Prior to attending this course, I was unfamiliar with “The Last Conquistador” film. Watching the film, and hearing this story evoked several different reactions within me. Initially, I was intrigued, and in favor of taking the history of El Paso, and portraying it into a dramatic full round sculpture of Don Juan de Onate. However, after hearing the Naïve American tell their side of the story, which revealed how Don Juan de Onate acquired the land through extreme violence, which nearly wiped out the Indian communities in that area. I was no longer in favor of erecting a statue of Don Juan de Onate, as one of the twelve historic figures that would represent the El Paso community. The selection process, and also the results of which historic figure that would be portrayed in the downtown area of El Paso, was under the complete control of the city council in El Paso. The city council approved the statue because so much money had already been spent on this project. They refused to abort the project, in spite of the deep dark history this statue represented, and the controversial commentary that would soon follow.
The city council did not make an honorable decision by selecting Don Juan de Onate as one of the twelve historic figures to exemplify the community of El Paso. First of all, when the idea was presented to the city council for approval, the first thing that came to their minds was tourism and the economy. Because they were the 10th poorest city in America, they needed all the help they could get attracting tourism. The city leaders demonstrated diminutive due diligence regarding what Don Juan de Onate actually did to this town, and the hurt he caused that would be felt for generations to come. The city mostly cared about making money.
Public monies should not be utilized to fund the arts. No stipulations. Do not misunderstand what I am saying here, there is no uncertainty in my mind that the arts are an essential part of our society. Even now in the 21st Century, all cultures can benefit by keeping the arts at the center of our public forums. There’s no dispute there. However, the government should not be the paymaster when it comes to funding the arts. The government highest concern is the bottom line not civic and moral integrity. We watched this mentality prevail in the film, during the permanent stay meeting with the city council of El Paso. The city of El Paso approved the use of one million dollars of taxpayer’s monies to honor a historic figure whose legacy symbolized violence and terror.
If I had exclusive control over the selection process, as the city of El Paso did, I would have chosen a different historic figure to represent the city of El Paso. Especially when the people began to express their reasoning behind their disapproval as well as all the controversy that surrounded this project.
When people are voluntarily financing the arts, the provision of culture will be intrinsically linked to the community. But when the government is financing the arts, bureaucratic attitudes will dominate. Local government leaders should be held to a higher level of accountability and veracity. They should make a conscience effort to connect with the people in the communities that they serve, and respond fairly to the concerns of that community. Put people first, when legislating decision about a community. Making municipal decision that are upright, and in the best interest of the people in the community, are the type of decisions people welcome living with.