Around 2004 I found myself working at the eccentric Santa Fe based teen center - Warehouse 21. Over time I would be given the title “Creative Operations Director” and I was never really sure if this meant that I was to play a role in determining which creative projects we would onboard or if it meant that I was to simply navigate our limited financial resources “creatively”. Kind of both, I guess.
Having been provided some unusual opportunities as a teen I was keenly aware what a difference community could make and took things pretty seriously at Warehouse 21. Our mission statement - “ empowering youth to empower themselves through the arts” required further inquiry and I questioned my associates regarding this radical statement, wanting to hear their version of what made Warehouse tick. The more I inquired - the more of a hot potato the very concept of empowerment became. In theory it made for some inspiring marketing. In reality, it was a struggle of competing socio-economic forces, what it meant to “be an artist”, and the role of accelerating corporate capitalism in narrowly determining the future opportunities available to youth. There was a lot of idealistic talk about the blossoming of a “creative economy”. But not a lot of concrete steps to make that a reality.
The first person to capture my attention was Vince Kadlubek. By chance, I attended one of his first productions, “.9 Autopsy”; an ode to the force of raw poetry, a rebellion against the performative stresses of just being young, a celebration of life and love and all that makes life grand. I wasn’t sure what I was witnessing, it appeared to be some kind of force with potential that I could not articulate. I clearly remember walking home with my husband Chris Craig, tears running down my face from the intensity of what I had just witnessed, murmuring “what the hell was that ? “
The second person to capture my attention was Tomás Rivera. A participant in the widely popular Promoters Circle hosted by the hilarious and unpredictable Max Friendenberg and the delightful Elektra Tropoloc, this program was the backbone of the Warehouse 21 DIY ethos, hosting numerous concerts and building a vibrant youth music scene for Santa Fe. A beloved member of the music community, a member of the punk band the “Battles End” and a promoter/collaborator with a big heart and dark sense of humor - Tomás made community organizing an art.
In a few years the current location would be torn down and plans were underway to prepare for a new building and the inevitable changes that would come with. Tomás and Elektra presented the Executive Director, Ana Gallegos Y’ Reinhardt with a complete business plan for a record label. It was a cooperative venture to utilize the existing recording equipment, harnessing start up grant funding for production, then funneling proceeds back into the organization and sharing profits with artists as they honed their craft and grew the program. They had stickers made and excitedly started making plans.
Simultaneously, Tomás and a few others (Matty Smith, Clemente McFarland are names I can recall) launched a recycle a bike cooperative, erecting a small shed on the back end of the property, hosting fundraising concerts, stocking it with tools, implementing training practices and started fixing up bikes. A few months passed and Ana had stalled the record label indefinitely. The ensuing frustration led to unrest, an attempt to overthrow the organization by replacing board members with youth so their interests could be protected. Scapegoated as the leader of this coup attempt, Tomás was kicked to the curb. I felt that a crucial opportunity had been missed and never really quite got over this.
Not too long after that Vince and his dazzling cohort Amelia Stickney reappeared, looking for a venue. Recently returned from a sabbatical from the Santa Fe scene, having resided in Portland for a bit, Vince had fresh ideas and a renewed appreciation for Santa Fe and the arts. I seized the opportunity, introduced myself and simply said “we need you”. From there the two of us were in close, somewhat conspiratorial communication, to restore youth pride, to build and celebrate the youth arts community and to make the future of Warehouse 21 the best it could be, a place of transformation and exploration.
Prior to demolition, Vince and a similarly inspired youth, Aaron Harrington, gathered a wide circle of artists, transforming the old building into a museum type installation that honored years of activity and hundreds of youth with pictures, flyers, video, audio, murals, a shrine room to those who had fallen and a series of concerts. I watched Vince intensely absorb this complicated history, imagining how such a legacy could be carried forward powerfully. A heavy snow blanketed the town on the night of the final farewell concert, making transportation difficult but a strong handful of folks came out. Water pooled on the floor from melting snow. Tomás graced us with a few songs. It was both sad and beautiful.
The following year was one of great frustration. Development Director Peter Chapman and I worked out of a construction trailer often losing connectivity as trucks drove over buried internet wires. Programming was spotty and difficult. Vince initiated numerous events throughout the city, concerts at the College of Santa Fe, movie nights, and a revival of the infamous Unity Bash in the old Luna building, among others We secured a silkscreen studio on Siler launching a fashion design program of recycled clothing and printed materials. Things were looking up.
In additional to maintaining a presence in the community we were frantically trying to fundraise and fill the new building with programming that would both exemplify the uniqueness of Santa Fe youth and help to sustain operations with larger overhead. Unable to hire the appropriate staff to make this transition, board members provided a wide variety of volunteer activities and Vince worked his tail off, under contract for less than 25 hours a week, but often doing much more than that.
In early 2008 the completion of construction was less than six months off movement was afoot to hire a full time program director. A few things happened all at once. And it’s hard for me to discern exactly which one happened in what order, like a building collapsing. Ana commented to me that she didn’t really know “what to do with Vince” but it was apparent he would be excluded from applying for the program director position, a status reserved for those “more professional adults” - or something like that. I calmly hid my disappointment but was determined not to watch another brilliant youth be summarily used and tossed aside without a fight.
Watching Vince rip his hair out in grief and regret, I sent a letter to the board warning them that a pattern of abuse had been established and the devastating results would continue to plague the organization if not addressed. Then Board president and my good friend, Daniel Werwath, understood the urgency of the matter and stepped off the board to apply for the program director position. This was something of an adaptive solution with the thought that Daniel would be the one most likely to keep Vince positively engaged. Daniel took the notion of “empowerment” just as seriously as I did and we were partners in testing exactly how to best reflect that within the organization. He recognized Vince’s vision and drive, took him seriously and offered patience and guidance as best he could.
But this obvious solution was too threatening. Too close to the source of fire. Vince followed with his own emotional and inevitable departure. The McCune Foundation provided a consultant to help muddle through the extensive fallout which was generous of them but I can’t say that recommendations from that were followed up on. It wasn’t long afterwards that any reference to “empowerment” was removed and the mission statement was replaced with something more benign such as “ the hub for youth in the arts” . This showed that someone was paying attention. But, as a correction, it came a little too late