When we venture south and begin driving east on Route 53, there is something more than the towering ponderosas, unique rock formations, and lush green countryside that welcomes us to the El Morro Valley. This intangible quality is seen in the warm greetings between the wait staff and diners at the Ancient Way Café, and felt in the sincere interest locals take in a visitor’s journey to the area. There’s an overwhelming sense of community and concern that is such a big part of an area only a few square miles in size.
A wonderful example of this togetherness, this unity, is the Old School Gallery. The way it has functioned in the community as a hub for activity and creativity is so unique and inspiring that I asked Genevieve Humenay to let me in on its secret. Humenay is the Executive Director of El Morro Area Arts Council, which is the non-profit entity behind Old School Gallery. According to her, the secret is support. EMAAC (pronounced ee-mack) has a solid base of membership and an incredibly involved board of directors, allowing the organization to be and do exactly what founding members had hoped for almost fifteen years ago.
In 1997, a small group of creative, community-spirited artists desired an art gallery that would serve as a community center. EMAAC was formed and, in 1998, began renting an old, vacant schoolhouse, now known as Old School Gallery. This has been a community-owned, member-driven endeavor from the start. All of the direction, ideas, and momentum come from the roughly 200 members, many who are locals, but some who have traveled through or lived in the area and were inspired to be part of the creative spirit here. While there is a wealth of artistic talent throughout the El Morro community, talent alone is not enough to make things happen. “When you have the support to create, you actually do it!” Humenay proclaims.
El Morro is a small and isolated place where, she points out, “nothing happens besides what we create ourselves.” It appears that the members of EMAAC have been very busy! In addition to ongoing programming, including poetry readings, book clubs, chanting circles, yoga, zumba, etc., there is a variety of special events, plays, festivals, concerts, and workshops planned each quarter.
Saturday, October 1 is the annual Ancient Way Arts Trail and Ramah Farmers’ Market Harvest Festival, which promises crafts, music, food, contests, and entertainment from 10am to 5pm. It has come together with the collaboration of several local entities including EMAAC, Ancient Way Café, Inscription Rock Trading, Ramah Farmers’ Market, El Morro Feed and Seed, and El Morro National Monument. Building relationships and working together with like-minded organizations is something that is exciting for the whole community. The positive energy in this place is palpable.
In November, over two weekends, EMAAC will present Noises Off, a comedic play within a play by Michael Frayn. Under the direction of Sophia Tripodi and Joe Birdsong, the talented troupe of actors will reveal what goes on behind the scenes, when out-of-control egos, memory loss, and passionate affairs turn every performance into a high-risk adventure! Theatre has been where the energy seems to be going in recent years, according to Humenay. Next month’s performances will be especially poignant with the Old School Gallery stage dedication to the memory of Rocco Tripodi on Sunday, November 13 at 5pm. Not only was he the father of Sophia, but he was also committed to the enrichment of the El Morro community through theatre and performing arts. His years of dedication are an inspiration to the ongoing and vital theatre program at EMAAC.
This winter, EMAAC members will also be celebrating during a Burn-the-Mortgage party! Since deciding to buy the Old School Gallery building and surrounding 5 acres in 2006, the majority of the mortgage had been paid off. Last April, the balance was $8,000 and a particularly determined member resolved to make a final push to get the mortgage paid off as soon as possible. Encouraging members to pay whatever they could, no matter the amount, the entire balance was paid within five months. This isn’t a particularly wealthy area, but it was the small and consistent contributions from so many that made the difference! Rather than squeezing a celebration into a busy quarter, Humenay wants to wait to show proper appreciation to everyone who has given of themselves during this community-wide effort to make Old School Gallery what it is today.
In many ways, things are coming full circle. Humenay can’t help sounding awestruck as she talks about how what started as an idea fourteen years ago has come together to develop something that works so well as a resource for the community. The future bears with it a feeling of great freedom as members will begin to discuss what’s next for programming, the Old School building and land. “The sky’s the limit!”
For more information about El Morro Area Arts Council and its programming, visit www.elmorro-arts.org or call (505) 783-4710.