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City calls for removal of murals in Albuquerque Old Town

Artist Jodie Herrera and the mural she painted in Albuquerque's Old Town in 2021
Cameron Crow
Artist Jodie Herrera and the mural she painted in Albuquerque's Old Town in 2021

Last year, artists Jodie Herrera and Reyes Padilla were commissioned to paint murals in Albuquerque's Old Town, featuring cascades of colors and shapes, a butterfly and a blooming cactus.

Now, the city wants the artworks, commissioned by business owners in Plaza Don Luis, removed.

The City of Albuquerque’s Landmarks Commission says the murals do not comply with guidelines that the Old Town's character be preserved as it was at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

"Old Town was, in 1959, established as its own Historic District," says Leslie Naji, senior planner at the Commission.

She says now it is one of five "historic protection overlay zones" in the city, where residents and businesses must meet guidelines for appropriateness when they make changes to the exterior of a property.

Southwest Contemporary reports the business owners are arguing the city is retroactively attempting to enforce rules that weren’t in place when the murals were painted.

Naji concedes that the rules have not always been clear.

"There have always been guidelines," she says. "But there hasn't been a clear book that's been set out, because we've been kind of short-staffed for a while."

However, she says, the guidelines did exist.

"They have always stated that the exterior should be in keeping with what was the traditional materials and colors and styles of the period from 1880 to 1912," she says. Murals were not part of that.

"We find that it's really important to maintain that integrity," she says. "Its charm is in its reality, not in painting it up to be something that it wasn't."

The Commission is set to vote on an amended and clarified version of its guidelines on February 9 at 3pm, at a meeting the public can attend via Zoom.

Artist Jodie Herrera says she feels her work was fitting for Old Town, paying homage to the past and the future and drawing inspiration from the resilience of New Mexican people like herself. She traces her connection to the land through many generations of mixed ancestry.

"Like the cactus, we thrive despite difficult circumstances, and I think we do it very beautifully," she says. "The flower also is in full bloom, which represents the knowledge of our ancestors. And the buds are the future generations to come."

The Plaza Don Luis businesses have appealed the decision, their case will be considered next by a Land Use Hearing Officer.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.