Above the Line
The state's first media arts school wants to raise generations of talent
Principal Glenna Voigt is making sure her keys work in the front door of a two-story charter school. The building is purple, really purple—sudden color in an otherwise asphalted landscape. Though school's been in session for two days, today, Sept. 4, is the first day its 93 students will occupy classrooms.
This is the New Mexico Media Arts Collaborative Charter School (MACCS), and there are a lot of "firsts" attached to it. It's the first school in the state with exclusively media arts elective offerings. It's the fist-ever state-sponsored charter school. It's the first attempt by teachers and industry professionals to prepare the state's teenagers to become a force in the sprouting film industry.
When Hollywood comes to town, says Voigt, it hires New Mexicans for all the below-the-line jobs. "Then they leave, and the New Mexicans stay here with really no major production venues," she says. "Our goal is to train the above-the-line producers and directors and screenwriters and get them on that path to set up a production company here in New Mexico."
Last night was a late one for the school's staff members, she says, as they moved all the furniture into the building. But it was an energized night, she adds, an adrenaline night, because "you've got that momentum going toward that big picture." The hallway smells like the orange paint that's coating the walls in one office. Voigt heads into her space. In the less than 24 hours she’s occupied the room, she’s already collected a pile of papers on a folding table in the corner.
We have all these film incentives, all these taxes, that for the most part, those tax breaks are going to people that live in Hollywood.
Blake Minnerly, audio instructor
Over the course of its formation, MACCS built and submitted scholastic media arts standards to the Public Education Department, says Steve Ranieri, director of Channel 27 and a founder and teacher at the charter school. "We incorporated a whole set of ideas of what should be taught in media arts," he says. "We formalized them, and we created a curriculum on them." There's been a lot of support from the Legislature for the school, he says, as well as interest from around the state. Voigt attests that she has more than 150 business cards from professionals wanting put together workshops or get involved any way they can.
Still, says Ranieri, the process of creating a charter school was an arduous one. "It's not made easy by the regulations, the laws that are often contradictory to each other, so you keep running into roadblocks all the time."
Since the building hadn’t yet been inspected, for the first two days of class, students—freshman and sophomores only this year—went on field trips. They visited the set of Easy Money, Santa Fe Center Recording Studios and stopped by the New Mexico Media Literacy Project for training.
The students will have to take the same number of content credits as everyone else in the state. The only difference is MACCS offers 15 additional media arts credits. Juniors and seniors, says Voigt, will be required to have internships or apprenticeships in their chosen media arts pathway: TV, audio, film or journalism.
There were kids that were either introverted or just a little too eclectic to fit in some clique or group within a large high school. These are the kids that are coming here.
Glenna Voigt, principal
"You can't just make a film about nothing," Courtney Angermeier tells her afternoon English class after introducing herself. "You have to have a compelling story at the center of it, or a compelling piece of information that you want to pass from one person to another. That is what this class is about. It's about finding that in other people, in the world around you and in yourself."
All classes at MACCS, including the required language arts, science or math, will incorporate elements of media arts. The first book Angermeier is handing out was written partially as a screenplay. It will familiarize students with the format they'll use in their TV production class.
Angermeier's taught middle school and is an instructor in the Language Literacy and Sociocultural Studies Department at UNM. She's also an independent filmmaker in Albuquerque, a comic book artist and a graphic novelist. She found out about the school when a friend stuck a note in her laundry in November. "I've been integrating media arts into my own language arts curriculum for the last couple of years," she says. "It's where our whole world is going—our Western American world, anyway." Students are increasingly fluent in the language of media, she adds, and education must keep up. "Not to take advantage of that is doing disservice to my students, because it's not preparing them for the world they're entering."
Blake Minnerly teaches an overall introduction to audio, including sound for film, recording, mixing, composing, using loops, making beats and DJing. "I just really envy the opportunity that these kids have to come out of high school with the kind of knowledge, the kind of sophistication about media that I really wish I had," he says. Adults will pay $50,000 for an education like this in college and technical schools, he adds. He's also pleased about what MACCS offers the state. "We have all these film incentives, all these taxes, that for the most part, those tax breaks are going to people that live in Hollywood," he says.
Most of the students are from Albuquerque, though some travel from Los Lunas, Belen or Santa Fe. The student body is all over the map in terms of race and class, he says. There's an alternative feel to the students, which is not surprising to Minnerly, because there's an alternative feel to the institution. Principal Voigt, who hails from Valley High School, agrees. "There were kids that were either introverted or just a little too eclectic to fit in some clique or group within a large high school," she says. "These are the kids that are coming here."
Voigt describes herself as "not a media person." She's mastered e-mail, she says laughing, but she can barely get around in Excel. "I can't wait to get my hands on some kind of graphic design project. I'd like to make something. I'd like to be a student here."