Mountainair mayor reaches out to artist Judy Chicago after Belen says no thanks

Mountainair Mayor Peter Nieto said he knew it was a long shot when he reached out to artist Judy Chicago in hopes of creating a museum of her work after the town of Belen said no to funding.

According to reporting in the Valencia County News-Bulletin, Belen’s town council declined to fund a position for a museum, which Chicago had offered to open if the town would pay for a part-time person to staff it.

Chicago is continuing her plans to open a museum in Belen, the News-Bulletin reported today.

Many residents spoke out against Chicago’s work, some saying it was “pornographic,” according to that newspaper. The town council voted against funding the position.

“So basically I saw the news story that the Belen town council had rejected her,” said Mountainair Mayor Peter Nieto in an interview with The Independent, adding, “That night, I went to her website, and sent her an email that said, ‘Why not consider Mountainair?’ I saw the economic impact it could have on Mountainair.”

The News-Bulletin reported that the New Mexico Economic Development Department estimated the boon to Belen at $300,000 in direct revenue from the museum and $600,000 in tax benefits.

“The biggest thing we offer [in Mountainair] is tourism, I believe—that’s going to be our bread and butter in the coming years,” Nieto said. “We have the Salinas National Monument, we have the National Forest right up the road. It just makes sense to get something as big as that.”

Nieto said he didn’t know anything about Judy Chicago’s art, but when he did some internet research about her, he discovered that in 2018, she had been included in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people list.

“Plus, Mountainair is very much into the arts,” Nieto continued. “We have the Manzano Mountain Art Council, art galleries. It just made sense.”

While a Facebook thread about Nieto’s overture included concerns about Chicago’s work as controversial, and suggesting that the town should do other business recruitment, the mayor said there were more pros than cons for the town, even though it was unlikely the artist would make the move.

“We’re looking to attract people to Mountainair. That was my main goal,” Nieto said, adding, “I knew that we were the underdog, but you never know unless you ask.”

On Thursday, the News-Bulletin reported that Jerah Cordova had donated his annual salary for being the mayor, about $10,000, to help support fundraising efforts as Chicago moves forward with her plans for a museum of her work in Belen, where she lives part of the year.

After Belen’s town council voted down funding of a position, Chicago told the town she was withdrawing her offer, the News-Bulletin reported, saying that Chicago and her husband are moving forward with the project on their own.

To read the Valencia County News-Bulletin’s coverage, visit news-bulletin.com.

Meanwhile in Mountainair, Nieto said the town continues to try and bring businesses and events to town, including an initiative to get a Verizon cell tower.