At a time when concerts and gatherings on the West Coast gave birth to 1967’s infamous “Summer of Love,” New Mexico was experiencing its own social and environmental revolution depicted in Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest, an exhibition coming to the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe this May. As the Vietnam conflict dragged on for more than a decade, and the trajectory of civil rights activism escalated nationally, issues of justice, identity and social norms sparked activism among the nation’s youth. Young people from across the country flocked to alternative living situations in growing communes or organized to fight social and political injustices. From the mid-1960s into the 1970s, the well-known draw of New Mexico’s open skies and cross-cultural environment sparked a pilgrimage of many young people to the area.
Opening at the History Museum on May 14, 2017 and running through February 11, 2018, the exhibition spans the decades of the 60s and 70s exploring this influx of young people to New Mexico and the subsequent collision of cultures. Through archival footage, oral histories, photography, ephemera and artifacts, the exhibition examines this cultural revolution and asks how these forms of rebellion inform the ways we think about contemporary social and political questions of what it means to be an engaged citizen. The exhibition’s keynote lecture will be given by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, on May 14, 2017.“In today’s complicated political and social environment, it is a powerful thing to look back at some of the movements and efforts from the 1960s that laid the groundwork for today’s understanding of equal rights, awareness of our environment and what it means to be an engaged citizen,” said Meredith Davidson, curator of the New Mexico History Museum. “We are honored to present the voices of so many of the people who shaped the countercultural scene in New Mexico and the Southwest in this exhibition,” she added.
The exhibition introduces visitors to icons of the time including numerous founding fathers of the counter culture, sharing many first-hand narratives about the commune experience. Among them, Stewart Brand, editor & publish of the Whole Earth Catalog:“I think that most of the things we tried in the 1960s were lessons you get from something you try that doesn’t work… So, the communes were great places to try stuff and fail. I was interested in the variety of that rather than putting my bet on any particular one of them. I just wanted to help the genre. And so, that was a large part of what got the Whole Earth Catalog going in ’68.”—Stewart Brand
The era saw the founding of environmental and Native American rights activist groups like the Black Mesa Defense Fund. As violent protests erupted on the campus of the University of New Mexico, there were unique concentrations of alternative communal living experiments like ‘Lama’ and ‘New Buffalo’ near Taos or ‘Dome City’ in Placitas. New Mexico was situated within an evolving national dialogue about what it meant to be an individual with rights, personal identity and a place to belong.
Curators, Meredith Davidson and Jack Loeffler, tell the story of cultural revolution through first person audio from over 50 interviews with those who lived through the era. Documentary photography and artifacts help reinforce the role that individual actions take in shaping the course of history. So many of the social and political issues of the day still resonate and the museum will invite visitors to share their own stories in an audio feedback booth.
A companion book to the Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest exhibition will be released with the same title by the Museum of New Mexico Press in the summer of 2017. The book brings together 17 essays combining personal reflections by those who lived through the era and transcribed excerpts from the Loeffler Collection.A series of public programs runs monthly throughout the exhibit and includes gallery talks, formal lectures, free yoga classes and a film series through a partnership with Santa Fe’s Cinemathique. An accompanying documentary radio series, “Voices of Counterculture,” will be available in April 2017 on public radio stations nationally through Public Radio Station (PRX).