Tell the New Mexico DCA & Museum of Art: It’s Time to Adopt a Formal Policy Affirming Artistic Freedom

NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF CULTURAL AFFAIRS (NM DCA), Debra Garcia y Griego, Cabinet Secretary, NM DCA, NEW MEXICO MUSEUM OF ART (NM MOA), Michelle Gallagher-Roberts, Director, NM MOA

Imbalance_spreads_(dragged)ryan
Excerpt from 'Imbalance,' an art zine censored by the NM DCA & NM MOA in 2019

What does it mean if state-sponsored cultural agencies censor art that speaks to the harms of fossil fuel extraction on communities, ecologies, and climate? How can we meaningfully face these very real crises in cultural institutions, if artists are unable to present artistic expressions of the issues within these public spaces? How can we ensure state-sponsored cultural organizations allow impacted communities a voice, and a seat at the table? Please join us in demanding a formal policy affirming artistic freedom going forward.

If you would like to learn more about the zine censorship issue, please visit https://greaterchacoartzines.org. For more information on what's being done to protect the communities and ecologies of the Greater Chaco landscape, as well as our collective climate, air, and water, please visit https://www.frackoffchaco.org. Thank you!

To: NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF CULTURAL AFFAIRS (NM DCA), Debra Garcia y Griego, Cabinet Secretary, NM DCA, NEW MEXICO MUSEUM OF ART (NM MOA), Michelle Gallagher-Roberts, Director, NM MOA
From: [Your Name]

In 2019, the New Mexico Museum of Art (NMMoA) invited artists and collaborators from The University of New Mexico’s Land Arts of the American West (LAAW) to exhibit the art zine 'Imbalance' in the exhibition 'Social and Sublime: Land, Place, and Art.' The zine was made by LAAW artists and visiting artist Asha Canalos, camping onsite in the Greater Chaco landscape for a week, during which they met with Diné and Pueblo community leaders and members of The Greater Chaco Coalition. The art zine poetically represents, through visual language and text, what the artists witnessed during that experience: the physical health symptoms as well as mental, social, and spiritual impacts upon communities and ongoing ecological destruction due to oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco landscape. The artists raised funds to print over 1,000 copies which were delivered to the museum in time for the exhibition opening.

However, a month after the exhibition opening, it was discovered that the zines had disappeared from the exhibition’s programming. When the artists questioned the NMMoA about what had happened to the zines, they were given conflicting responses but were ultimately told that the exhibit had been reduced and the zines no longer fit into the show. Having reason to suspect the zines had been removed due to their content, the artists issued an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request to see internal NMMoA communications with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs (NMDCA) regarding the decision to withdraw the zines from 'Social & Sublime: Land, Place & Art.'

The IPRA process, which took months, produced a number of internal documents which make it implicitly clear that the zines were censored because they were deemed by the NMDCA/NMMoA as “political,” and because displaying them was seen as representing “private interest.” This is contrary to the reason originally supplied to the artists by the NMDCA/ NMMoA for the removal of the zines from 'Social and Sublime: Land, Place and Art.' The collaborative zine partners and coalition members referred to in the documents live, work, and have deep cultural connections with the Greater Chaco Landscape. Framing their experiences, lives, spiritual beliefs, and health concerns as too “political” and as supporting “private interest” is greatly troubling. Incidentally, the exhibition also displayed a number of other artworks addressing issues of a political nature (as art frequently does), but only the 'Imbalance' zines were removed from the show.

We believe it is wrong and harmful to silence, especially, the voices of indigenous and impacted communities because these representatives assert it is overly “political.” As agents of a state-sponsored cultural affairs department and museum, NMDCA and NMMoA representatives are expected to reflect the many and diverse voices of all of the people of the state of New Mexico—not to protect vested corporate interests and revenues to the state that support environmental racism. Censorship of artwork which speaks to the devastation inflicted on communities and ecological systems by the oil and gas industry because it is “political” in nature is a violation of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

It is profoundly distressing, in a state in which impacted communities, mostly indigenous, are suffering real and documented health problems due to oil and gas development, that a state-sponsored institution would take steps to remove artwork which speaks to this critical issue. We are very concerned with what this unspoken policy means for public awareness of the crises, for frontline communities, as well as for other artists and museum workers addressing issues of extraction and environmental justice.

We, the undersigned, demand that the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and New Mexico Museum of Art adopt a meaningful and clear formal policy affirming artistic freedom. This policy should make it abundantly clear that the museum is not endorsing specific political opinions by exhibiting “political” artwork. Additionally, the policy should expressly include the right of artists to voice social, political, and environmental opinions without fear or risk of being silenced.

Respectfully, and in solidarity with those on the frontline,

Asha Canalos and Jeanette Hart-Mann, on behalf of The Greater Chaco Art Zine Artists,

& all of the undersigned.