Peñasco Theatre Collective is raising funds to preserve its historic home

By Evan Popp
epopp@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 5/23/19

It's cold and rainy - the kind of day when the motivation to do anything …

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Peñasco Theatre Collective is raising funds to preserve its historic home

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PEÑASCO - When kids come into the Peñasco Theatre, the quiet doesn't last for long.

It's cold and rainy - the kind of day when the motivation to do anything can be hard to come by. But inside the theater, the voices of kids, there as part of an after-school program, reverberate. Excited yells carry over into the next room.

That's the kind of energy the Peñasco Theatre Collective wants to create with kids from the Peñasco Valley, Taos and around Northern New Mexico. But to maintain the space that makes its offerings possible, the collective - a group that employs all kinds of art to raise awareness about justice issues on a local and global level - has turned to outside help for what it says are badly needed repairs to its building.

On April 30, the group started a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $20,000 in one month. As of Sunday, the fundraising effort had brought in $4,321 from 44 donors.

While the theater space is still usable, Alessandra Ogren - who bought the Peñasco Theatre building in 2000 after moving to the area - said the money will be used to repair damage to the roof that has caused difficulties, particularly in the collective's artists-in-residence space.

"The roof needed to be fixed," said Ogren, who also runs the residency program. "[Water] was pouring into the house kitchen."

Ogren said the money also will be spent to expand the building's residency capacity. The collective has been renting out a place in the facility for visiting artists from around the world for the past 10 years.

rafa tarín, co-founder of the collective and who does not use capital letters in either name, is optimistic the group can raise the $20,000 needed for the roof repair and expanded residency space.

"The community of artists and artist-activists that we belong to and that have utilized the space really support the theater," tarín said, emphasizing the collective understands people's funds are limited - particularly in a small town of about 1,200.

"Our programs are the only devised theater and circus arts performance programs for youth in the area," tarín said. "Our work is based in the idea that art is a transformative vehicle and a catalyst for change. It is a site of community building. It directly impacts the lives the young people and families we collaborate with."

Once it raises the money, tarín said the collective hopes the roof repair will be done in a couple of weeks. But creating the additional artists-in-residence space might take a month or two.

For tarín, the benefit of repairing the theater is providing a stable space for art.

"Nothing in the world happens without art," tarín said. "Nothing is without a creative process."

The theater hasn't always belonged to the collective, though. Ogren said the space, which was built almost 80 years ago in the small town about 25 miles south of Taos, originally was put to use as a movie house.

Enselma Vasquez, a resident of nearby Chamisal who remembers when the building was a movie house, said her best memories as a teenager were at the theater before it was closed down for a time.

"That was the only place we could go to have fun," she said. "So when it closed down, I think most of the community here really missed it."

Vasquez added that along with film screenings, such as Jerry Lewis movies, the theater also featured entertainers, including singers and poets.

Though the main way the space is used has shifted, Vasquez said she's happy the collective is using the facility to provide activities for the community.

"The kids nowadays, they don't hardly have anything, so most of them go to Taos, or Santa Fe or Albuquerque for entertainment," she said. "So I'm really glad that Alessandra ... opened it and that they have it open for the children there."

Ogren said one example of the interactions between the community and the theater is the collective's partnership with the Peñasco school district to provide an after-school program in aerial dance acrobatics. Ogren said about 40 kids participate in the program. Adults also can take classes at the theater, she said.

In addition, she said the collective encourages interactions between visiting artists and the community.

"Not every artist who comes here does something for the community, but the times when we can feel like there's an exchange happening is important," Ogren said.

But along with the community connections the group has forged, for many involved with the organization, the Peñasco Theatre represents a place of belonging.

Serena Arredondo, an artist at the collective, knows firsthand the restorative powers being part of the group can have. Arredondo came to the theater at a "rough place" in life and was able to find stability there.

"This here is my chosen family, and it's really where I've been able to find my ground and where I've been able to be seen and valued in the way that I know I deserve," Arredondo said. "That's why this space is important, as well as the people who are involved."

Amy Christian, executive director of Wise Fool New Mexico, a circus, puppetry and theater organization that was connected with the Peñasco Theatre Collective until the groups split off and went in different directions a couple of years ago, also is supportive of the GoFundMe campaign and the theater. She said the group is an essential resource for Northern New Mexico mountain communities.

"I see it as a really critical and important place for people's voices to be fed, to be lifted up," Christian said of the collective.

That's why Arredondo believes the theater must be protected and maintained.

"The roof is falling in," Arredondo said. "And it's hard to do [the repairs]. But it's necessary. Because the space needs to be here."

This story first published in The Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of The Taos News. Cody Hooks contributed reporting to this version of the story.

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