In Flux: Santa Fe arts high school draws lessons from unexpected transition.

500 Montezuma Ave, Santa Fe, NM

Flux is the name of this year’s Visual Arts senior exhibition at New Mexico School for the Arts, a Santa Fe-based public high school with an award-winning creative curriculum. The thirteen 12th-graders in the department picked the title before COVID-19 swept the globe, forcing them to reimagine Flux as an online show. “This morning one of the students was like, ‘How perfect is that name, given what we’re dealing with here?’” says Karina Hean, Chair of Visual Arts at NMSA. True to their professions, Hean and her colleagues have turned the mandatory pivot into a teachable moment.


As schools across the country switched to remote teaching procedures in March, NMSA faced an uncommon challenge. Its student body is statewide—60% of students are from outside of Santa Fe County—so the new arrangement was particularly far-flung. Hean is amazed at how smooth it’s been so far. “Adjusting to this new situation has been remarkably possible,” says Hean. “Visual Arts is emphasizing flexibility, resourcefulness and creative process.”


There are about 250 students at NMSA, and Hean oversees 60 of them across four grade levels in the Visual Arts program. These days the students convene for full-class lectures on Google Hangouts, but also virtually meet in smaller groups for critiques or connect one-on-one for projects. Recent lesson plans have challenged them to stake out their own makeshift studio spaces, and work with whatever materials they can find. 


“We’re encouraging them to use what they have on hand at home, and to really have fun with that,” says Hean. “They’re experimenting, being really playful, and allowing for chance to enter into things. We’ll tell them, ‘Use what you have on hand from the cabinet or garage. Creativity can be inspired by all sorts of things, not just traditional art materials.’ We are reinforcing that limitations breed creativity.”


Hean sees the rapidly evolving curriculum as a rare opportunity to teach her students vital professional skills. All of her students are in the process of building digital portfolios right now, an assignment that was previously only given to juniors and seniors. “I think what's really helpful for artists of any stripe and type is that the practice of being a maker is inherently nimble,” says Hean. “They’ve got a resilient skill set, and we’re drawing on that.”


She’s particularly focused on sending that message to this year’s seniors, who face worldwide uncertainty just as they’re graduating. “I’m telling them to have a backup plan, or two or three. When you’re making artwork, you might have many sketches and you’re likely still going to change your mind while making.”


So far, NMSA’s senior class has some pretty spectacular first drafts of their future plans. Soon-to-be graduates of the Visual Arts department have been accepted to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rhode Island School of Design, Cooper Union and Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, Colorado Film School, and College for Creative Studies in Detroit.


A number of seniors plan to enroll at Institute of American Indian Arts and Santa Fe Community College. Their planned majors are just as diverse, from painting and cinematography to sustainable fashion design and environmental law. 

The achievements of the 2020 class are part of a long legacy for the 10-year-old institution: NMSA has a 98% graduation rate, a 95% acceptance rate, and was designated a National Blue Ribbon School by the United States Department of Education in 2016.  


For now, the students are pouring their energy into the 2020 senior show. The virtual exhibition debuts on the NMSA website this Friday, and the participants are conducting online artist talks starting today. Among the pieces represented in the show are paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures and new media artworks. One student made a series of masks, and another produced an EP (extended play record) of original songs. 


“I’ve been talking to them about how life is always uncertain, and this is just another uncertainty that we’re going to negotiate,” says Hean about the run-up to the show’s launch. “Sometimes we can’t solve and answer all of the things that we want, so it’s important to focus on the things we can answer.” Right now, it’s all about Flux.



Thursday, May 14, 11-12:30 MT

Where: Google Meet


Friday, May 15, 11-12:30 MT

Where: Google Meet



Debuts Friday, May 15

View the exhibition.


If you're able, please consider supporting this remarkable institution, which serves students from all across New Mexico. Zane Bennett Contemporary Art and our sister gallery, form & concept, are official sponsors of their online retrospective. To learn more about the retrospective, check out this blog post from form & concept.

May 14, 2020