Local arts workers react to Center for Contemporary Arts closure

“The rug was pulled out from under me a little bit.”

Santa Fe native and podcast producer Warren Langford just bought his mother a membership to the Center for Contemporary Arts last Christmas.

He’s been catching movies at the local theater for most of his life, especially during a period in his teens wherein he volunteered at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum up the hill from the nonprofit art space. After those shifts, he says, he’d see movies. For Langford, who recently produced the audio drama Eminent Domain for streaming service Audible, access to the cinema meant access to storytelling and disparate views from around the world.

“The theater was a little different back then, but it was definitely a part of the routine,” he tells SFR. “We had so many movie theaters, but [the CCA] is definitely where you saw the super indie stuff.”

The Center for Contemporary Arts announced earlier today that its board has voted to close the nonprofit effective immediately. This comes after more than four decades serving visual arts and cinema communities in Santa Fe, including, notably, LGBTQ+ and Indigenous folks. In a statement from the CCA, board chair David Muck and Executive Director Danyelle Means (Oglala Lakota) cast the blame on post-COVID budget and programming woes. For some, like Langford, the closure is downright heartbreaking; he and his wife Janell welcomed their first child just last year, and knowing he won’t be able to share the time-honored CCA film programming with his progeny is a tough blow.

“There is no real arthouse film theater in this town now...there’s just no access to the more arthouse and foreign films here,” Langford continues. “It’s just one of those things that I always knew was sort of on the chopping block, though you think there are enough wealthy patrons of a certain demographic that it was hopefully going to stay afloat; but honestly, these sorts of things died in other cities and towns a long time ago—it’s a miracle it made it this long.”

Santa Fe International Film Festival Executive Director Liesette Bailey similarly bemoans how her kids will never get to know a cinema that meant so much to her growing up.

“I always thought, ‘Oh, a lot of teenagers have worked there, maybe my kids will work there when they get older, y’know, popping popcorn,’” she says. “I think one of the great things about Santa Fe has been how many screens we’ve had, so to see [CCA] and Regal shut down...well, I hope it’s not the end.”

Bailey conjures up the Jean Cocteau Cinema, however, as an example of what could be. Prior to its purchase in 2013 by none other than Game of Thrones scribe and Santa Fean, George RR Martin, the Cocteau had been unused for years. Today, it is thriving as a multi-use events space, even if it doesn’t play movies often as it once did.

As for Bailey’s feelings as a co-founder and administrator for Santa Fe’s largest and most notable film festival?

“We’ve always been able to pivot, and running an arts organization, there’s always going to be some obstacle,” she notes. “It’s not ideal, but we’ll figure it out. I don’t know about saving the CCA, but like I say, hopefully it doesn’t just go dark.”

For Raashan Ahmad, executive director of local nonprofit Vital Spaces, which sublets affordable studio space to artists in otherwise vacant buildings, the CCA closure is alarming.

“I feel sad, that’s the first thing, and worried,” Ahmad explains. “I was just at El Museo Cultural yesterday and over the moon with how beautiful the history is over there, so knowing how much has happened, how much spaces like this have done for the people in this just feels like the sexier people and institutions are supported and these long-standing places that have held this community are not as supported. Where will we go for the history and the culture that this place has been? What happens to those stories and that art?”

Ahmad is no stranger to difficulty in holding down a space in Santa Fe. Vital Spaces lost its original flagship location near the Plaza in 2021 when it was announced a hotel development would take over. Additionally, its Midtown Annex on the city-owned Midtown Campus (former Santa Fe University of Art & Design and, before that, the College of Santa Fe) will cease operations in June when its lease ends. The city chose, Ahmad says, not to renew that lease.

Artist Ian Kuali’i (Native Hawaiian and Apache) says losing CCA will hurt the entire community. Kuali’i most recently showed a massive piece of hand-cut paper as part of the CCA’s Self-Determined exhibit.

“It’s definitely unfortunate for the community and all of the workers at CCA, it’s devastating,” he says. “On the other side, what other contemporary arts centers in the so-called United States have a female Indigenous director? We need more representation, more Indigenous bodies within the more executive positions, and this is a great loss for that as well, for inclusion.”

Additionally, Kuali’i says, Means’ work as a curator within the space was more about helping artists than subscribing to a rigid idea of what the CCA is or was supposed to be.

“They were absolutely wonderful to work with,” he adds. “I’ve rarely run into that—there are very few cases where curators or directors haven’t stated their input; how they see my vision or other creatives’ vision in their space. It was different at CCA. It actually felt like community, like they actually cared about the voice of the people who came into the space.”

The Center for Contemporary Arts originally opened in 1979 and will close effective immediately. The nonprofit says it will refund advance-purchase tickets for upcoming shows. According to Santa Fe County tax records, the state owns the campus on Old Santa Fe Trail that houses CCA, along with the children’s museum and the Bataan Memorial Military Museum.

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