In a move Friday that stunned the local arts community, the board of directors for New Mexico Xtreme Sports Association, Inc. (NMXSports) laid off the entire management team of its arts wing, Warehouse 508, effective immediately.
The employees who were laid off are longtime Program Director April Freeman; Minister of Culture Freddy Lopez; Venue Manager Roberto Reyes; and Outreach Coordinator and Poetry Ambassador Mercedez Holtry.
NMXSports board President Jacqueline Vigil, Card Services Supervisor for US Eagle Federal Credit Union, told Weekly Alibi the layoffs are part of a broader “internal restructuring” that included the hiring of a new NMXSports director, Terry Gonzalez two months ago. Gonzalez came to the organization from Los Angeles, where he’d worked with after-school programs.
Freeman said the board had been wanting to replace the staff for about a year, but that the former director refused to fire them. Freeman said the restructuring was likely due to budget shortfalls due in part to climate change and also to the board’s complacency with fundraising. Until recently, the major fundraiser for the organization had been sales of ski lift passes with special privileges, totaling about $100,000 a year in revenue.
“With climate change and less snow, that dropped to about $30,000,” said Freeman. “And the board did nothing to replace those funds. They’ve been completely hands off, to the point of ignoring us.”
Freeman also said there was disconnect between the board members, who were mostly corporate types, and the 508 staff, who were unabashedly “all about social justice and empowering the community.” Warehouse 508 classes included break dancing, poetry, rock and pop songwriting, recording and performance, hip-hop dancing, fashion design, screen printmaking, DJing, mural arts and photography.
The other members of the board who hired Gonzalez include Patrick Baldonado, Vice President of Bank of New Mexico; Cynthia Hughes, a registered nurse; Duane Kinsley, owner of Sports Systems; Wallace Ashley, an architect; Eric Garay, Quality Assurance Coordinator for the Forest Service; and Tomas Sanchez, an on-air radio personality with iHeart Media.
Vigil said that the mission of the organization was “primarily sports,” and said that would be taken into account in the restructuring. The official mission of the group, however, reads: “Bringing youth to non-traditional, life-long sports and the creative arts,” according to the organization’s website.
“Arts is where all the funding came from,” said Freeman, who was program director at Warehouse 508 for nine years. The facility’s funding came through three-year RFP contracts with the City of Albuquerque’s Family and Community Services department, and was earmarked for a teen art center.
It is possible, according to Freeman, that the city opted not to renew 508’s RFP contract this year, because it was the first time in nine years that other organizations also applied for the funding. (The city has chosen the winner but not announced it yet.) Freeman also said it looked as though the city could be intentionally starving Warehouse 508 with an eye towards selling the building to the Garcia family (of car dealership fame) who recently purchased the Youth Dance Institute building next door and, she said, “have been gobbling up a bunch of property Downtown.”
Vigil said forthcoming arts programs at Warehouse 508, taught by contract teachers and slated to start in February, “probably won’t be affected” by the layoffs. “We have a great stable of teachers,” she said.
But Freeman is not so sure. “I don’t know how many of our teachers will feel safe working there with us gone,” she said. “The community is pretty upset right now.”