RIO RANCHO, N.M. — After more than three years spent caring for the Greek revival adobe ranch home packed full of New Mexican art and artifacts, Casa San Ysidro site manager Carol Kennis Lopez is leaving her post.
Lopez arrived at The Gutierrez/Minge House nestled in the historic heart of Corrales in 2013, a self-described “museum geek” with decades of experience working in living history farms and museums.
“It’s not just my job,” Lopez said. “This is my passion and it’s my avocation as well.”
The site manager position was created in 2013, so when Lopez came aboard, there was plenty to do. She compared her duties to those of a symphony conductor.
“The conductor doesn’t necessarily hire every player,” she said. “They don’t write the music necessarily. They don’t buy the instruments. But they’re the one that helps all of the musicians do their best music.”
She said the site manager makes sure everyone is playing the same song, at the same tempo with the same interpretation.
“If everyone works together on this the right way, you have beautiful music,” she said. “And that’s what I hope I have done here to some extent.”
On a daily basis that meant her tasks varied widely.
“I have done everything,” she said. For Lopez, that included writing news releases, working with teachers, training docents, dusting artifacts, cleaning windows, answering emails, even dealing with the aftermath of a flood in 2013.
“My days are pretty fast,” she said.
Lopez, whose last day on the job was Friday, said she and her husband look forward to starting a new chapter of their lives in Colorado Springs, where she worked for 30 years in the city’s museums before moving to New Mexico. She said the city boasts a wonderful historical and preservation community that she never really left, despite her yearslong stint in New Mexico.
“We’re looking at life and we’re saying, ‘Let’s live,’ ” she said. “Let’s live our lives and let’s see how we can contribute to our communities and let’s improve our health. All of those things.”
Lopez’s accomplishments during her tenure at Casa San Ysidro are numerous.
Albuquerque Museum director Cathy Wright said Lopez brought new thinking as well as new programs to Casa.
“I mean not only are things running better out there operationally, but more people are using Casa,” Wright said. “I think it’s really set us on a course to keep improving.”
Wright said she’s sad to see Lopez go but grateful for the time she spent making changes that will stick.
Under Lopez’s leadership, the museum’s school tours were redesigned to include Common Core standards for language development, a craft project and a theme that shows students that ordinary people can create extraordinary things.
Casa also forged a partnership with ARCA Organics, allowing the organization to start farming on an irrigated two-acre field adjacent to the property.
Lopez updated the museum’s publicity materials, and changed tour times and days of operation to better accommodate visitors and school tours, increasing visitation. She also started a program called Second Saturdays, during which visitors can embark on self-paced tours and attend a demonstration or lecture.
She leaves the museum in the process of developing a long-term sustainable plan with the help of an outside consultant. Lopez said on a national level, historic houses are going out of business or struggling to attract visitors.
“Demographics are changing, life is changing, funding is changing and it’s not good enough any more just to have some really great artifacts,” she said. “You have to have a meaningful connection with people in their lives today.”
She said the museum wants to emulate the spirit of Dr. Ward Alan Minge and his wife, Shirley, who salvaged items from properties across New Mexico and integrated them into Casa San Ysidro.
“Through the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, New Mexico was changing. A lot of people were getting rid of old and bringing in new,” she said. “And he just didn’t want to see this leave New Mexico. He wanted it to stay here.”
She said the Minges offer a wonderful example of community involvement that the museum wants to embody. The goal, she said, is to help Casa to remain a place where people come to explore New Mexico’s uniqueness, where they can discuss ways to nurture their community, spark creativity and renew their faith in their world.
“That means change. Casa will change. We have not defined that change. We don’t know the extent of that change,” she said. “But, again, we do not want to be a dinosaur.”