August 2014

The Santo Domingo Heritage Trail Arts Project


Barbara Epstein


Santo Domingo project 1The 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 Jamie Blosser, a member of the team involved in developing the project and facilitating its implementation. “It’s tying together many different projects in a beautiful way,” she added. In a recent conversation, Blosser, associate at Atkin Olshin Schade Architects and a 2014 Loeb Fellow at Harvard, explained how the project evolved and why it’s so important for the Pueblo of Santo Domingo.

The resurrection of a commuter rail between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, has meant a new station in Domingo, an abandoned mercantile town along the historic route that incorporated the Camino Real and Route 66. The town, once an active trading post, is within Santo Domingo Pueblo boundaries, two 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 making, 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.

Santo Domingo project 3Earlier 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, as well as new development. The plan, which also promoted cultural and artistic entrepreneurship, was a collaboration of the Santo Domingo Planning Department, Santo Domingo Tribal Housing Authority, Enterprise Community Partners, Cornerstones Community Partnerships, Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship, Atkin Olshin Schade Architects and Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative.

Tony Atkin, founding partner at Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, and Laurie Olin of Olin Studio focused on maximizing the potential of rural transit-oriented development to create a modern settlement inspired by history and tradition. Working with tribal leadership, they considered how to design 400 housing units in Domingo that build upon the pueblo’s architectural heritage but also look toward modern design and methodologies. Tribal members made clear the need for a safe pedestrian trail on the two-mile stretch between the town, the pueblo and the housing developments on each end. This idea 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 Domingo and the pueblo core that elicited oral histories and the vision of the community for the path. What emerged from all of these efforts 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.

Santo Domingo project 2Last year, Tony Atkin and Laurie Olin 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. The trail presents a unique opportunity to educate and inform visitors, who will have easier access to the pueblo, thereby supporting the tribe’s entrepreneurship. 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 coordination to implement the artwork.

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.


Barbara Epstein is a writer, editor and consultant working with nonprofit, academic and community organizations.




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