The Tribal Way: Jamie Blosser on the Santo Domingo Heritage Trail Arts Project

The Santo Domingo Heritage Trail Arts Project, which recently earned a nearly half million dollar ArtPlace America grant, “stemmed from years of work and collaborations that developed into a vision with an exciting scope,” says incoming Loeb Jamie Blosser. She’s a member of the team involved in developing the project and responsible for facilitating its implementation: “It’s tying together many different projects in a beautiful way.” In a recent conversation, Blosser explained how the project evolved and why it’s so important for the Pueblo of Santo Domingo.

The resurrection of a commuter rail along a disused rail line between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, meant a new station in Domingo, an abandoned mercantile town along the historic route that also incorporated Camino Real and Route 66. The town, once an active trading post, is within the Santo Domingo Pueblo reservation boundaries, and is located 2 miles from the residentially dense Pueblo core.

The Pueblo of Santo Domingo has maintained traditional religious practices and social structure and has a rich artistic history of jewelry and pottery production, but unemployment is high and a quarter of the residents live below the poverty line. The new transit station promises public transport access to urban centers, better jobs and educational opportunities outside the reservation, as well as an increase in tourism.

Earlier initiatives worked with the tribe to envision the kind of development that would benefit the Pueblo and draw upon its cultural heritage. A 2012 “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts supported a cultural district plan to document the tribe’s cultural heritage and establish livable and culturally appropriate guidelines for historic adobe structures and new development. The plan, which also promoted cultural and artistic entrepreneurship, was a collaboration of the Santo Domingo Planning Department and Santo Domingo Tribal Housing Authority, Enterprise Community Partners, Cornerstones Community Partnerships, the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship, Atkin Olshin Schade Architects and Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative, an organization founded by Blosser.

Tony Atkin, founding partner at Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, developed a multidisciplinary studio at PennDesign with Laurie Olin of Olin Studio, which focused on maximizing the potential of rural transit-oriented development to create a modern settlement undergirded by layers of history and tradition. Working with tribal leadership, the studio considered how to design 400 units of housing in Domingo that builds upon the Pueblo’s architectural heritage but also looks toward modern design and methodologies. During the Atkin/Olin studio, tribal members made clear the need for a safe pedestrian trail on the 2-mile stretch between the town of Domingo and Santo Domingo Pueblo and the housing developments on each end. This idea was taken up by several of the student groups for study and development, and became the seed of future development of the trail.

Joseph Kunkel, an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow working with Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative and the Santo Domingo Tribal Housing Authority, organized a community walk between the town of Domingo and the pueblo village core that elicited oral histories and the vision of the community for the path. “What emerged from all of these efforts,” says Blosser, “set the stage for the ArtPlace grant. There was a new sense of the strong connection between town and pueblo and the potential impacts for health, safety and cross-cultural exchange.”

Last year, Tony Atkin and Laurie Olin both committed their firms’ time pro bono to help develop this idea of a safe and beautiful trail, by staging a charrette with volunteer staff members and the Santo Domingo Planning Department. They looked at the possibility of using points along the trail to explain Santo Domingo culture, history, and the surrounding landscape.

With the funding from ArtPlace America, local artists will be invited to propose designs for stops for resting and lingering along the path. Atkin Olshin Schade Architects and Olin Studio will work with the artists to provide construction documents and coordination to implement the artwork.

The trail presents a unique opportunity to celebrate the tribe’s heritage and educate and inform visitors, who will have easier access to the Pueblo, thereby supporting the tribe’s entrepreneurship. The result will be a modern solution that preserves the history and traditions of ancient culture, reinforces the benefits of new development and responds to the realities of 21st century tribal life.

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