by Julie Hatfield (05/02/2008)
Year-round sunshine illuminates the Santa Fe landscape and draws artists from near and far.
The city different, the oldest and highest (at 7,000 feet) capital city in the United States and one-time center of The Kingdom of New Mexico, is hailed as an ancient center for spiritual healing. It's a fascinating place, and Santa Fe has proudly kept its blended heritage alive - Native American, Spanish and Anglo-American - in a cultural mélange that appeals to both residents and visitors alike.
There is a reason that approximately 2,000 professional artists live and work in a city of 68,000 - and that 250 art galleries thrive here amid the mesas and mountains of northern New Mexico. It's the light - an amazingly intense aura of color produced when the sun illuminates the adobe and wood buildings (since 1958, a city mandate ensures the structures remain historically accurate) and shows them in tones of warm raspberry honey. That light comes into play year round. With 300 days of sunshine every year - even in the darkness of November and December when other cities bear a shroud of gray midwinter gloom - Santa Fe's sunshine brightens the mood and showcases the town's architectural gems. It was this light that brought artist Georgia O'Keeffe to Santa Fe and kept her here, always within 50 miles of the city, for the rest of her life.
Tourists flock to the galleries that line Canyon Road to buy jewelry from the Native American artists who must prove their talent in order to earn a spot at the portal near the Plaza, the heart of the city. Other draws include the historic Palace of the Governors Museum and the savory northern New Mexican cuisine.
Visitors who look beyond its welllit facades and charming streets discover that Santa Fe is also a city of technology. Its proximity to Los Alamos National Laboratory leads to its ranking as a town with one of the highest per capita Ph.D. populations in the nation. Not routinely open to the public, the Santa Fe Institute - one of the world's leading organizations for advanced thinking about the outer limits of physics - hosts occasional lectures that are at once fascinating and mind-boggling.
Government, tourism and film are highlights of the regional economy, with a huge increase in the latter, spurred by an aggressive incentive program. The city maintains two permanent Western sets. Recent releases shot on location in or near Santa Fe include No Country for Old Men and 3:10 to Yuma.
Next year Santa Fe celebrates its 400th anniversary. While most original Anglo-American residents moved here in 1610, the city charter was signed in 1609, so celebrations will stretch through both years. Gearing up for the gala, construction of the new convention center is on schedule for completion this summer. The Palace of the Governors will be expanded into a full-fledged state history museum, and the newest, most interesting project - the Santa Fe Railyard - is a 50-acre development already anchored by the converted railroad warehouses that form Sanbusco Market Center, El Museo Cultural, SITE Santa Fe (a not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to enriching the city's culture) and numerous shops, galleries and restaurants.
Other projects on the drawing board include the construction of a permanent home for the highly regarded Santa Fe Farmers Market, 10 acres of public space including a plaza, performance venue and multiuse trail. New shops, offices and apartments, a theater complex and large underground parking lots are all under construction. The development boasts a purposefully green infrastructure with components that include water-wise landscaping, runoff control and extensive water catchments.
Santa Fe is a walking town, with five compact historic districts that are easily navigable on foot. And although it has spread outward a bit since the nomadic Paleo-Indians first inhabited the town 10,000 years ago, it somehow has maintained the whisper of antiquity so many cities lose as they grow.