Earlier this month, the board of directors of the Center for Contemporary Arts of Santa Fe voted to dissolve the 44-year-old institution—effectively immediately. The meeting took place on Wednesday, April 5, and the final day of operation was Thursday, April 6.
“Closing a cherished, community organization like CCA is one of the most difficult decisions a board can make,” board chair David Muck said in a statement. “However, we simply couldn’t secure the level of individual donations required to achieve the high quality of programming and exhibitions envisioned by CCA’s professional staff and board of directors.”
Now, it appears that decision was too hasty. In the wake of the April 6 announcement, there has been an outpouring of support from Santa Fe community. Members of the community are rallying to reopen the doors, with plans to resume programming at the CCA Cinema on May 3 thanks to $195,000 in emergency fundraising.
“There are no words sufficient to convey our appreciation for your kindness,” Muck wrote in an email to donors, which was provided to Artnet News. The missive went out following a board meeting on April 14 assessing the viability of resuscitating the organization—the loss of which, locals say, would be a major downgrade for the city.
“There is no real arthouse film theater in this town now… there’s just no access to the more arthouse and foreign films here,” Warren Langford told the . “It’s just one of those things that I always knew was sort of on the chopping block, though you think there are enough wealthy patrons of a certain demographic that it was hopefully going to stay afloat; but honestly, these sorts of things died in other cities and towns a long time ago—it’s a miracle it made it this long.”
Prior to the abrupt closure, CCA had 13 staff members, and had set its annual budget at $1.28 million. The board now believes that with just $300,000, it can quickly revive a barebones operation of just the cinema, with the gallery to follow later.
“CCA will pursue a strategic partner.… Several entities and groups are presenting plans to partner with CCA, and the board is actively evaluating options and performing the necessary due diligence. The board will meet with, interview, and evaluate the various candidates,” the email status update continued. “The strategic partners under consideration will represent a new direction for CCA’s gallery space.”
Presumably, that new direction would not include executive director and chief curator Danyelle Means, who has led the institution since July 2021. In the immediate aftermath of CCA’s closure, there was speculation that some donors had distanced themselves from the institution due to Means’s curatorial direction, including exhibitions such as the critically acclaimed “Self-Determined: A Contemporary Survey of Native and Indigenous Artists.”
“Not many people will voice ‘I don’t like this because it’s turning brown-er or younger,’ but that’s absolutely what happened when the CCA found [Danyelle Means],” former CCA deputy director April Chalay told Hyperallergic. “We had people who started criticizing us and saying, ‘your director is Indigenous and you’re doing an Indigenous show, are you just going to be an Indigenous arts org? Because that’s not what I want to give to.’”
Means was more circumspect about what happened.
“Fundraising is an ongoing concern for any nonprofit right now,” Means told the . “People are holding onto their expendable cash. That’s what this all boils down to: Support for CCA has waned in the last few years, especially coming out of the pandemic. And we were really hopeful that we could re-engage some of our generous donors, but we were unable to.”
The CCA board did not respond to inquiries from Artnet News about Means’s future with the organization, or what the gallery’s “new direction” could mean for exhibitions that had already been in the planning stages.
But a former board member, Paul Barnes, a film editor and producer, has volunteered to be the acting general manager for CCA Cinema, which will “continue with planned films and programs,” according to the donor email.
In its initial announcement for the sudden closure, the CCA board cited the effects of extended pandemic closures—something that has challenged all cultural institutions. CCA particularly struggled because it had to half the number of tickets it could sell at its cinema, due to social distancing. And as many film distributors pivoted to streaming, rather than theaters, for their premieres, there were fewer movies the organization could book.
The institution also acknowledged receipt of a renewable three-year Ford Foundation grant of $100,000 per year, $50,000 from Ruth Arts Foundation, and other grants. That kind of support is invaluable—but it is also typically restricted, which means it must go toward specific programming or exhibitions, and cannot be used to fill other organizational needs, such as making payroll.
The specter of closing CCA had been looming for over a year. The board had previously voted in favor of keeping the lights on in December 2021, in the hope that CCA could drum up enough donations to keep operations sustainable.
But it appears that the community was largely left in the dark as to the organization’s dire situation. CCA sent its last email to members on December 28—a missive that did not include a call for donations. Instead, the organization reportedly focused on individual outreach in its 2023 fundraising efforts.
“CCA has been in this position so many times, we were hesitant to do the boy-who-cried-wolf approach one more time,” Muck told the , which reported on turmoil at the institution back in the mid-1990s, when the founders were fired, the staff laid off, and the board resigned en masse. “We didn’t think people would take us seriously.”