SJC's new fine arts director mulls plans to move department forward as pandemic recedes
Margaret Clair says collaboration with other entities will be key to resurgence
- Margaret Clair began her career at San Juan College as an adjunct instructor.
- She is also a former member of the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company and the wife of Farmington Civic Center supervisor Randy West.
- She became the college's director of fine arts and special events in April.
FARMINGTON — When she came to Farmington in the spring of 2019 with her husband Randy West, who was taking over as the supervisor at the Farmington Civic Center, Margaret Clair says she was more than happy to dial back her career, intending to spend more time performing and perhaps doing a little teaching.
In her previous stop, Clair had served as the executive director and director of education at the Great Plains Theatre company in Abilene, Kansas. The job was rewarding, but demanding, she said, and by the time she came to Farmington more than three years ago, Clair was ready to take a step back.
"Running a theater is an all-in type of job, especially when it comes to fundraising and marketing," she said. "It's just a lot. The fundraising was probably the most demanding and taxing part about it."
Initially, Clair made good on her pledge to herself to take a more relaxing approach to work. She became part of the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company started by her husband, appearing in several of the group's productions, and joined the faculty at San Juan College as an adjunct instructor.
But Clair's role at the college grew with time, and when the school's administration needed someone to get the fine arts department up and running again earlier this year after the COVID-19 pandemic began to recede, she was the natural choice.
Clair said she had to be persuaded to apply for the job, but once she made the decision to return to management work, she did so enthusiastically. Now, six months into her new role as director of fine arts and special events at San Juan College, she said that decision appears to have been the right one.
"I love it. It's a big job, but I love doing it," she said. " … I'm very happy here. I like the vision behind the creation of (the fine arts center)."
Clair's job involves not only overseeing the fine arts programs at the college, but managing the Henderson Fine Arts Center, including the performance hall, the Connie Gotsch Theatre, the Black Box Theatre and the Henderson Fine Arts gallery. Each of those entities had seen its momentum stalled over the previous two years because of the pandemic, and it became Clair's job to get them moving forward again.
"What attracted me (to the position) is my love of theater, my love of art. But I love to build things, too," she said. "This was an opportunity to build on the foundation that was already here. I like to see things grow."
But after two years of pandemic-induced inertia, it wasn't easy to induce that growth. Enrollment in many of the fine arts programs had fallen off significantly, and some of the department's facilities needed a lot of work after two years of disuse.
"Some of the challenges we faced included the (performance hall) itself, which needed cleaning, maintenance and revamping. There was some heavy lifting to do, along with the re-establishment of nearly all our theater programs."
Clair's goal isn't simply to return the department to the level it was operating at before the pandemic hit. She has several ideas in mind for expanding the department's footprint and making it an integral part of campus life at the college, especially since there are now students living on campus for the first time.
She plans to do that by collaborating and cooperating with other departments at the college, and other entities off campus, including the City of Farmington. The first step in that process became visible last weekend when the college served as the host site for the first night of the Four Corners Balloon Rally, welcoming a balloon glow and concert by Patrick and the Las Vegas Band.
Other projects are in the works. The long-running Cinematheque Series, which features screenings of independent films, has been relaunched, although its debut presentation was delayed from September to October because of unforeseen circumstances. And Clair plans on renaming and widening the school's Silhouette Series — which includes concerts, dance and theatrical productions, and Chautauqua presentations — to include a faculty lecture series called Broadening Horizons.
By next fall, Clair hopes for enrollment in fine arts programs to have recovered to the point that the department can relaunch its student theatrical productions, an important element in her overall plan. As an interim measure, she hopes to present a series of Reader's Theater presentations in the spring.
"That's something easily done as we rev up toward self-producing," she said. "It's a wonderful way to experience more unusual works without fully producing them onstage."
She also intends to initiate a program that would allow students to obtain a theater technician certificate with an eye toward making San Juan College the go-to institution in the Four Corners region for training workers for that field.
Finally, in her role as interim director of the college's art gallery, she intends to book more cutting-edge exhibitions at that facility while the search for a new director unfolds, including those with interactive and immersive elements.
Clair already has reached out to other San Juan College faculty members to work together on projects, including Luke Renner, a professor in the school's film and digital media arts program, as part of an effort to use the Black Box Theatre as a podcast studio.
The college's music department already has resumed its end-of-semester concerts in the performing arts hall, and Clair said she hopes to augment those performances by again bringing in a regular slate of regionally and nationally touring acts, as was the norm before the pandemic hit. She said the fine arts center also will serve as the host site for the New Mexico Activities Association's one-act play competition for high schools in November, a four-day event that will bring hundreds of students to the campus.
Additionally, she said, San Juan College will serve as an active member of the New Mexico Presenters Alliance, a cooperative organization of theater and concert hall managers across the state who work to book a series of shows together, effectively negotiating "group rates" for shows or acts they couldn't otherwise afford.
By the end of this year, Clair said, San Juan College once again should be a hub for local entertainment and fine arts.
"In November and December, we'll have something going on practically every day," she said.
To see a full schedule, visit sanjuancollege.edu and click on the "Events" header at the top of the page.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or email@example.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.