On June 24, 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression, the Lensic motion picture “palace” opened, becoming the cultural hub of Santa Fe’s diverse, growing population.

In its nearly 90-year history, the Lensic Performing Arts Center’s role in Santa Fe has changed many times, but the focus on community has always been at the heart of this iconic theater.

Evolving over the years from a movie playhouse and vaudeville stage with an adjoining ballroom for social events, to its current incarnation as a state-of-the-art performing arts center, the Lensic has treated Santa Feans to lifetimes of memories and experiences.

In its current configuration, there is almost no one you can’t imagine seeing on the Lensic stage, whether it be David Byrne or Mikhail Gorbachev, Chick Corea or Joan Baez, or a troupe of Japanese drummers.

Much of this programmatic variety is because of the many organizations that call the Lensic home. The Santa Fe Symphony, Santa Fe Pro Musica, Performance Santa Fe, AMP Concerts and Lannan Lectures, to name a few, provide new experiences at every turn.

While the theater is dark due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Lensic’s engagement with the community has not missed a beat.

Of course, everyone is missing the opportunity to reconnect in person with their friends and neighbors, but the virtual programming and vital outreach offered by the theater continues to bind the community through shared experiences that bring joy, creativity and a sense of hope in these strange times.

The Lensic’s Ghostlight Sessions series began shortly after quarantines began in the spring. The series features local musicians performing on the stage using the best health and safety protocols.

With a new artist featured each week, the sessions have been seen by tens of thousands of people online. A similar program, the Student Spotlight Series, gives school-age performers a stage to perform the songs and dances they otherwise would perform for audiences at their schools.

In a normal year, the Lensic engages 18,000 students in arts education programming. This year, the school matinees the Lensic supports through the Santa Fe Public Schools’ Performing Arts for Student Success program have given way to online programs bringing arts programming into classrooms and households across Northern New Mexico.

The Lensic Future Voices film and video program remains a vital teaching tool, giving students an outlet for their creativity while doing classes at home. The theater’s work with autistic students in the school district also continued this fall, with arts educator Kevin Spencer working with 19 classrooms in November.

Santa Fe is a city whose citizens pine with love for all the arts, and the Lensic is the canopy under which a diverse programming can flourish within the City Different’s landscape. It is also a resource that is reaching out beyond its walls until we can all be back together again.

Making it Through is a weekly column by community members on their experiences since the pandemic began. Joe Schepps is president and co-owner of the Inn on the Alameda and has lived in New Mexico for 50 years. Schepps has served on the Lensic Performing Arts Center’s board of directors since 2001.

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