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A storied museum.

FEW CITIES IN THE United States celebrate their heritage as enthusiastically as Santa Fe, New Mexico. At the recent opening of the New Mexico History Museum, speeches and ribbon-cutting were the prelude to two days of joyous festivities.

An overflow crowd watched Governor Bill Richardson wield a pair of eighteenth-century Spanish scribe's scissors to cut the ceremonial ribbon. Among the dignitaries who reaffirmed long-standing bonds with New Mexico were Ambassador Patricia Espinosa of the Mexican Foreign Affairs Ministry and D. Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo, Spanish Ambassador to the United States.

Meanwhile, an eclectic assortment of New Mexico archetypes roamed the old plaza: ciboleros (buffalo hunters), helmeted soldiers of La Orden Militar, Pueblo Indians in ceremonial dress, and aristocratic damas resplendent in Spanish shawls. Religious leaders of many faiths led a procession of costumed participants from the nineteenth-century cathedral to the new museum where more than 20,000 visitors toured the exhibits.

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Performers entertaining the crowds included flamenco dancers and mariachis, Chinese lion dancers and Celtic pipers. The reverberations of native drums filled the courtyard connecting the new museum with its predecessor, the Palace of the Governors.

Twenty years in the planning and five years under construction, the completed campus encompasses the 400-year-old Palace, which had long ago run out of space to store its accumulated artifacts. "The Palace of the Governors," says museum director Dr. Frances Levine, "is our most important exhibit." During the adobe building's first three centuries, its thick walls housed representatives of Spain, Mexico, and the United States, as well as a contingent of victorious Pueblo Indian rebels. In 1909, three years before New Mexico achieved statehood, the Palace of the Governors was designated the first Museum of New Mexico.

Originally envisioned asa mere annex to the Palace, the addition evolved into an interactive, multimedia, state-of-the-art structure. The new building offers 96,000 square feet of space on three floors, the better to display its historical treasures. Even so, says Levine, the objective is not to "show off stuff," but to tell the stories of the many people who have left their mark on New Mexico. "There's not just one story," she says. "There are many stories."

To make sure those stories were told, Dr. Levine and her staff fanned out to all corners of the state during the planning stage, inviting New Mexicans to share their views: "What is important in our history? What are the stories you want to hear?" The responses, says Levine, go well beyond the "tri-cultural myth" of native, Spanish, and Anglo cultures. Citing Sikhs, Crypto-Jews, African-Americans, and Tibetan refugees, Levine says, "The new building frees us to tell these stories."

At the Palace of the Governors, planners also solicited ideas from visiting school groups. The result of the extensive outreach is a lively, people-oriented walk through New Mexico's past and present.

Displays cover everything from the artists of Taos to the atomic scientists at Los Alamos. They roam the state to document diverse narratives, including poignant vignettes of Japanese-American camp detainees and tributes to World War II Navajo code-talkers.

One section entitled "My New Mexico" encourages viewers to record their own contributions to the telling of the state's long and complex history. Dr. Levine says the heartfelt essays contributed so far represent "... the present in touch with the past."
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Title Annotation:!Ojo!
Author:Wyels, Joyce Gregory
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2009
Words:552
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