It’s easy to drive right by the businesses of El Morro Valley, but you can’t miss The Old School Gallery, with its brightly colored exterior. Several artists within the El Morro Area Arts Council established the gallery 11 years ago to find a place for local artists to display their art. The building itself was built in 1947 and served as a one-room schoolhouse for many years. Today, the space is used for a gallery and so much more. Attracting people from as far as the Acoma and Laguna Pueblos the space is used for art workshops, community meetings, yoga and tai chi classes, musical performances, and youth programs. The gallery has one staff member and the rest is volunteer-driven. It represents artists from approximately a 50-mile radius and displays new art shows quarterly.
What I love is that here, in this small rural community, they function as a social enterprise. The gallery incorporated as nonprofit to help bring in income but found that its income had to be diversified beyond contributions and foundation support. So now through their programs they generate enough earned revenue to maintain the gallery.
As I talk to Paula Tripodi, the executive director of the gallery, I realize not only am I sitting with a social entrepreneur but a cultural entrepreneur as well. Paula has played the guitar since she was 10 and now she sings and writes songs too. Initially shy about performing, she found she enjoys it as she performs at the gallery and at local festivals in such an accepting community. She even recorded an album several years ago and is working on her next one.
As we talk about the gallery and the community she said, “Even with the gallery there is a constant challenge to get everyone’s art exposed. Not everyone has galleries or studios, making it difficult to have regular hours to show their work.” Additionally, things like having a website or even business cards, sound simple enough, but are lacking here to help move their art beyond El Morro. However, one of the opportunities and something that they’re working on with the New Mexico Tourism Department is to find affordable ways to create studios along the Ancient Way Arts Trail and to have signs that show people driving by that the studios are a part of the Trail.
Paula further commented that, “Even though there aren’t many businesses in the area, we are working together to create packages and incentives for people to come and visit and make a day out of it. For example, someone could come a see a show at The Old School Gallery, have a gourmet dinner across the street at the Ancient Way Café and then spend the night in a cabin at the campground. The next day they could get up and get a great hike in at El Morro or El Malpais.”
El Morro may be a small community, but it’s certainly worth the visit!