Luz es Vida. Light is Life. These three words shoved me into my car Friday morning (late as usual) and invited me to take a trip out to Questa. While the drive was gratifying enough — thirty minutes of sweeping vistas and no cell phone service — when I arrived at OCHO, an art/event/acutonic healing space housed in the renovated old mine union hall, I began to get the feeling there was much more going on here than I originally anticipated.
I walked in and was greeted by Claire Coté, who had kindly lit a fire to dispel the lingering morning chill. We shook hands, and there was a moment of silence as I gaped around the beautiful space, instantly excited about the raw potential oozing from the gallery’s pristine white walls. When we finally sat down in front of the sputtering wood stove, our conversation blew my mind.
Claire is the founder of LEAP (Land, Education and Art of Place), which, in a brief distillation, is a beautiful experimental melding of art-driven understanding of our specific ecology, heritage, and conservation efforts here in Northern New Mexico. Each year LEAP selects a theme for their event series; 2015’s theme, in celebration of the International Year of Light, is “Luz es Vida”. As we sat there discussing light in its relevant forms and functions relating to our society, my mind began to spin — solar power, photosynthesis, fire — correlating with green business, agriculture, rebirth. My experience was a patchwork flow chart of interconnected knowledge. Viscerally I began to feel what LEAP was all about.
Then Claire’s sister Joan Long arrived and we really started jamming on the ideas behind the Earth Day Youth Performance Café — the inaugural event for Luz es Vida. The Café revolves around the unveiling of five banners co-created by over 200 students. During March and April, Claire, Joan and a veritable army of dedicated volunteers brought 4ft. by 9ft. banners to students at Costilla, Roots and Wings, Alta Vista and a gathering of homeschoolers. They conducted workshops centered around the Luz es Vida theme, providing a framework for students ranging from pre-school to sixth grade to create collaboratively. I was fortunate enough to sneak a peek at one banner with the theme Day and Night. It was stunning. Ultimately these banners will be displayed along regional RTD (blue bus) stops, illuminated at night by solar LED displays.
Accompanying the unveiling of the banners will be youth performances of song, dance, poetry, puppetry, piano, and clowning. The gallery will be set up like a café with small tables and chairs, while students circulate through the crowd offering light refreshment. Joan mentioned that the café atmosphere is as vital to the program as the banners themselves. Instead of just unveiling the banners in a gallery-style opening where people cluster around them, why not present an entire evening of entertainment, where folks can sit and appreciate while the banners hang gloriously, presiding over it all. In addition to a pleasant atmosphere the café invites more students to participate in the celebration of Luz es Vida beyond visual arts.
As all three of us continued to animatedly discuss LEAP, education, budget deficits and all the tricky challenges entangled therein, Joan stopped at one moment and prefaced a remark with, “I know this sounds cheesy, but…,” after which she launched into a dialogue about how one of the main gifts she took away from working on the Luz es Vida workshops was to see the light that infused the faces of the students during those forty minutes of unbridled creativity.
I did not find it cheesy at all that as Joan was talking about the joy of the students, her face lit up like the sun.
The Earth Day Youth Performance Cafe celebration will be held at OCHO art space and gallery on Wednesday, April 22n, from 6-8 p.m. The event is a free, family friendly, community celebration in Questa. For more information check out their website, leapsite.org, or call 586-2362.