico History Museum.