Hey, Hey, Goodbye
An elegy for the College of Santa Fe
Something that struck me the first time I read Romeo and Juliet was the thought that, well hell, now that the kids are dead, both of these families are going to have to find some way to get them back, to return to that healthy, portentous place where the future looks fruitful. It was arrogant to think that it couldn’t get to that point; that the kids would always be around.
And so there I was, sitting in a courtyard at the College of Santa Fe, talking to Cody Berry as he strummed his electric guitar, listening about his upcoming gig as driver for The Apple Miner Colony’s five-week summer tour. At that very moment, I realized how impressed I was, not only with Berry (and his banjo accompanist) but with all of the students I’ve been able to work with or meet over the past three years. The school itself, now drifting from what it was to something as yet to be determined, will say goodbye to most of its students, faculty and staff come May 22.
If you had asked me before my stint as gallery director began what kind of student attended CSF, I would have gone blank. I had no idea. Since then, I’ve mounted 20-plus shows that consisted of nearly 150 artists, openings that included one Celtic singing ensemble, one math rock group, a motion-sensor-driven player piano, the construction of a temporary 16-foot hallway, a giant balloon made of Tyvek, 13 films by Gordon Matta-Clark, a shelf of moldy bread, hundreds of photographs and paintings and at least one sign scrawled across my door that read “Where the fuck are you, David!!???” And that just scratches the surface. Because, prior to my arrival, I doubted the existence of the students I would meet—the ones who wear wedding dresses for a month or form 20-member brass and string ensembles. The ones who drive all the way from Denver to emcee a set of performances that mark the end of an entire department. The ones who spend three weeks soundproofing a 100 square-foot gallery space that would be trashed three days later. The kind of student that attended CSF was the kind that cared about what he or she was doing in the most serious way.
And maybe this wouldn’t have been a surprise if the gap between Santa Fe and Albuquerque (and every other city in New Mexico) wasn’t so big, but for me that distance got smaller through connections to the school and the city. I was able to straddle two worlds that, truth be told, work really well together. I worked in an art community that was excited by and supportive of what was happening at the college. Because—and this might be anathema to anyone outside of the capital—Santa Fe genuinely cares about culture, both inside and outside its city limits, which is why the loss of an entire chunk of its youth population could be irreparable. Santa Fe could see a creative diaspora that might take years to overcome. There won’t simply be less art, poetry, film and music in that city. There will be less difference, less energy and less support for the artists, poets, filmmakers and musicians that remain statewide. That is why anyone who supports art in Albuquerque should care about what is being lost at the College of Santa Fe. It's just too easy to think of it as another failed business.
And so, sitting in that courtyard, I got worried. After all of the back and forth with the Savannah College of Art and Design, Laureate Education, New Mexico Highlands University, the state legislature and Laureate again, it finally hit me that most of these kids would be gone. That, as the city sets to take over the land and lease most of it back to Laureate as an art school, 99% of what makes the college what it is will still be lost, their cars packed with amps, records and clothes, driving back to North Carolina or Colorado or whatever school they transferred into. Because in spite of the school probably staying open, it’s too late to keep most of the students here—who knows about faculty—because they were told the school was closing and had to continue their education somewhere else. Regardless, the relationship between those inside and those outside the college is currently being brokered by creditors and the city of Santa Fe and the governor, but, at this point, the most those entities can do is document what is being left behind, rather than hold it together.
If it works out, having an art school in Santa Fe will be a great thing, especially if it would include more students from our state. What the city might end up with, if it is unable to keep the assets it still has at the college, is a school that looks, at least for a while, like a thin rewrite of the original.
David Leigh is now the former gallery director at the College of Santa Fe.