New facility has been planned since 2013

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FARMINGTON โ€” With the opening of the long-awaited Museum of Navajo Art and Culture in downtown Farmington just a few weeks away, Farmington Museum director Bart Wilsey took time to reflect on the significance of that development last week as he led a tour of the new facility.

The museum has been in the planning stages ever since the building in which it is housed at 301 W. Main St. was donated to the city in 2013 by the late Bob Culpepper. But that donation coincided with a downturn in the local economy, and the city of Farmington and the Farmington Museum system have struggled to find the money to renovate the building.

Museum officials originally hoped to have the new facility open by last summer, but that date has been pushed back several times as renovation work continued, including some demolition, the installation of sprinklers and lighting, the rebuilding of several walls, and the construction of two Americans with Disabilities Act restrooms and a reception desk. The museum is finally scheduled to open at 5 p.m. Friday, June 8 as part of the quarterly art walk series.

"It took a lot of time to get all that remodeling done, then we had to come in as a museum and do some remodeling to be able to do exhibits," Wilsey said, explaining that the renovation was complicated by the fact that the building, the former home of the Foutz Indian Room, was being repurposed from retail use to public assembly use. "It's been a long journey."

Wilsey acknowledged the opening of the museum is not overdue merely in the sense of the length of time it took to complete the renovation. It is also long past time for the city to have a museum honoring the art and culture of the neighboring Navajo Nation, he said.

"I really feel that we're kind of coming full circle (with the opening of the museum)," he said. "Farmington is a border town, and it has had some of the issues that go along with that. I've made a lot of wonderful Navajo friends here, and I couldn't be prouder that we're going to have a facility here now."

More: Renovations begin on Native American art museum

The Farmington Museum at Gateway Park for many years has focused much of its programming on celebrating Navajo art and culture, but Wilsey believes the community has always needed a facility that is fully devoted to that subject. Now it has one, he said.

"The one thing I'm really hoping for is that we get basically buy-in and commitment and expertise from the Navajo community," he said in regard to the new museum's future. "This will help us strengthen those cultural ties. Farmington has not always been known as a sensitive town to the indigenous population here. This will help us their story. This is really the first step in that."

Wilsey hopes the new museum becomes a magnet for Navajo schoolchildren especially.

"I hope they bring kids in off the reservation because this is a showcase of their culture," he said. "We want to show them how empowering that is. It is a beautiful culture that creates beautiful art."

The new museum also features plenty of room for growth. Because the renovation was conducted with such a limited budget, only a fraction of the building has been renovated, meaning the finished portion of the museum at this point consists of two galleries, two restrooms and a total of approximately 3,000 square feet.

But many times that amount of unfinished space remain available. The building has a basement and a second floor, and if more resources become available to the Farmington Museum system in the future, Wilsey envisions the new museum having a gift shop, classrooms, studios and offices.

The museum will open with an exhibition of approximately 50 Navajo weavings called "Patterns from Places." The grand opening celebration will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, city officials, live music and more. Wilsey said a Navajo loom constructed from a tree will be assembled in the middle of the main gallery so that visitors will be able to see how the weavings hanging on the wall were created.

Wilsey hopes the new museum becomes a destination not just for tourists, but for local residents, as well.

"It's pretty overwhelming to be able to add another facility," he said, though he noted the costs of operating another satellite location will strain the museum system's budget, limiting the hours the new museum will be open to the public. "We wouldn't have been able to do this without the Culpeppers. Because of their dream and their desire, it happened. This is a great asset to the city and to downtown."

The Navajo Museum of Art and Culture will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Thursday through Saturday.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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