Mark Schwerdt is the new Executive Director of the Gallup Cultural Center located in the old train station on Historic 66.
How long have you been in Gallup?
My wife Emily, son Finn and I moved to Gallup about six months ago. We came here from just north of Boston where I was working as the director of admissions at a small liberal arts college. After much discernment, and with a sense of adventure, we made a decision to be spontaneous. After many days of rambling across I-40, strapped to a moving truck, we made it here – barely!
What are your plans for the Gallup Cultural Center?
I see the Cultural Center as being just that – a center for culture. It is a mistake to think that material poverty, which we do have in Gallup, necessitates cultural poverty. Our plan is to establish Old Train Music & Arts as a community venture to make instruction in the arts widely available to the people of Gallup.
We want to offer children and adults alike the chance to grow, specifically through music, art and dance. Music especially is a means that speaks to everyone, so why not learn how to make it? As Plato said, “Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.”
I’ve always believed everyone can learn to play music – some do so more quickly and some make you want to tear your hair out at first – but in general, the seed is there and it can develop. There are just too many stories of the human spirit rising unexpectedly from the most difficult and restraining of circumstances. Beethoven was deaf; Ray Charles was blind; Tony Melendez, the great Spanish guitar player, had no arms. Choose your own hero.
The arts are not simply for the elite. You love music? You love painting? Dancing? You’re an amateur – from the Latin word amare, which means “to love.” An amateur, quite literally, is a lover. Think of your attraction to a particular art as an invitation and call to learn more.
Old Train Music & Arts, like the Gallup Cultural Center, is sponsored by the Southwest Indian Foundation, which has a long history of supporting the Arts in our community. In the past 12 years alone, SWIF has awarded over $300,000 to young artists and their schools, both in town and in the surrounding reservations, in order to establish and advance art education.
What do you mean by a community venture?
I say this because the success of this endeavor will rely on community support. The mission of Old Train Music & Arts is to be a center for music, art and dance education. This is a call for local artists and musicians to share their talents. We plan to establish classes at the Gallup Cultural Center and offer quality, inexpensive merchandise so that amateurs can get started. Our goal is to make classes accessible and instruments affordable.
What is the time frame for opening Old Train Music & Arts?
After many years, we have closed the Gift Shop in the Gallup Cultural Center. A renovation project is underway and we are planning to open Old Train Music & Arts in mid-August 2013.
For now, I’d like to ask for teachers to come forward. We’re looking for all sorts of teachers – guitar, flute, violin, dance, voice, painting, drawing, even storytelling. The old train station, which used to be the famed Harvey House, is one of the most beautiful buildings in Gallup. Bring us your talent and desire to enrich the community. We will spread the word and provide the space for your class.
How can people get in touch with you?
Stop by for a visit, call (505) 863-4131 or email me at culturalcenter@SouthWestIndian.com.
And, I see you have a guitar right next to your desk. Do you play during work hours?
Oh! (clears throat) Well, uh, only during my lunch break of course.