Mellon Foundation Grant for Media Arts to Preserve New Mexico Community Histories

February 5, 2021

photo of Mellon Foundation Grant for Media Arts to Preserve New Mexi

Miriam Langer

Las Vegas, N.M. – The New Mexico Highlands University Media Arts and Technology Department will build a digital community-based archive to preserve the histories of villages and towns of Northern New Mexico, thanks to a $970,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Some of the communities that will benefit include Las Vegas, Taos, Chimayo, Abiquiu, Embudo Valley, Amalia and El Valle.

“We’re building a community-based archive for the people of Northern New Mexico in order to honor their history and ties to the land,” said Miriam Langer, Media Arts and Technology Department chair. “The idea is to connect through a collection of documents, images, video, audio and oral histories. It’s called the Manitos Community Memory Project.”

Langer said the grant work is important because communities are not static, people move, and documents are lost or destroyed.

“The Mellon Foundation has given us an exciting opportunity to facilitate a stronger connection between Highlands and the communities we serve,” Langer said.

Langer, the co-writer for The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant and its technical director, said the grant funding will be used to create community memory labs. The grant team also includes Estevan Rael-Galvez, project director, and Mimi Roberts, project manager.

“A community memory lab is a location where we can take materials such as documents, photos, audio recordings, and films and make them accessible digitally through a database. For the duration of the project, two years minimum, the memory lab will be at the media arts McCaffrey Historic Trolley Building. The database will be hosted by the New Mexico Humanities Council,” Langer said.

Langer said the grant team is assembling a group of 10 community historians who will facilitate participation in the partner communities.

“We are also working with Katie Gray, an archivist at Highlands’ Donnelly Library, and other librarians, to make sure the community archive created is useful and sustainable,” Langer said.

Langer said there will be many opportunities for media arts and technology students and graduates to contribute to the Manitos Community Memory Project.

“We’ve been fortunate to have great paid media arts interns who are assigned to this project. For example, we have Lily Padilla, a design specialist, Natasha Vasquez, an illustrator and animator, and we’ll add an audio and video specialist who will work to record oral histories and prepare materials for the database. Two additional summer interns will be added each year,” Langer said.

Langer said that the work the media arts students and graduates are doing on the community memory lab project has inspired more people in the communities to join the project. This new 2021 grant is the second phase of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant project Highlands began in 2017 to preserve historic and cultural documents in the communities.

Langer said Highlands University’s main partner for the grant is the New Mexico Humanities Council.

“The Manitos Community Memory Project makes it possible to continue and celebrate the traditions of communities,” said Ellen Dornan, digital humanities program officer at the New Mexico Humanities Council. “It’s also a way to reach underserved communities and help them recover from previous historical extraction practices that minimized the importance of people’s lives.”

Dornan said she has admiration for the Highlands media arts faculty and students.

“They provide a unique service of innovation and problem solving for interpreting New Mexico culture and history in exciting ways,” Dornan said.

Other Highlands media arts and technology faculty who will contribute to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant project include Mariah Fox Hausman, Morgan Barnard and Lauren Addario.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the largest supporter of the arts and humanities in the United States.