All options are on the table.
This is what Gov. Bill Richardson’s deputy chief of staff, Bill Perlman, reportedly told the “high-powered” College of Santa Fe Task Force.
All options except that of a focused and progressive art school working toward a national reputation that would lend meat to Santa Fe’s somewhat spurious claim of being a significant art center. That was, after all, the College of Santa Fe’s most recent mission before its pretense of being a college at all—let alone one with a commanding sense of purpose—was demolished by a lazy, ineffective board and a succession of presidents more interested in padding their résumés than invigorating the troubled school.
At this point, all the options on the table appear to water down the school’s focus on the arts—in fact, it’s only lucky happenstance that a school remains at all. What’s on the table is allowing private developers to create a retirement community.
Forget the much-trumpeted need to stop the attrition of young people, and to attract entrepreneurial spirit, creative class pioneers and the kind of healthy, youthful people who invigorate a city’s coffers and bring business with them in their pursuit of “quality of life. When real money is on the table, the powers that be are all ears for short-term economics and increasing Santa Fe’s ever-swelling fogy factor.
Forget about the Santa Fe Art Institute, which leases its facilities from the College of Santa Fe; it appears to be mysteriously unrepresented on the CSF Task Force, let alone mentioned by the media. Host of one of Santa Fe’s very few residency programs, and the arts organization most acutely operating at the intersection of art, politics and cultural criticism, the Institute offers the rare gift of proactive programming with a conscience.
Pay no attention, please, to the accolades received by members of CSF’s creative writing program, just in the last year, from the New York Times (including Robin Romm landing the cover of the Sunday Book Review)—feats unmatched as far as I know, by any other anything in the entire state.
Disregard, please, that the arts and culture industry is the most significant non-governmental factor in Santa Fe’s economy, providing the bulk of revenue, the bulk of jobs and the bulk of the entire region’s tourist allure—so recently categorized as cultural tourism.
Instead, let’s all focus on how to water down the school and ensure that every numbskull with the governor’s phone number and an opinion can carve out a slice of what happens to a prime piece of Santa Fe’s physical, intellectual and creative real estate. Back when New Mexico Highlands University was going to be the knight in shining armor, we had to inure ourselves to the prospect that CSF could host Highland’s claim to fame: its “education” program—a degree so illustrious that it graces the wall of every middling, tyrannical, status quo school administrator in New Mexico.
Now Santa Fe Community College President Sheila Ortego—not a numbskull—has designed a plan to have CSF become a state “learning center.” Under Ortego’s plan, CSF would become a kind of educational tasting platter with hors d’ouevres served up from all of the state’s educational stakeholders. Ortego helms a responsible, effective educational institution that has become a linchpin in the Santa Fe community, and her plan is smart, proactive and logical. It includes everyone, offends no one—at least no one on the task force—and could be viable under any number of variations. But rarely is the most practical and politically expedient solution the best one.
What we need now is courage, especially after lawmakers were too cowardly to play it straight with students who dedicated so much time and energy to a bill to save their school. The courage needs to begin with the CSF Board of Trustees accepting its fiduciary responsibility. I’ve yet to accurately gauge the cumulative wealth of the board, but even given that it might be half of what it was a year ago, I know it’s plenty. The Peters and Zeckendorf families alone could each write a check for $25 million ($50 million total—just to make sure the debt is covered and then some) and never even feel the hiccup in their bank accounts. We also know that the Peters and Zeckendorfs both enjoy social prominence in Santa Fe because of the arts. History can assign the role of hero or villain, and these are people with the power to choose for themselves and set the table however they like.
Stepping up and solving the problem that occurred on their watch would allow the College of Santa Fe to become something different, distinct and fitting for the future of the city, rather than a mishmash of compromises. After all, “Big Bill” Zeckendorf—originator of the New York-based development fortune—is famous for once saying “to do less than the ultimate is to do nothing.”