The University of New Mexico community has a long and complicated history with the “Three People’s Mural” located in the west wing of Zimmerman Library. However, two solutions have been proposed to address the “Three People’s Mural” racial controversy.
According to the Office of the President, two solutions are in the process of being reviewed for feasibility, primarily financial, before a complete recommendation is sent to the Historical Preservation Committee (HPC). The report was prepared by Taudy Miller from the Office of Design, Planning and Construction on Aug. 27.
The proposal provided by the company Ideum, the vendor who would be contracted should the proposed solutions be approved, is “a system in which the murals are masked by easily removable wooden panels coated with a projection-optimal paint; or a system in which the murals are masked by semi-permanently installed controllable smart glass panels.”
The University preliminary cost estimate and proposal was requested by the UNM Provost’s Office and provided to the Daily Lobo by Cinnamon Blair, chief marketing and communications officer. Both options differ from the original suggestion of placing curtains over the artwork and instead suggests new options.
Such a project would allow a more interactive approach to viewing the murals while preserving the artwork.
According to the provost director of operations, Melissa Vargas, the wooden, is estimated to cost the University $119,700 and the second option, the smart glass panels, is estimated to cost the University $163,000.
The murals, painted in 1939 by Kenneth Adams, have been a point of contention for decades. However, since early 2018 there has been possibility of a solution.
The “Three People’s Mural” depicts three groups of people, the Anglo-Americans, the Native Americans and the Hispanic Americans. The mural has previously been criticized as "having a racial hierarchy" and having “racial undertones” by students, teachers and community members alike. Reaching an agreement on a feasible solution for the murals has proved to be a long process. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the mural’s creation.
Audra Bellmore, chair of the HPC said an official proposal has yet to be submitted. However, in October 2018, the President’s Office issued an official letter stating the murals would be covered by curtains. This process is collaborative and requires a multitude of people to be on board.
For changes to begin, the HPC has to receive an official proposal. The HPC is a permanent sub-committee of the UNM Board of Regents, the University’s chief governing body.
In addition to being approved by UNM’s HPC, the New Mexico Historical Preservation Committee has to approve the proposal said UNM HPC member Patrick Hogan. He added that this is because both the “Three People’s Murals” and Zimmerman Library are protected historical markers.
Bellmore said it is University policy for historical artifacts, such as these murals, to be preserved. This is one of the reasons why the situation with the murals is so nuanced.
University President Garnett Stokes addressed the issue as an ongoing collaborative project and said “I continue to be supportive of the efforts on this campus to explore solutions that forward our efforts to better understand both our history and our humanity. We are still ascertaining how we can best approach the murals in a thoughtful and responsible manner.”
Previously, Kymberly Pinder and Alex Lubin, who have now moved on from there positions at UNM for other opportunities, co-taught a class titled “Community Arts” which addressed the problems that the murals present. The class introduced possible solutions drafted by students.
“The student proposals from that course were made available to the HPC at my request and will be part of any future discussion we have on the topic,” Bellmore said.
One specific problem that Portia Vesico, UNM archivist, addressed was that the murals created an unwelcome work environment according to a letter signed by multiple library staff members, who for privacy’s sake, wish to remain anonymous.
The solutions proposed seek to address those who are concerned about the inclusivity of UNM and those who wish to preserve historical artifacts.
Hogan said as an HPC member he considers preserving history — the good and the bad — is essential. He added that doing this holds society accountable for its actions. Though Hogan is now retired from teaching at UNM he remains active in the community.
The Daily Lobo will continue to report on this story as it continues to develop.
Megan Holmen is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter at @megan_holmen.