Now that the New Mexico Highlands University Board of Regents has approved going forward with the acquisition of the College of Santa Fe, we can rest easy, right?
Highlands President James Fries’ enthusiasm is only bested by CSF President Stuart Kirk’s. Every missive from these administrators is a heartbeat of hope. A few legislative hurdles, a $35 million bailout (modest by today’s standards) and oak trees and ivory towers will be sprouting off of St. Michael’s Drive faster than you spell incompetence.
It’s too bad that one oafish move after the next makes it increasingly difficult to actually care.
Even though the community has been asked—belatedly—to wake up and cherish the noble and storied College of Santa Fe, we’ve never been told how the financial trouble started. It’s not like the private school has said, “Hey, we’ve got nothing to hide—take a look at our finances!” That coy silence, of course, breeds suspicion. We’ve all seen CSI: We know how to spot the guilty. But we’ve also watched the news; there are ways out of financial trouble, especially for the guilty.
It’s the failure of vision, it’s the pervasive soul sickness more than the money that has bred concern regarding CSF during the past year. Now, with each passing episode of minor disaster, the thing is snowballing into an epic-enough wreck to spur apathy about it. Like I said, we’ve seen the news and we know how to tune out the world’s worst. Things are too screwed in Gaza for us to care. This is America: When the going gets tough, our eyes glaze over.
Of course, our best attribute as Americans is that we’re likely to actually rise up and offer assistance when it’s openly requested. Hurricanes, Tsunamis, you-name-it: When governments fail to provide, the American people are at the top of the donor list. This is doubly true for soft, emotional Santa Fe. Call us woo-woo if you like; we can’t help but roll up our sleeves or peel open the check book when asked.
Problem is, CSF has never asked. Oh, I’m sure they’ve asked their board of trustees and an extended circle of people who are sick of being pestered, but Santa Fe, in general, has never been asked; I’ve never been asked. The school has remained tight-lipped and obsessively, pointlessly secretive while sinking into a nasty quagmire.
Now, The Screen at CSF is slated to be closed. Its director, Santa Fe’s most respected film junkie, Brent Kliewer, offered to work the spring semester without salary. No dice. He offered to raise ticket prices, to reduce screenings, anything to break even. Sorry, pal.
Respected actress, Academy Award winner, Santa Fean and devotee to the city’s art-house cinema scene—especially The Screen—Ali MacGraw didn’t know about the impending closure until she read about it in the
“It’s so shockingly shortsighted,” MacGraw tells SFR, “I don’t understand what’s happening. For anyone to fail to understand the cultural vibrancy and how critical that theater is to both the students and the community is just incomprehensible to me.”
Rumors broke out last week that MacGraw—or MacGraw and a select group of donors—were going to step in and save The Screen. That’s not the case, MacGraw says. “When I heard about the closure, I called [CSF Moving Image Arts Chairman] Jonathan Wacks right away and asked what I could do. But I’m still waiting to hear. In the meantime, I just want to say that I’ve lived in LA, I’ve lived in New York, and no place has independent film curating like Santa Fe does, and much of the credit goes to Brent Kliewer and the The Screen. It is fair to say that I’ll do whatever I can to help, and I know I speak for a lot of Santa Feans when I say that.”
There’s evidence—Web sites, recruitment material, slick little ’zines, students hard at work—that supports the notion that CSF is an art school, but the empirical truth of it is absent in terms of administrative action. We—as in We the Community, We the Citizens of New Mexico, We the Voters and We the Taxpayers—are meant to believe in the value of CSF as a center for education and culture, as a crucible and a propagator of ideas and to assume liability for its care and maintenance.
A school, unlike a generic company, is not made attractive to buyers solely because of its lean, tight budget. If a school isn’t a living center of knowledge and culture, it’s just wasted real estate.
There’s talk of opening The Screen again next fall. But anyone who knows Kliewer’s history knows he might just take his program elsewhere before then. Hello community college?
Obviously money is tight, but no one wants to rescue a cultural void. The administration needs to step up and match the soul that its students express if it wants CSF to be valued in this community. Or the administration needs to get out of the way.