CCA’s Latest SOS

Call for pledges could help revive the Center for Contemporary Arts, but why didn’t we hear about the shape of things until now?

Citing low revenue, a drop in donations and other factors, the Center for Contemporary Arts announced April 6 the board of directors had voted to immediately close.

As the news traveled through Santa Fe, longtime patrons of the 44-year-old nonprofit organization questioned why, if the situation had become so dire, had its leadership stayed so quiet? And further complicating the situation is a board member now conducting a last-ditch fundraising “pledge” effort.

Prior to the announcement released to local media the day of the closure, the last email sent to CCA members went out Dec. 28, and contained no indication of trouble—it didn’t even have a call for donations.

A mainstay of local cinema and visual arts since 1979, CCA has been oft-imperiled. In the mid-1990s, as SFR reported at the time, the original founders were fired and locked out of their offices; staff were laid off; the board of directors resigned. But the organization has always found a way to move forward, eventually adding a formal gallery space most recently known as the Tank Garage. High turnover among executive directors and fewer film screenings followed in recent years.

Board Chairman David Muck tells SFR the initial announcement came after more than a year of discussion. The reason behind the organization’s radio silence in regards to its coffers was a simple matter of history.

“CCA has been in this position so many times, we were hesitant to do the boy-who-cried-wolf approach one more time,” Muck, who became board chair in January of last year, says in an interview five days after the announcement. “We didn’t think people would take us seriously. We did do an end-of-year campaign, but all the [fundraising] work that was done in February and March was done privately, one-on-one. CCA has been in this jam so many times...and because that card has been played so many times...I don’t even like the position we’re in now where we’re saying, once again, ‘we’re going to close if we don’t get money.’”

Muck claims CCA was “completely free of debt” when the board voted to close. In January 2023, he says, the organization adopted a $1.28 million budget, but total incoming cash from grants and ticket revenue was forecast at less than half that. Even though the CCA received a $50,000 grant from the Ruth Foundation last year and a three-year grant of $100,000 from the Ford Foundation, funds were low, he says.

According to Muck, Executive Director Danyelle Means (Oglala Lakota), who had joined the CCA in 2021 following positions with the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, resigned early last week to free up severance funds for nine other outgoing employees.

“She was very protective of the staff,” Muck adds. “It was a generous offer for her to do that.”

Means did not return requests for comment.

Now, though, as the dust settles, the future of the CCA cinema offerings might not be over just yet, Muck says.

In the aftermath of the closure announcement, arts workers reeled, citizens voiced their displeasure online—and then came the rallying cry. CCA board member Ellen Premack penned a notice that circulated on social media that reads in part, “if we receive $300,000 in pledges by Monday, April 10th, the CCA Board will call a meeting and re-think the closing.”

As of press time, Muck says the last-ditch call for pledges had roughly hit $165,000. He also says the board has lined up private matching funds if donors promise to deliver $300,000. Muck won’t disclose the names of the private donors, however, he now says the CCA board will extend the deadline for pledges through Friday, April 14. (To pledge, email Muck says the board has planned a meeting for that day.

“We’re really being careful that we can create a plan that can be sustainable,” he explains. “A smaller staff and smaller budget that we can fund every year, a mission we can support every year. We’re being careful with the idea of moving forward, because if we reopen, our fundraising needs don’t go away. We’re trying to secure as much as we can up front and operate as frugally as possible.”

Muck says the $300,000 figure is an estimate for bare bones operational costs of the moviehouse alone.

Such a budget would be a far cry from the halcyon days of the CCA, according to former cinema head Jason Silverman, who served in that role from 2003 to 2020.

“I don’t have old budgets in front of me or easily accessible, but I believe that our Cinematheque budgets ranged in our golden years from between $600,000 and $850,000,” he tells SFR. “That included a full schedule of films...festivals, visiting filmmakers, student programs, educational programs and marketing.”

By comparison, Silverman’s current position with Upstate Films in Rhinebeck, New York, finds him working with five screens and various educational programs, including visiting filmmakers, outdoor movies and pop-up events, at a budget of $1.4 million.

Even so, losing the Tank Garage will impact Santa Fe’s scene. For years it has been a showstopper space for local events and exhibits including but hardly limited to the CURRENTS New Media Festival (which will host its annual affair at the Rodeo Grounds this year); MacArthur-winning blacksmith Tom Joyce; the much-lauded Self-Determined group show of contemporary Indigenous artists; and, notably, Meow Wolf’s 2011 show, The Due Return, a massive interactive ship that became a precursor to the House of Eternal Return perma-installation in Santa Fe.

“Most people, I would say 95% of people reaching out to us, the cinema is what they related with CCA,” Muck says, however.

At least one organization will still host its event in the CCA Tank Garage, though: Print Santa Fe is scheduled for its inaugural night from 5 to 9 pm, Friday, April 28.

As for whether the building the CCA cinema has called home is even available, a spokesman for the Department of Cultural Affairs, which leases the building from the State Armory Board and, in turn, sublets to the CCA, says the department is waiting to see what happens next, but has not received any notice from the CCA.

“We found out just the other day, online—the same way as everyone else,” says Department of Cultural Affairs Marketing and Communications Manager Daniel Zillman. “Right now, we are open to all possibilities.”

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