Hello. I am Grace Sussman. I will be doing a regular column about the arts in Rio Rancho. You might not realize it, but there are arts in Rio Rancho (or very nearby), and I will be highlighting them here. Let’s start with community arts programming in RR. Have you heard of Rio Rancho Creative Crossroads (RRCC)?

Founded in 2013 by Neal Shotwell and Aaron Howe when they realized that too frequently and for too many, the few artistic outlets in Rio Rancho were unaffordable or not open to them. In response, RRCC aims to provide an open door to the artists and reasonable prices to the participants for a variety of high-quality art experiences.

Currently, RRCC offers low or no cost theater, music, and visual art programming for all ages in Rio Rancho.

The first endeavor was the Rio Rancho Youth Chorus (RRYC) for middle and high school students. RRCC added the Children’s Chorus of Rio Rancho (CCRR) last year for those in grades three through five. Both choruses are cooperative not competitive choruses. There are no auditions. Enrollment is open to every youth that wants to join. They rehearse and perform four concerts yearly in Rio Rancho but have singers from all over the Rio Rancho/Albuquerque area.

In 2019, Shotwell joined Mel Sussman for his first meeting of the Rio Rancho Players Community Theatre on a September evening in the Loma Colorado Library. Twelve other people attended, indicating their love of theater and interest in launching Rio Rancho’s community theater group. Since then, more than 200 of all ages (13-80-plus) have joined the Players. On Saturday, July 15, auditions will be held for their next play. Performances are scheduled in September at St. Francis Episcopal Church. Following a similar model to the choruses, no experience is required to join the Players as a performer or a crew member. Whenever possible, roles are double- or triple-cast to allow as many people to participate as possible.
In September, RRCC is launching Mini Monets, a parent/toddler art program focusing on the experience of creating art, not the outcome. This program will celebrate the discoveries each child makes while creating their unique artwork.

RRCC faces challenges in its endeavor to bring and support sustainable community arts programs to Rio Rancho. Among those challenges is finding a facility that houses concerts, plays, art classes, and all other art. Funding is a constant effort. Currently, Shotwell is collaborating with Dr. Shelly Gruenig, founder of R4 Creating, a Rio Rancho STEM program that encourages students to learn more about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Together, they believe adding the arts (A) to STEM is a great way to encourage creative thinking and innovation. They have started plans for The STEAM Center for Excellence. “Art is the perfect companion for science” Shotwell states. Adding “STEAM careers are highly diverse and include professions such as architect, sound engineer, graphic designer, and archaeologist.” The Center would house STEAM programs, events and provide job training and education for adults.

Through RRCC, Neal integrates a broad and growing spectrum of art in Rio Rancho. “There are a million lights shining out there, but they don’t always have a home” she says. But Neal finds ways to bring artists, performers, and their art to the public eye. Together with those who work with her, she is finding them a place to shine in Rio Rancho. If you are interested in the arts, you can find out more at rr-cc.org.

Grace Sussman, Ed.D, among the original members of the Rio Rancho Players, is a retired literacy specialist and current part-time CNM instructor in reading and writing.