Judge orders mediation in mural controversy - Albuquerque Journal

Judge orders mediation in mural controversy

The Gilberto Guzman mural on the Halpin Building is shown in 2019. Green construction tarp now covers the mural, which is the subject of a heated controversy over plans by the state Department of Cultural Affairs to remove it. A mediation hearing is set for Tuesday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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The contentious lawsuit centering around an artist’s contractual rights versus that of the Department of Cultural Affairs’ new Vladem Contemporary Art Museum is set to go to mediation after a U.S. District Court judge denied the department’s motion to dismiss.

The case’s mediation is scheduled for Tuesday, with U.S. District Judge Kea Riggs presiding. The court also denied artist Gilberto Guzman’s motion to supplement pleadings.

“We’re willing to redo it,” Guzman said. “I don’t see any reason why a work of art (needs) to be arbitrarily taken down.”

Guzman and his attorney Penelope Quintero say he is not seeking any monetary gain from the lawsuit – but merely wants to protect and preserve the mural. He added he isn’t asking the department for restoration funding, as he will provide that himself.

The mural was painted in 1980 on the east-facing wall of the Haplin Building, which is now being renovated to become Vladem Contemporary. The mural depicted an Indigenous woman spreading her arms across the wall, with other New Mexican elements, such as a train, a canyon and people of different races coming together.

Since the mural was painted directly over stucco and in-filled windows, it became unstable over time, according to Cultural Affairs. The last time the mural was restored was in 1993.

These window inlets were removed by the department in May as construction began, and netting was placed over the mural. Now, if people walk past the building, they’ll see a wall covered in green construction tarp.

Daniel Zillmann, spokesman for Cultural Affairs, said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but can confirm that mediation is scheduled for Tuesday. He said the department’s decision is final and the mural will be removed.

“Santa Fe is a community that has had a strong connection to its art and culture for centuries,” he said. “The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs acknowledges the emotions connected with the multicultural mural and the opinions of some community members who would like to see the mural preserved.”

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