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Anson Stevens-Bollen

Dream, But Dream Practically

May 31, 2017, 12:00 am

Amid murky details surrounding the closure of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design on its city-owned campus, one fact remains clear for the performing arts community of Santa Fe: It loves the Greer Garson Theatre. The community’s support for the campus’ venue came across loud and clear at a public forum hosted the evening of Monday May 22 by #SaveTheGreer, a Facebook group concerned with the future of the space.

The sweeping 513-seat auditorium is many a thespian’s favorite venue in town: it’s flanked by the Weckesser Black Box (aka the Weck), and features practice rooms, classrooms, a dance studio, scene and costume shops, prop storage, offices, a roomy lobby, a mezzanine art gallery and plenty of parking outside. With the impending June 2018 closure of SFUAD, its alums and those from the College of Santa Fe (which occupied the campus until 2009) have voiced concern about the theater’s future, and Reuben Greenwald (CSF class of ’04) started #SaveTheGreer as a place for discussion and activism.

The Santa Fe University of Art and Design’s Greer Garson Theatre is many a thespian’s favorite venue in our town, and the best bet for preserving the theater for future use is finding an institution to take over the campus as a whole.
Anson Stevens-Bollen

Cheryl Odom, who taught various performing arts subjects at CSF for 29 years and remains involved in the theater community in Santa Fe, opened the public forum with the emotion underlying alums’ attachment to the Greer. “If you work in a theater—if you’re there 24/7, like it often is in a college theater program—you become very attached to the space,” she said, perched on the edge of the stage at Santa Fe Performing Arts.

Beyond emotional attachment, though, forum participants recognized that there has to be a sane and rational plan in place to preserve the campus as a whole. Theater folks are never short on passion; this conversation concerned the nuts and bolts.

Along with alums, attendees included newcomers to Santa Fe, members of the film industry and others from the community at large (a few of whom say they were friends of the venue’s namesake actress Garson and her husband Bud Fogelson). At least twice, they raised the name of New Mexico School for the Arts as a potential tenant. Yet, NMSA Director Cece Derringer tells SFR via email: “At this time, we are far too invested in our site at the former Sanbusco Center to change the location of our school. We would hope that there could be collaborative efforts with the theater and other resources at the university site once new ownership is secured.”

Peter Sills, former executive director of the Santa Fe Playhouse, said at the forum and later reiterated to SFR that he approached the city with an inquiry: If said passionate theater folks could find the money, would the city consider selling the theater? The city responded resolutely that it is not interested in parceling out the campus building by building.

Matthew O’Reilly, asset development director at the City of Santa Fe, confirms that this is the city’s stance. He tells SFR officials are “dead serious about saving this as a university or college,” and hopes to find an established institution of higher education interested in stepping into SFUAD’s shoes and taking over the lease for the property. Dividing up the campus piecemeal would risk “potentially limiting the appeal to a university that would want the entire campus, and would have the means to keep it going,” O’Reilly says. “The campus is a valuable asset in its entirety.”

O’Reilly also hoped to dispel some alternative facts that have been circulating about the city’s plans for the Greer. The city is “absolutely not” selling or demolishing the theater, he says, despite what some outraged people “flooding the city with calls” have been led to believe. Tearing down the theater is something the city would “never, ever do.”

So, if the best bet for preserving the Greer is finding a school willing to take over the whole campus, it’s time to start making connections—but serious inquiries only, please. Chasing down rumors of someone’s college roommate’s sister’s boyfriend’s father’s rich boss is a waste of time.

O’Reilly asks that “if someone has a legitimate contact of someone in a position to make a decision” at an institution of higher learning that could assume the lease on the SFUAD campus—we’re talking provosts, presidents, members of boards of directors or regents—they should pass that information along to the city.

Along the same lines, Sills, as a member of #SaveTheGreer, is working with colleagues and friends to gather information about schools that could possibly be serious about the campus. Their focus is on schools with already-vibrant film departments in particular, who would find the well-equipped Garson Studios attractive for a satellite campus in a destination city.

At the May 22 forum, former City Councilor Karen Heldmeyer closed the evening concisely: “If I had to sum up what I heard tonight, it was: ‘Dream, but dream practically.’” The crowd, which bore considered ideas rather than pitchforks, nodded in agreement.

The future of the Greer Garson Theatre is yet to be seen. But if anyone can make good things happen, said SFUAD alum and forum participant Corbin Albaugh, it’s this group. “Money is indeed a very powerful factor in what we are trying to accomplish,” he said bluntly. “But I think that, being theater artists, it is our profession to take our dreams and reconcile them with reality. I think this is absolutely something that we can do.”


 

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