In the hustle and bustle of Indian Market weekend, which really becomes Indian Market week, it might be easy to overlook the milestone achievement of the opening of New Mexico School for the Arts’ second year and the welcoming celebration for the new freshman class at this state’s only charter school dedicated to the fine arts. On Wednesday, August 17th, faculty, staff and invited guests greeted the incoming freshman class and welcomed back the returning student members of the sophomore, junior and first-time senior classes. The student body has risen to a robust 187 members – up from an enrollment of the mid 130s last year. This is the only state-chartered school that is allowed to control its admissions by audition and the students are quite a selective lot – not because of anything but their talent and potential. One might ask, how can you judge the artistic achievements of a seventh-grader for admission to NMSA? Well, the faculty and staff have always factored in desire, passion and potential when looking at the work of young performing and visual artists. The seasoned professionals who are the instructors at this unique school know these factors well; from the time they were young and seeking their own way in the world. It is not unlike the late choreographer George Balanchine of New York City Ballet choosing members of his school by looking at just a few moves and the placement of a young dancer’s body and seeing the potential for greatness.
The school auditorium (actually, the old multi-purpose space in the original St. Francis School at Alameda and Paseo de Peralta) was brimming with excitement that warm August morning as each class level was introduced and paraded in. There were uplifting words of welcome from principal Cindy Montoya, executive director Adelma Aurora Hnasko, head of the arts programming, and the Mayor. Also in attendance was Jimmy Santiago Baca, who spoke of his involvement in the arts. Baca’s life story of abandonment, drugs, incarceration and eventual redemption through the arts is about as moving a story as these young high school students might ever hear about the power of the arts to change one’s life.
The school has an impressive array of talent teaching these young people, including the chairs of the various disciples offered at this charter high school: Adam McKinney, dance; Cristina Gonzalez, visual arts; Joey Chavez, theater and, newest member, Stephen Redfield, chair of the music department. In addition to these department heads, NMSA has working professionals in all of these disciplines as adjunct members of the faculty; providing a direct connection between the academic world of a high school curriculum and the real world of artistic endeavors and achievement.
To all of those members of the board, donors, members of the legislature and its founder, Catherine Oppenheimer, who have made this important school possible – we salute you. But, remember, this is “our” school and by this I mean the larger community of New Mexico. I invite you, dear readers, to not only see it thrive for these young people, but also help it thrive. Get involved!