Music Drives Out the Darkness

GMarks-PerformanceSF-01On a recent October school day, one of Performance Santa Fe’s 2017-18 scheduled artists, Julie Fowlis, renowned Scottish Gaelic singer and multi-instrumentalist, gave a large group of third and fourth grade public school students their own private concert. “We bussed them in,” says Cav Cavanaugh, PSF’s operations and education coordinator. “She’s singing to them in a strange language, telling them the fairy tales behind the songs and what they mean, with accompanying instruments; she performs the song she sang as Merida in Disney Pixar’s movie Brave—the kids lost their minds!”

That firsthand experience of music’s power to evoke passion is exactly what Cav and fellow collaborator Leanne DeVane, music education coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools, work very hard to ignite through an impressive collection of PSF education programs. The nonprofit’s motto, “Changing lives through the power of performing arts,” applies not only to Santa Fe’s adult population but also to over 2,800 students enrolled in elective music courses in 24 public schools. Having a partnership with PSF, says Leanne of the collaborative music programs, “brings the whole thing to life.”

Perhaps closest to PSF’s heart, Cav says, is the Bravo! Kids program, bringing opportunities to children grades one through 12 to interact with performers of Julie Fowlis’ caliber. Along with school performances, Bravo! Kids also provides master classes taught by various PSF visiting artists, whose level of expertise—and inspiration—is far beyond most kids’ experience and expectations. Cav describes one master class, taught by another of this season’s performers, musical pioneer and cellist Matt Haimovitz. “He sat down onstage with five chosen students, one on one, at the Scottish Rite Center, where, by the way, the acoustics are amazing,” she says. “They each perform something for him, which is so nerve-racking—it feels like they’ll never get to his level—and he was showing one of them, Lila, a bowing technique. Then, using it, they played a version of a note together for the first time and, as it kind of hung in the air, they both registered it at the same time and, looking up above their heads, they said, ‘Did you hear that?!’” Continue reading

Hip Hop – Here and Now

WakeSelf-COVER01-DSC_1149Mescalero Apache and Mexican on his father’s side, Wake Self, a small-town kid from the Fort Wingate and Gallup areas, says that, growing up, the surrounding lakes, mountains and Native American reservations “had a profound impact on my outlook on life.”

Living in epic times is not for the feint of heart. Since Local Flavor began this series last November, the times have only gotten dizzyingly more confounding. “We’re on a hero’s journey—and it’s scary,” Native activist and artist Cannupa Hanska Luger said in our first installment of the series. He called this a time of “Here Be Monsters,” requiring passionate, dedicated monster-slayers stepping up to put their hearts on the line for what they believe. We can do this, Cannupa said, if we act collectively. And then, he added, “seven generations we’ll never meet could look back and tell tales of this mythical time.”

And in fact, even in the face of dauntingly overwhelming obstacles, stouthearted heroes are indeed emerging. Standing tall among these is born-and-bred New Mexican Andrew Isaac Martinez, better known as Wake Self. Now in his mid-20s, he’s been a performing hip-hop artist since he was 15; starting at 12, he began teaching himself to write poetry lyrics. “They were my own personal counseling sessions,” he says unabashedly. “I was having some depression, some growing pains.” Mescalero Apache and Mexican on his father’s side, Wake Self, a small-town kid from the Fort Wingate and Gallup areas, says that, growing up, the surrounding lakes, mountains and Native American reservations “had a profound impact on my outlook on life.” Early on, he honed his focus, mentioning without fanfare, for example, “I’m a rapper artist who’s proudly sober.” And as his DJ name makes clear, he’s committed to diverging from typical mainstream rapper obsessions—wealth, conspicuous consumption, male domination—to help us wake up from all that. The first few lines of a recent song “Fluteboxsesh,” filmed at Yellowstone with longtime DJ friend Def-i, express Wake Self’s priorities: “Ever felt so alive/Your brain stretched to wide open/no sense of ego, no swollen pride/Nothin’ is holdin’ you back/Wakin’ up outta the trap?”   Continue reading

Living in Epic Times – Coming Home

Humans do not thrive without a roof over our heads. We need the security of a home. Increasingly, this basic human need is out of reach for an ever-swelling segment of Americans. Beyond a few at busy intersections, holding signs that read: Will Work For Food, their ranks have been multiplying—their signs now saying, Please Help. It’s a simple request, but what’s the solution?

In 2009, then-Secretary Eric Shinseki of the Veterans Association, along with President Barack Obama, set an impossibly audacious challenge: to end veteran homelessness by 2015. In our national scandal that is homelessness, veterans are undeniably over-represented; why not start there? It’s an issue that everyone can support, Republican and Democrat alike. In mid-2014, as that goal loomed closer, First Lady Michelle Obama upped the ante with the Mayors’ Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

Despite it’s being such a daunting issue, dozens of states and communities doggedly pursued it. And what you need to know at this point is that New Mexico—the same state that forever comes in at the bottom of most national progress lists—is one of the leaders of this pack, with the mayors of three of its major cities having committed to the challenge: Mayor Ken Miyagishima of Las Cruces, Mayor Richard Berry of Albuquerque and Mayor Javier Gonzales of Santa Fe. Las Cruces achieved the goal first; Albuquerque and Santa Fe are right on its heels.   Continue reading

Think New Mexico

_DSC9025Amidst the political slings and arrows of this particularly acrimonious year, a modest historical residence perches, facing the Roundhouse, as it has for almost 20 years–quietly percolating. It’s a unique kind of think tank. Inside, the small staff—with guidance from its board of directors—births ingenious possibilities buttressed with persistent, meticulous research. Field Director Othiamba Umi, New Mexico born and raised, wants to give back to this state that’s given him so much; “I commute from Albuquerque and it’s totally worth it!” Native Santa Fean Kristina Fisher, Associate Director, agrees: “We stand up on behalf of people who can’t be here” during the legislative session.

Think New Mexico is the brainchild of founder and Executive Director Fred Nathan, a self-described recovering lawyer. Previously, he was Special Counsel to Attorney General Tom Udall. “Tom’s legislative campaign included addressing our drunk-driving epidemic,” Fred says. In pursuit of a bill outlawing drive-up windows, “I staffed the task force, which was a Noah’s Ark of experts, with two of everybody, including from the alcohol industry.” There was a lot of pushback to the proposal, but by the fifth year, they got it passed. Then-Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed it, and to Fred’s chagrin, “the sponsor of the bill was ecstatic! ‘When Johnson’s re-election comes around,’ he said, ‘we’ll wrap this around his neck!’” Continue reading

Dreamers

JE-DREAMERS_006The road less taken has, sadly, not many takers. All the more reason to champion Allegra Love, creator of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. Charismatic, full of life, with energy to spare, she arrived in Santa Fe 12 years ago, a recent college graduate, eager to join the other teachers in their bilingual, bicultural Southside elementary school. She was that rare kind of teacher whose love not only reached out and embraced her kids, but their whole families, as well. Over the next three years, she watched with increasing heartbreak as numbers of immigrant families, many undocumented, struggled to work and put down roots while being dangerously vulnerable to deportation. Feeling the fear haunting her 8-year-olds, Allegra felt hamstrung. She was just a teacher—how could she help?

Feeling ineffectual galvanized her into taking the LSAT exam and entering the University of New Mexico’s law school. This had never previously been her plan. But like Jimmy Stewart’s character in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, helping those less fortunate stand up for themselves is who Allegra is. Throughout the three-year program, she pursued immigration law with focus. Afterward, she refused the law firm track, even as her professors said she needed that experience. Without a next step, she suddenly got word from the teachers at her old school about an opening for a sixth grade teacher. This felt right, even though to everyone else, “that seemed like a fail.” But out of that, Santa Fe Public Schools’ Adelante Program hired her as their lawyer, where she worked with students who were applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These were the Dreamers, and this became the impetus for the creation of her nonprofit a few years later.  

All the legal services offered by the Santa Fe Dreamers Project are free of charge. Since 2015, the number of deferred-action filings that Allegra and her staff have overseen has broken 1,000, which is quite a feat. The staff also represents immigrants facing deportation; they regularly visit a family detention center; they conduct two weekly DACA clinics. And recently, Allegra expanded their legal service outreach with Dreams on Wheels, a mobile office establishing a presence throughout rural areas, giving undocumented residents all over New Mexico access to that safety net. Continue reading

Nuestra Jornada – Gerard’s House

GerardsHouse-Picture14A small group of kids kneel on the rug, engrossed in placing one of many figures—men, women, children, babies—into tiny toy coffins. Some sit gazing at the person inside, some set the lid firmly on top. Other children bury things deep in a sandbox. In the “storm room,” stuffed animals wait on wall-to-wall futons for any who come in, close the door and privately act out anger, be wild, cry, snuggle with an animal buddy.

This is Gerard’s House, Santa Fe’s unique haven for grieving children, adolescents and their families, where, says its mission statement, “healing happens through acceptance and peer support.” The need this nonprofit has met, free of charge since 1997, is indispensible. Recently, says Executive Director Katrina Koehler, Gerard’s House recognized another population going unserved: a growing influx of immigrant children. “We saw so much death, and a lot of other losses among those newly arrived from troubled areas of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and not a lot of reasons for them to trust coming to us,” Katrina says. “Which was understandable.” She says the staff imagined the immigrant kids and their families saying, ‘Who are these people?’ So we invited the Latino community to collaborate with us. We told them, ‘Here’s how we serve grieving kids.’ And we listened to the families’ needs.” And in many ways, their needs were similar to those of the children Gerard’s House already helps who are grieving death of family members; but in many other ways, their needs were much more complicated. “It was hard,” Katrina says, “for a lot of mothers to bring their kids here—some work multiple jobs, some don’t have a car.” And culturally, Bilingual Coordinator Roxana Melendez adds, “Therapy isn’t something Spanish families seek. We tend to look for support more from family members and religious leaders. For some families, it’s difficult to open up to someone they don’t know.” There’s also a belief, Roxana says, that only crazy people need therapy. “We didn’t want to load more burdens onto these families, so many of whom had been through so much human crises already!” Katrina says. Continue reading