Once the old slot machines are cleared out, Moving Arts Española plans to complete the transformation of an old casino into a creative space for Northern New Mexican youth.
The nonprofit is fundraising to renovate part of the building it leases in Ohkay Owingeh, which Moving Arts co-founder Roger Montoya said was vacated in the mid-1990s, to add 6,000 square feet for study spaces, behavioral health counseling and an expanded kitchen for culinary arts lessons.
While Moving Arts generally has been focused on younger students, Montoya, a state representative, wants to use the renovation to design programs for high school students aligned with career tracks offered at Northern New Mexico College and Santa Fe Community College.
“We’re intentionally creating an opportunity to do career development while continuing the arts model that’s our brand,” Montoya said. “Lots of music students — wouldn’t it be great for them to learn sound engineering?”
Moving Arts was founded in 2008 and has been in its current building since 2013. It offers classes in theater, music, dance, cooking and more. Before the pandemic, co-founder Salvador Ruiz-Esquivel said attendance was around 400 students per week but has dropped to around 125.
With the new space, Moving Arts could accommodate around 600 kids in classes generally not available elsewhere in the region.
“When I was a child, there was nowhere like Moving Arts in Española. My parents had to take me to Santa Fe every week to learn to dance,” said Carmelita Archuleta, who has moved her traditional Mexican dance folklorico classes online during the pandemic. “Continuing with video classes during the pandemic is so important because these kids need socialization. I feel for them not having human interaction.”
Seventh grader Isaiah Rugsaken has been taking drama and moviemaking classes during the pandemic.
“Moving Arts can really help out teens that need a place to go and hang out and get away from whatever they have in their home lives that might be hard on them,” Isaiah said. “During the pandemic, it’s been one way to see friends.”
Montoya estimated the project could cost $500,000. He hopes construction will start this summer and be completed in two years.
“It will make a difference in terms of creative outlets in terms of kids for this community,” said Justin Sanchez, a freshman at New Mexico State University from Velarde who sings and plays guitar and piano. “Poverty and drug addiction are pretty widespread. I have family members who have struggled with both. The chance to nip it in the bud with a creative outlet is important.”