Chris Jonas is the director of programs and operations at Warehouse 21 (1614 Paseo de Peralta, 989-4423) as well as a musician who plays in a variety of local groups. Warehouse 21 reopened in its new building on June 27; summer workshops for teens begin in mid-July.
SFR: How did you get involved with Warehouse 21?
CJ: I guess being in Santa Fe, it’s hard not to be involved. I’ve been a part of a lot of different organizations in town, so Warehouse has just been a fundamental part of my life for a long time now. I moved here as an artist and became interested in how the city and various nonprofits—as well as the artists themselves—began to capitalize on the potential that was here. I’ve participated in a lot of efforts here in terms of looking at how to strategically grow the well-being of the creative center. One of the challenges in Santa Fe is the attrition of young artists. The best way to retain them is to give them all the support they need. And in the contemporary American art scenes—which include everything: music, art, film—the only way to survive as an artist is to find that odd alchemy that is making a living and making the baddest art imaginable. If a young artist is supported in the creation of their art, while at the same time learning the skills to support their art, then you’ve got it.
You position at Warehouse is a new one, right?
Brand new position for a brand new space. There have been program coordinators before. Partly changing because we’re going from a 3,500 to a 16,845-square-foot space. Everything is growing, so additional staff positions were needed. Little Warehouse is growing up and now it’s a teenager.
What has been added to the programs that Warehouse already had?
In some ways, the old programs act like new programs. We’ve had Web and video programs before, but they’ve grown. There’s a lot of growth in terms of technology. The spaces are bigger so the capacity of those programs will grow considerably. We’re hoping to reach a wider base of kids and adults in order to grow the Warehouse family.
What does Warehouse 21 do to teach kids the business side of art?
We don’t teach classes. Kids come and have a direct experience of making art. We don’t have teachers; we have artists. So, ideally, what’s going on is that the artists are telling stories about what they do and the kids who are here look at them and say, ‘Oh, I could do that.’ For example, a visual artist might tell a story about the hell of going to an opening and a young artist acquires a skill that’s maybe more important than correctly rendering a perfect circle.
But there's also a hands-on element to the business side, right?
Warehouse has a history of kids coming into concerts and being told that they themselves can have concerts. Then they discover that they can help promote concerts and make money. Through all of that they see that their bands are successful and they enter into the whole ecosystem of the American music scene. One of the most important things is that we facilitate the growth of imagination and skills of people as they walk through the doors, and that they have someplace to go when they’re done. So if they’re in the visual arts program and they’re doing installation stuff, they walk out of here as digital media installers and they get themselves a damn good job.
How do you help those youth who aren't as clear on what they want to do?
Everyone working in the building is here to guide kids. The program is designed to have 1,000 points of entry, so if a kid walks in and doesn’t know what they want to do, hopefully whoever they first come across can open up a catalog and say, ‘What’s the first thing that resonates?’ And the kid can go from there, and if it doesn’t work he can try something else.
Who decides what kind of music and art comes through?
My position certainly isn’t that of the curator. The promoters’ circle is the group who does that, and they are kids who are deeply engaged in the program and are helping because of that. They’re learning the business skills as well as keeping it real. It’s their ideas and agendas that determine who and what comes through.
Is there oversight? Anyone saying, 'No, that's not appropriate'?
Totally. We have to find that ideal mixture of safety. Adolescence is a crazy, chaotic time and a place like Warehouse has to blend safety and inspiration. It has to be changeable and mutable but also consistent and has to feel somewhat like a family.
At the grand opening, an artist from Meow Wolf was upset because the cuss words in [the group's] piece were removed. The piece was marked as censored; will you leave up that censorship notice?
Sure. Language is part of an ongoing conversation. Of course, we have to set policies as to what is and is not appropriate. I think our policies are probably partly dictated by learning on the ground. It’s not our place to determine what’s appropriate, but to determine what’s safe. For instance, our policy in terms of concerts is that we’re all about the mosh pit, so it’s not about policy and rules. Here it’s about teenagers helping to create those rules. The thing is that if there are cuss words we’re not about shutting it down, we’re about the conversation about those words.