Out of the Ordinary
VSA opens its new N4th Theater and Gallery
By Steven Robert Allen
A controversy has erupted over the lime green paint covering one portion of the 2,500-square-foot entry space that serves as a lobby, gathering place and, now, a brand new gallery. VSA New Mexico's executive director, Marjorie Neset, likes the bright neon hue. Jessica Barkl, codirector of VSA's brand new performance space, does not.
It's a small conflict, though, and it doesn't seem likely to come to blows. The folks that run VSA's North Fourth Art Center largely seem to agree that the place is looking better than ever. For the most part, they're overjoyed with the way their building has been renovated. Although the finishing touches were still to be done when I stopped by last week, I had to agree. This weekend, the full scope of the renovations will finally be revealed to the public with the highlight being the aforementioned gallery space and a brand new 4,000-square-foot black box theater.
You've probably heard of VSA New Mexico, but odds are you might not truly understand what this innovative nonprofit organization is all about. You aren't alone. “For a while,” says Neset, “I used to worry about presenting one image of what we do to the community, but that just isn't possible.”
The reason this isn't possible is because VSA plays so many different roles in our community. The organization was founded in the early ’80s with the goal of providing access to the arts for people with disabilities. The nonprofit acquired its current building on north Fourth Street in 2000. Since then, it has greatly expanded its original vision. “We don't just serve people with disabilities,” says Neset, “or people without disabilities. There are fine arts centers, and there are community centers. We've smushed the two.”
She isn't quite happy with the word “smushed,” but it gets her point across just fine. In addition to a broad range of community arts work, the organization focuses on contemporary art and performance, and its new theater and exhibit facilities will do much to expand that focus. Starting this month, the center will bring in some very original international, national and local artists. Neset points out that many of these artists simply wouldn't come to Albuquerque otherwise.
This weekend, the inaugural performance in the new theater is being presented by Global DanceFest, a longtime collaborator with VSA. Japanese-born performers Eiko and Koma will collaborate with Cambodia’s Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture for Cambodian Stories—a weekend of extraordinary theater, dance and visual art. Later in the month, there will be a performance by Buen Viaje and Equilibrium, VSA's resident dance companies; a group exhibit of work from apprentice artists from VSA's Day Arts program; a dance festival featuring work by some of the best choreographers in the state; an AMP Concert with Harry Manx, a musician who merges acoustic blues with East Indian classical music; and a poetry and folk music night with poet Danny Solis and musician James Mitchell.
The schedule for May perfectly illustrates the unique vision of the new N4th Theater and Gallery. In a lot of ways, VSA's vision is the same as it's always been. The goal here, as ever, is to present a broad range of contemporary artistic work from some of the most diverse perspectives imaginable, in a context that benefits the least-served members of our community. It's just that now VSA has a bigger, better, more colorful space to do it in.
Cambodian Stories , a performance by Eiko and Koma presented by Global Dancefest, along with an accompanying exhibit runs Friday, May 5, and Saturday, May 6, at N4 th Theater and Gallery. 345-2872, www.vsartsnm.org.