BELEN — Despite criticism of her artwork, internationally-renowned artist and Belen resident Judy Chicago is continuing plans to open a museum in the Hub City. 

Not only has a GoFundMe campaign been established to raise money for the art space, Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said he will be donating one year’s salary — a little more than $10,000 after taxes — to help support the museum.

“I’m going to donate my city salary for 2019 to support the museum,” Cordova said. “The mayor’s position is a part-time position, and when you run for public office, you’re not doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the community.”

Cordova said when the opportunity comes up to help the community, he will and has, and this project is one that he says is an investment for Belen.

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Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova has pledged his 2019 mayor’s salary to support a museum in the Hub City to honor feminist artist Judy Chicago and her husband, Donald Woodman.

According to the New Mexico Economic Development Department, if the city had paid for a part-time employee, and shared the profits from the museum, Belen could have profited $300,000 in direct revenue from the museum, and $600,000 in tax benefits.

“It seems like a smart investment,” the mayor said. “We’re going to be able to grow the local economy, support locals with an overall quality of life because we’ll have more tax money to invest in big projects for the city.”

While there are many other important projects and organizations in the Hub City, Cordova believes a museum to honor Chicago and her husband, photographer Donald Woodman, will help everyone.

“I support as many (local organizations) as I can and I have certainly donated to other causes in the past, but I believe this project will have a huge, positive impact on the city now and in the future,” he said. “If this museum is successful, it will attract people to this community for years to come.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t get this done as a city, but I hope I can affect some change as an individual, and I’m certainly willing to step up to do that for the community.”

Chicago and Woodman were initially approached by Cordova and Councilor Ronnie Torres to partner with the city to open a museum, which would feature their life’s work. But when several people publicly objected to Chicago’s artwork — some describing it as pornographic — and government funding of a part-time employee during at least two recent city council meetings, Chicago and Woodman withdrew their offer.

“Although we deeply appreciate the support and good intentions of many in our community, after watching the proceedings of the city council meeting and some of the uninformed and insulting Facebook posts in the comments ... the board of Through the Flower has decided that it does not wish to partner with the city,” Chicago wrote in an email. “Please do not proceed any further. Thank you.”

Instead, Chicago, Woodman and the Through the Flower board of directors have decided to move forward with the project on their own. Chicago said the board will be meeting in early January to discuss what they want the museum to be and when it will be open.

Through the Flower, a nonprofit organization Chicago established in 1978 to educate the importance of art and its power in countering the erasure of women’s achievements, is raising funds to be used to renovate the existing building on Becker Avenue, to create the exhibits, purchase computer equipment, fund staff, along with operating costs.

“Due to the numerous notes and messages of support from community members requesting that Through the Flower proceed with plans for this Art Space on our own, we have initiated a fundraising campaign to help us get started,” Chicago wrote the GoFundMe page. “Please support Through the Flower!”

Chicago is grateful to the majority of the community who, “... continue to express their support and their outrage at what has happened.” She said she is also appreciative of Cordova’s “generous pledge.”

After the controversy over the proposed museum, Chicago said she has received calls, emails and letters from people across the state inviting them to establish the museum in their towns.

“... we are committed to supporting Belen in its economic growth and believe that the art space can do that,” Chicago said in an email.

Cordova, like others, enjoys some of Chicago’s art while others not so much, but says her artwork is unique and thought-provoking.

“We have an internationally known artist who has had an impact on thousands of lives — people who respect Judy greatly, recognize Donald’s part as well,” he said. “Looking at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and the Frida Kahlo Museum, these are opportunities that exceed a lifetime, and if we don’t get it done now, it won’t happen.”

Cordova’s wife, Megan, is 100 percent in support of her husband’s donation to the museum, saying she is in favor of the museum.

“I support Judy because I think she’s more than her art,” Megan said. “She is someone so prominent in the movement she created. I don’t think (people) are aware how important she is to history.

“To have her here, to choose Belen as her home, should be an honor to us. We have so much to learn from her — not just her pictures, but her activism, what she stands for and how she fights to represent women.”

Anyone interested in supporting and donating to the GoFundMe campaign can visit (gofundme.com/throughtheflower). As of earlier this week, more than $2,600 has been donated for the art space.

Editor/Publisher

Clara Garcia is a native of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. She is the president of the New Mexico Newspaper Association, and is a member of the Pilot Club of Belen.

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