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‘¡Presente!’ takes on Santa Fe issues

SANTA FE, N.M. — It is no secret that Santa Fe is a multi-cultural city of much complexity and diversity.

Aurora Escobido (left) and Nisa Touchon, filmmakers at Littleglobe, work on a video for the stage show “¡Presente!.” (Courtesy of Katy Gross)

And it is also no secret that the city has struggled with gentrification, uneven growth and the need for affordable housing.

Wrapping all of those issues together into a stage show might seem like an improbable, monumental task.

But the multi-media presentation “¡Presente! Stories of Belonging and Displacement in Santa Fe,” coming up Saturday at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, does just that. It weaves together the personal tales of Santa Feans both new and of many generations, both young and old, with music from Lone Piñon and video presentations to create an encompassing, engaging and personal snapshot of Santa Fe.

Performers in “¡Presente!” – which means “I’m here” or “I belong” – include young people from Capital High School, Earth Care, the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe Indian School, the University of New Mexico and Youthworks.

The production grew out of a project by former state historian Dr. Estevan Rael-Gálvez, who along with Littleglobe – a local group that strives to combine art with community engagement – created it as a way get audiences to think about the past, present and future of the city.

“It’s a story-telling project in which we capture resident stories about the shifts in culture, economics, demographics and housing in Santa Fe, and its neighborhoods,” said Chris Jonas, “¡Presente!” creative director. “We tell resident stories to help illuminate how we are as a people.”

The foundation was set when city government enlisted Raul-Galvez in 2016 to develop a cultural plan for Santa Fe, intended to map and assess the city’s cultural assets.

“That involved 12 intense weeks of community engagement,” he said. “It was daily activities like jumping on buses, and interviews in salons and barbers shops, as well as traditional places like galleries, museums and the opera.”

Rael-Gálvez soon realized that the formidable task he’d undertaken was painting a telling picture of the city and its residents.

“The following year, after we completed the cultural plan, several organizations wanted to keep the movement going forward, keep the conversation going,” he said.

Toward that end, Raul-Galvez connected with the Chainbreaker Collective, an economic and environmental justice organization that works to expand access to affordable transportation and sustainable communities.

Chainbreaker had all kinds of data, but was lacking the touch that could transform that data into compelling, real-life stories.

And Rael-Gálvez had just that.

“¡Presente!” Creative Ensemble members rehearse. Right to left: Dylan Tenorio, Rita Rios-Baca, Aurora Escobido (behind camera), Devin Baldwin and Leticia Gonzales. (Courtesy of Nisa Touchon)

Mix in Littleglobe’s expertise in “interdisciplinary, collaborative art projects that foster life-affirming connections across the boundaries that divide us,” according to their website, and the project came together.

“There’s a way a message like this is delivered,” Jonas said. “We’re starting off talking about where we come from and spend a lot of time talking about daily life. And taking about housing, as well as people who don’t live here, but want to live here. We talk about how people got there and their struggles of how they got here, and what it is for people to belong here in Santa Fe. It’s a three-part system.”

In compiling the personal stories, Rael-Gálvez said nothing he learned was really new, but it just was important to put a face on it all.

“Because I’m a part of this community and I’ve worked here for many decades, I don’t think I’ve necessarily been surprised by anything I’ve heard,” he said. “But hearing some of these testimonies, they fill your heart with joy and heartbreak at the same time. Hearing those stories takes your breath away, no matter what you were expecting.”

It makes for a powerful message and presentation, he said.

“When you ever humanize stats and you recognize the human face in an experience, you’re adding an understanding to the human element behind the stats that reveals the power of the story,” Rael-Gálvez said.

“It’s why the process is almost more important than what will culminate,” he said. “This is the magic of Littleglobe. Their keen ability is to actually understand what it means to create a community ensemble.

“I love it. It aligns with something that I’ve always recognized, that every single person’s story is worth remembering. Littleglobe actually knows how to actualize that, they know how to implement that, and bring in those voices and help them understand the value of their contribution, allow them as part of this process to feel comfortable articulating their voice through movement.”