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Remakes of El Prado art may be coming to Santa Fe

SANTA FE, N.M. — What might be described as a state-of-the-art art exhibit could come to Santa Fe next year if Mayor Javier Gonzales and City Councilor Peter Ives have their way.

They recently introduced a proposal to bring a curated exhibit of digitally reproduced artwork from the world-famous Museo del Prado in Madrid that would be free to the public and displayed outdoors.

There are still some hurdles to clear – including approval from Museo del Prado to present the exhibit here and a City Council vote agreeing to spend $50,000 to market the exhibit, which would be held at Cathedral Park from May through October of 2017. The latter decision could come during the council’s next meeting on Dec. 14.

With a collection of more than 20,000 paintings, prints and drawings, and 1,000 sculptures – some dating to the 12th century – Museo del Prado is widely considered one of the finest art museums in the world and without a doubt houses the best collection of Spanish art.

“Being able to bring to Santa Fe the great art of Europe, as proposed, is not only a recognition of Santa Fe as a center for the great art of the world, but also a great educational opportunity for the citizens of Santa Fe … as well as an opportunity to attract many neighbors from within the region and across the United States to Santa Fe,” Ives said in a written statement. “Establishing good relationships with the great museums around the world, beginning with one of the best, the Prado, expands Santa Fe’s capacity and reach.”

But bringing the exhibit here also relies heavily on the efforts of James Long, founder and CEO of Heritage Hotels & Resorts, Inc., who is a New Mexico native and operates 10 hotels in his home state, including four in Santa Fe. According to the legislative summary for the proposal, Long is expected to come up with the rest of the funding for the exhibit, which is estimated to cost $350,000.

Through a spokeswoman, Long said he was not able to comment until Museo del Prado formally agrees to stage the exhibit in Santa Fe. He could have some influence on that decision. In 2012, he was named an international trustee of the Prado Museum Foundation, according to his profile on the Heritage Hotels website.

In addition, he is on the international board of directors for the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, which puts on Santa Fe’s annual Spanish Market and operates the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts on Museum Hill.

The Spanish Colonial Arts Society would serve as the fiscal agent for the Prado exhibit. Its executive director, David Setford, did not return a phone message from the Journal .

But Randy Randall, executive director of Tourism Santa Fe, did talk about it. He’s already pitched the idea to the city’s Finance Committee, which unanimously approved it, and the Arts Commission, which declined to give a recommendation, saying an exhibit of reproductions from a European museum was outside its purview. The commission typically promotes original artwork by local artists.

Randall said Long saw the exhibit as a great fit for Santa Fe, given the city’s reputation as a renowned arts center, as well as the cultural and historical ties the city has with Spain.

“When he heard about (the Prado’s) desire to do this, he said, ‘New Mexico is the place you need to do this, and we’d love to have this in Santa Fe,'” Randall said.

Museo del Prado apparently staged at least one other outdoor exhibit of reproductions of its collection in Panama City earlier this year. A brief item from Panama Today found online announced that the city’s France Square would be “turned into an outdoors museum, where 55 reproductions of real size art work from Museo del Prado” would be shown, providing a “unique opportunity to the Panamanian public to approach the big masterpieces that the Prado Museum keeps in collection.”

But, Randall said, “This would be a brand new, never-been-seen-before collection of images.”

He said the exhibit could include up to 100 4-by-8-foot panels displaying the digital reproductions. He provided sample images of “The Annunciation,” a 1559 painting by Juan Correa de Vivar, and “The Triumph of Bacchus,” popularly known as “Los Borrachos,” or “The Drinkers,” a 1628 painting by Diego Velázquez, though it’s not guaranteed those works would be a part of the exhibit. Just how the works would be “hung” at Cathedral Park and protected from the elements is unclear.

Randall said the city recognizes that the park hosts other events during the time of the proposed exhibit. “The exhibit will either be moved or incorporated into existing uses at the park,” he said.

Some urgency involved

Randall says the exhibit is really about promoting tourism in Santa Fe in the regional market, defined as being within an 8-hour drive. With expanded airline service between Santa Fe and Phoenix beginning this month, Randall says connecting flights could conceivably expand the regional market to the West Coast.

But, generally, the idea is to attract tourists who have been to Santa Fe before.

“This enhances repeat visits,” he said. “The more we create new reasons to come to Santa Fe, the better.”

The legislative summary says, based on a minimum of 5,000 visitors attracted by the exhibit, it would generate roughly $200,000 in lodgers and gross receipts tax revenue.

Randall admitted the visitor estimate was pulled out of the air. Just as it’s impossible to measure the impact of the $50,000 the city spent on attracting “The Bachelor” to film in town, it’s hard to figure how many people the exhibit might attract.

While the legislative summary calls for the city to put $75,000 toward the effort, Randall says that’s an early draft and the actual cost would be $50,000, plus some in-kind contributions. It’s also incorrect that money would be spent on a feasibility study.

“We now need to change the resolution to say ‘to support’ the effort, rather than ‘to study’ (the feasibility),” he said.

It still stands true that there’s little risk to the city, he said. If Museo del Prado doesn’t agree to bring the exhibit here, or if Long can’t raise the $300,000, the city isn’t out any money.

“If there is nothing to market, there would be nothing to spend,” he said. “And ours would be the last dollars in.”

Randall said the city’s $50,000 obligation, or about one-sixth of the total cost, would be allocated to marketing. The city would also provide some in-kind services, such as maintaining the exhibit.

The funding would come out of Arts Commission and tourism department funds generated through lodgers taxes and earmarked to be spent on promoting tourism.

Another $150,000 from what Long raises would also go toward marketing, Randall said, while the remaining $200,000 would cover licensing, transportation and production costs.

“He has said he feels comfortable he can raise those funds,” Randall said of Long, who stands to gain some return at his Santa Fe hotels: the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, Hotel St. Francis, the Lodge at Santa Fe and Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe.

There is some urgency on the city’s part. With an intended exhibit opening in May, the tourism department would need time to work it into its marketing plans.

The legislative summary says if Santa Fe doesn’t nab the exhibit, it might instead go to Albuquerque, where Heritage Hotels is headquartered and operates two hotels.

But such an exhibit would help paint Santa Fe in a light that fits its image, according to Randall.

“I see it as a one-of-a-kind opportunity that defines what the City Different really is,” he said.