Reflecting: Celebrating Art, Community, and Embracing Change

by | Feb 1, 2024 | Articles

Ted Coe Christmas Card, 2008.
Calvin Hunt’s Hams’pek Pole, is the  inspiration for the Coe’s logo.

In 2007, a life-changing phone call from my Uncle Ted (Ralph T. Coe) marked the beginning of a journey I never anticipated. That was the day he asked me to start his non-profit once he was gone. Now, reflecting on past programs at the Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts, we immerse ourselves in a rich tapestry of Indigenous arts, community engagement, and transformative experiences. Each program, a unique chapter in the Coe Center’s narrative, contributes to the vibrant cultural fabric defining its mission.


My uncle passed in 2010. It took time and work, but I finally arrived in Santa Fe in 2011 to begin what is now known as the Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts. At that time, it was called the “Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts.” Later, the name would be changed from “Foundation” to “Center” to aptly convey the Coe Center’s goal that bringing diversity together leads to a greater overall understanding of the world we live in and the opening of minds. Our logo, inspired by Calvin Hunt’s Hams’pek Totem Pole, was created to, and continues to symbolize the circles of life and how we are all connected.

The Coe Center is experimental. At first, many visitors and those involved had difficulty understanding its purpose, particularly those who found moving past the traditional museum model challenging, whereas others grasped this concept immediately. Over days, months, and years, the Coe team continued to push the envelope, creating a spectrum of influential programs. Today, our mission and work are understood, embraced, and supported.

“in the woods, is perpetual youth” Hands-On Curatorial Program opening, May 2023.

We began with two exhibitions in 2013, one held at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, NY, entitled Plain & Fancy: Native American Splint Baskets, which brought to the forefront the importance and beauty of these baskets. The other, held at the El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, entitled The Ralph T. Coe Legacy “Instruments of Passion, provided a window into Coe’s collecting passion. In January 2014, the collection moved to its current building at 1590 B Pacheco, and in 2020, an opportunity arose. The Coe Campus, including the Collections Building and Project Space Building, were purchased. This led to a variety of programs and collaborations, providing a community space for artists and sister non-profits to use. With a little imagination, the opportunities to give back were endless.

The Coe Campus, including the Collections Building and Project Space Building.

Connoisseurship and Good Pie: Ted Coe and Collecting Native Art

Connoisseurship and Good Pie: Ted Coe and Collecting Native Art
exhibition was held at the Wheelwright Museum, 2015-16.

In 2015, the annual Hands-On Curatorial Program took off by engaging local high school students with the collection. Here, they gained professional skills in creating their own exhibition. The program is now in its tenth year! Connoisseurship and Good Pie: Ted Coe and Collecting Native Art was held at the Wheelwright Museum (2015-16), giving the public insight into Coe’s collecting and appreciation of Indigenous arts.

In 2015 and 2016, partnering with the School for Advanced Research in their IARC Speaker Series continued to broaden the Coe Center’s programming and reach. In 2016, the collaboration with the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) to host their Artists-In-Residence program led to including the collection in augmenting in-class curriculums, IAIA internships, and, in 2023, the IAIA MFA inaugural exhibition was held in Coe’s Project Space building.

Left to right: Terran Last Gun, Jacob Meders, Jason Garcia, Dakota Mace, Eliza Naranjo Morse, and Jasmison Chas Banks

IMPRINT opening, August 14, 2018. Collaborating artists, left to right: Terran Last Gun, Jacob Meders,
Jason Garcia, Dakota Mace, Eliza Naranjo Morse, and Jamison Chāz Banks.

poster for Chodosh Art Collection exhibit

Accompanying the A View from Her exhibition was a small full-color catalog.

There is not adequate space to dive into the details of each program, but a small sampling is A View from Here: Northwest Coast Native Arts (2016-17) featured Northwest Coast artists from the Richard and Joan Chodosh Collection, an art form rarely seen in Santa Fe; Catch 22: Paradox on Paper (2017-18) encompassed a selection of provocative works of contemporary art on paper from Edward J. Guarino’s collection. 

FUNCTION, produced in partnership with Littleglobe.

Imprint (2018-19) was a collaboration of artists (Jamison Chās Banks, Jason Garcia, Terran Last Gun, Dakota Mace, Jacob Meders, and Eliza Naranjo Morse) who brought the importance of print to the public; FUNCTION (2019), a partnership with Cannupa Hanska Luger and local nonprofits gave the literal experience of letting go, which can be equally and sometimes more important than ownership. How it was handed to me: The Caesar Family Legacy (2019) gathered jewelers and jewelry from New Mexico, Oklahoma, and beyond into a complex story of influential generational and creative legacies. Conversations of Ourselves: An Indigenous Survey of James Kivetoruk Moses (2020-21) represented the artist’s influence as both a documenter and creator of images of Inupiaq life as seen through the eyes of community members; Giving Growth (2022) was a collaboration with artists Eliza Naranjo Morse and Jamison Chās Banks on the community-driven project showing how outreach and art restores and can serve as an example of vital community cooperation. Looking Again (2023) urged viewers to question what they see and dive deeper, while Stories Within (2023-24) highlighted pottery from regions across North America, showcasing diversity and similarities between Indigenous cultures

“How it was handed to me” The Caesar Family Legacy with Bruce Caesar, 2019.

The Collection Spotlight series (2020-2022) was a collaboration with First American Art Magazine and was developed during the COVID-19 lockdown. It brought together scholars and Native artists monthly for interactive online discussions on artworks from the Coe’s collection. In Coe held panel discussions, including hosting First American Art Magazine featuring topics such as Native writers discussing Native Art and the next wave of Indigenous curators. First Friday open houses invited the public to tour the collection and engage with guest artists like Eliza Naranjo Morse, Mateo Romero, and Ken Williams.

Watch Meet the Next Wave of Indigenous Art Curators, 2023.

Much of our work is behind the scenes, working with artists, community members, elders, and students. In 2021, we held a Cedar Cleansing at the Coe Center with the Lightening Boy Hoop Dancers, and the Brokeshoulder family provided a feast. The Coe hosted artist residencies, including Wanesia Misquadace and Layli Long Soldier. The Project Space was and continues to be a studio for artists like Heidi Brandow, Jazmin Novak, Nani Chacon, Will Wilson, Carry Wood, Erica Lord, and more. It was the backdrop for Cara Romero’s important photographs, Making History and Golga. This space has also been a community supporter hosting poetry readings, musical recitals, and a variety of events.

The Native American Collections Digital Resource Pilot Project program, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, through December 31, 2024. This initiative collaborates with living artists, relatives, and community members to gather culturally relevant information and narratives, ensuring the collection accurately and respectfully represents Native American cultures and traditions.

Now, the Coe Center is at a pivotal moment, building on the foundation laid by past and present staff, directors, collaborators, artists, volunteers, and interns who guided and are guiding this journey. Without these marvelous and talented people, the organization would not be where it finds itself today.

Embarking from this moment for the Coe Center’s journey, we wish to announce a bold decision to restructure over the next two years. This move ensures the mission thrives and continues to explore and connect through Indigenous arts, reflecting the center’s commitment to responsibly stewarding its diverse collection and supporting a dynamic inclusiveness for engaging with Indigenous arts and the public. Embracing the act of letting go, as Nani Chacon references in the title of her mural gracing the Coe’s Project Space building – “You can’t take it with you…so give it all away” –can infuse the mission with new energy and meaning, carrying the work to unexpected places both figuratively and literally, taking the Coe further than we can do alone or even imagine.

Nani Chacon (Diné and Xicana), You can’t take it with you…so give it all away, mural, 2021

We are thrilled to announce the commencement of the first phase. In 2024, the Coe Center will channel its energy into the care of our collections; this means not only continuing to care for them and supporting educational opportunities but also seeking ways to expand the collection’s reach. The Coe Center is actively exploring potential collaborations with the goal of merging its collection with another institution (or institutions), as well as considering new possibilities for the campus—all in the spirit of continued service to the community. While this transition means stepping back from programs and hosting large community gatherings and exhibitions, it is a new opportunity to serve the Santa Fe community and beyond while supporting the mission and responsibility instilled in us by Ralph T. Coe.

As we anticipate the future chapters in this journey, the Coe Center’s restructuring is a bold stride into the unknown, a step we embrace with confidence and optimism. Ralph T. Coe understood the collection as a living entity, emphasizing the vital connection between art and our community. While we take pride in our progress and express gratitude to all who have partnered with us, we also recognize the importance of evolving. This move allows our mission and work to evolve organically, flourishing under the capable guidance of today’s emerging leaders and those who will shape the future.

We look forward to keeping you informed as the journey continues.

Eliza Naranjo Morse (Santa Clara Pueblo) and Jamison Chās Banks (Seneca-Cayuga),
“Giving Growth”, installation, 2022.

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