A Roundhouse of Art: New Mexico's Circular Capitol Is Home to an Ambitious Showcase for the State's Artists

By Underhill, Wendy | State Legislatures, October-November 2012 | Go to article overview

A Roundhouse of Art: New Mexico's Circular Capitol Is Home to an Ambitious Showcase for the State's Artists


Underhill, Wendy, State Legislatures


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Some say Santa Fe, N.M., is more famous as an art capital than a state capital. And there's evidence that's true. Santa Fe is one of the oldest seats of government in the Americas, yet its rich artistic heritage is evident in the city's 240 art galleries and many art institutions, including the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and the Museum of International Folk Art.

There's also the daily open-air market of Native American artists under the portico of the Palace of the Governors that attracts thousands to this town of only 68,000 people.

Fortunately, art and governance dovetail nicely at the Capitol building, a rich repository of the state's artistic culture and a piece of art itself.

A Circle of Art

Affectionately known as "The Roundhouse," the circular building has not one but two art collections. The first is the Capitol Art Collection, an expanding compilation of contemporary work by New Mexican artists. The second is the Governor's Gallery, which presents rotating exhibits relating to New Mexico's history and culture. Together, they offer a two-for-the-price-of- one deal. And since the "price" of visiting the Capitol is nada, it is a favorite stop for artsy visitors--as well as legislative junkies.

The Capitol Art Collection is on permanent display throughout the State Capitol Complex. The New Mexico Legislature passed resolutions in 1991 creating the Capitol Art Foundation so artists and collectors could donate paintings and sculptures to enrich the walls of the Roundhouse.

Paula Tackett, former director of the Legislative Council Service, was a driving force behind establishing the foundation. "The diversity and the breadth of the art in this capitol is amazing," Tackett said on "Report From Santa Fe" following her retirement in 2010. "It makes it a wonderful place to work, and I will miss that a lot."

Today, the collection consists of 650 pieces from metalwork, photographs and quilts, to paintings, weavings and mixed media, such as the iconic "Buffalo" by Holly Hughes. Some of it might be called "craft" or "folk art," but not by Cynthia Sanchez, executive director of the Capitol Arts Foundation. To her, it is all "art."

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"My philosophy is that if you put something on a wall, you are immediately educating the viewer." The goal of the collection is to preserve, interpret and exhibit local and regional art.

Sanchez is often asked if she offers "educational programs" with the art. The answer is not officially, although she does give tours. …

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