George R.R. Martin’s efforts to invest in and enliven Santa Fe arts might next expand to the largely vacant city-owned college campus on St. Michael’s Drive, if ongoing negotiations bear fruit.
The Jean Cocteau Cinema in the Railyard, owned by Martin, is talking with the city about a potential lease for the Greer Garson Theatre on the 64-acre campus of the former Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
The fate of the midtown venue, home to performing arts students since the 1960s, has been in limbo since the for-profit arts college shuttered after graduating a final class in May.
At City Council meetings where the future of the campus has been discussed, the Garson Theatre is oft-cited by residents as a must-preserve, along with Garson Studios, a hive of television and film production. A “Save the Greer Garson Theatre” online petition earlier this year drew almost 700 signatures.
Will it be Martin, the acclaimed high-fantasy novelist and TV producer, riding to the rescue?
It’s tentative, his business manager and city officials said, but talks are being held.
Lenore Gallegos, general manager of the 132-seat Jean Cocteau, said the theater was in negotiations about potentially taking on the 513-seat Garson as a means of both preserving the campus property and expanding the Cocteau’s events and community fundraising portfolio. Higher-profile events could be moved to the higher-capacity Garson, she said — such as when Martin’s friend Neil Gaiman, the author, visits for a talk.
She was reluctant to say more than that, noting the discussions are ongoing.
City officials working on the potential partnership said through a spokesman, Matt Ross, that the shape of any deal was still too unsettled to divulge details.
“But we are talking with them about it,” Ross said. “We’re in discussions about the best way to partner and use some of that [campus] space for programming, for community engagement, for a performance space.”
Gallegos said the negotiations hit a bump when Matt O’Reilly, the city’s asset development director who had been leading an effort to coordinate campus leases, resigned earlier this month.
Still, she said, Martin’s outfit retains hope that a deal can be struck before the year’s end.
Marisa Jimenez, executive director of the Stagecoach Foundation, a film and media nonprofit launched by Martin last year, said her organization, meanwhile, had been talking with the city about arranging some kind of lease deal at Garson Studios.
It’s unclear, however, whether those conversations have stalled.
Jimenez declined to say much about potential Stagecoach involvement in film production on the campus.
“I think we’re taking it one step at a time,” Jimenez said. “It’s going to take a process. At the end of the day, we just want more film and TV here. And we’re going to accomplish that.”
Martin, who turned 70 Thursday, and whose Song of Ice and Fire book series has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide and inspired the award-winning HBO series Game of Thrones, has become a Santa Fe creative arts benefactor, buying and restoring the Cocteau and piloting Stagecoach last year to enhance mentorship and career development programs in the local film and tech sectors.
He also played a key role in the brick-and-mortar development of Meow Wolf, purchasing the old Silva Lanes bowling alley on Rufina Circle and leasing the space to the ascendant arts collective for its immensely popular House of Eternal Return exhibit.
Santa Fe residents who responded to a city survey earlier this year identified the theater and studios as among the most important campus properties to maintain and improve. The studios, in particular, earned the highest support from survey respondents.
Eric Witt, director of the Santa Fe Film Office, said the studios remain critical to the local film industry. Santa Fe doesn’t have enough studio space as it is, he said.
“At the very least, we need to keep [the studios] active, and then, at best, we need to expand,” Witt said. “And we can increase some things. Put some more storage space there, put a mill in there — additional facilities that make it a true film production hub. Bring in some other businesses that are related to film production like casting, like payroll services, like editing facilities.”
The theater ranked right behind the studios. Gallegos said preserving it would be aligned with “the bigger picture of his [Martin’s] continued desire and wish to promote and stimulate art in Santa Fe.”
“We want to make sure we keep that campus alive,” she added.