If a building could show the impact it has on its community, the 200 block of Santa Fe’s West San Francisco Street would be a blaze of glory, thanks to The Lensic Performing Arts Center. Sited at No. 211 since 1930, the Lensic has been a local magnet for eight decades—first as a movie house with an attached office block, and then as a location for occasional live presentations, as well as cinema.
But since April 2001, the facility has been downtown’s lauded arts center, regularly presenting and producing events of local, national and international importance. They run the style and type gamut from orchestral performances and community meetings to lectures, from conference and nonprofit events to special celebrations.
But the 821-seat Lensic’s state-of-the-art technical prowess, impressive proscenium stage and welcoming public spaces are just the visible part of a mammoth organizational iceberg devoted to the community. The obvious shining top is supported by an immense understructure of people, planning, outreach and equipment. The result is something much more than its physical plant, dedicated to sustaining its many community partners, as well as itself.
In fact, the Lensic’s reach into Santa Fe and environs goes both wide and deep. Among its outreach programs are yearly, for-credit technical theater internships and scholarships. Then there is the PASS program, which brings some 15,000 Santa Fe Public School students to the theater yearly for underwritten, free performances.
In addition, the theater offers community sponsorships that help underwrite local nonprofit organizations’ events; provides rent subsidy for every group using the theater by at least 50 percent; and administers the community box office, Tickets Santa Fe, used by virtually every local performing and presenting group. The result is an organization sustained not just by its own efforts, but by the many diverse groups that utilize it.
Asked how it feels to be celebrating a 15th anniversary, Nancy Zeckendorf—chairman of the Lensic board of directors and a founding director who started the facility on its journey those many years ago—says, “I would say we’re way beyond the goals we originally set. Bob (Robert Martin, the facility’s former executive and artistic director) has brought in this varied bouquet of programming. I just couldn’t have imagined what a wonderful set of audiences it would grow into being.”
As an example, Nancy references a comment by Richard Gaddes, former general director of The Santa Fe Opera. “We were doing an opera event one Christmas, and he looked around said, ‘Who are all these people? I’ve never seen them before.'” That welcoming audience reach is one of the theater’s greatest successes, Nancy says. “There are so many different audiences, and that’s what’s so exciting about the Lensic. I can be there for something and maybe I know two people in the audience; or I can be there for the opera (broadcasts) and know everybody. I couldn’t be happier, I just couldn’t be happier.”
She adds, “I don’t even have to go the Lensic. I can go to Albertsons, and somebody will come up to me and say, ‘Oh, thank you, it’s so wonderful.’ But the thing is, it just has to keep going, and it always takes attention and love and money! People see full houses and the excitement, and they say, ‘Oh, they’re making money,'” Nancy says. “How could they not think so?”
In fact, like all nonprofit organizations, the Lensic runs a constant numbers race during which it must balance income, expenses and necessary projects while moving ahead. “It’s a big house,” she notes. “You’ve got to take care of things,” from maintenance and planning for future item replacements or upgrades, to such everyday necessities as light, heat and keeping the lobby carpets clean.
“You need to give people programming they’re excited about and love—and we’ve done that—so they can be proud and excited about it, and feel the Lensic is part of their lives.” Nancy Zeckendorf
The current Lensic budget is $3.4 million per year. Some 53 percent of this comes from earned income such as rentals and ticket sales; 40 percent is donated income from individuals, corporations, foundations and government sources; the remaining 7 percent comes from all other sources. The relationship between the Lensic and its surrounding community is symbiotic: the theater relies on Santa Feans and visitors to attend events, utilize the space, and come on board as volunteers and donors. Neither would easily exist without the other.
When it began, the Lensic partnered with eight local founding groups that committed to using the space on a regular basis: Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco; Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival; Santa Fe Concert Association (now Performance Santa Fe); Santa Fe Desert Chorale; Santa Fe Opera; Santa Fe Pro Musica, Santa Fe Symphony & Chorus; and Santa Fe Stages (now defunct). Those organizations form the core of the theater’s non-proprietary programming.
However, the Lensic regularly supplements the work of the founding organizations by programming events through the Lensic Presents series, which brings world-renown opera, theater and dance to our community. Santa Feans have had the privilege of experiencing The Acting Co. in Of Mice and Men; the National Theatre Live series from London; The Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series (co-presented with The Santa Fe Opera); the Twyla Tharp dance company; and famed musician and composer Art Garfunkel.
The amazing diversity of offerings continues on April 8, when the Congo-born, Belgian-raised Zap Mama brings her unusual meld of Afro-pop, American Soul and European sensibility to the theater, and just a week later, our very own Spanish Colonial Arts Society presents the annual Nuestra Música Festival.
As Nancy Zeckendorf puts it, “You need to give people programming they’re excited about and love—and we’ve done that—so they can be proud and excited about it, and feel the Lensic is part of their lives.”
For more information on Lensic programming and events, visit lensic.org. The Tickets Santa Fe Box Office line is 505.988.1234.
Story by Craig Smith