History of EMAAC:
The El Morro Area Arts Council began in 1997 as an idea when a group of local artists met to discuss how to continue showing their work in anticipation of the closing of a local cafe and gallery.
As the idea for an arts council progressed, a board of directors was formed and met monthly with members representing the different communities of Zuni Pueblo, Ramah Navajo Chapter, the town of Ramah and El Morro. In the first year, while still working toward forming an arts council, there were workshops, exhibitions, drumming circles, landscape outings and a dinner theater all held, in different locations around the communities.
501c3 status was achieved on June 24th, 1998. By September that same year, the newly formed arts council rented an old vacant school building in the village of El Morro. From this the Old School Gallery was formed..
Many volunteers worked hard to get the interior space painted, the grounds cleaned up and exhibitions hung. The very first event held at the Old School Gallery was set up outside on the concrete slab, before the doors were even opened. It was a period of exciting growth and by 1999 the El Morro Area Arts Council was voted one of the leading arts councils in New Mexico.
Along the way, members raised enough money to purchase the old school house. It has become not only a gallery but a performance space, community arts center and a location to gather to share art and celebrate the seasons with festivals.
Life in our part of the world (50+ miles to town, dirt roads, sparse population) is often challenging and at times can be lonely. The camaraderie and friendships that have developed and strengthened through EMAAC and its Old School Gallery over the years is perhaps the thing we value the most about having an arts council and community arts center in our rural and remote part of New Mexico.
History of the El Morro School Building… as told by Billy Gross
In the 1940’s, the settlement of El Morro and the surrounding area was a small but thriving community. The Ashcroft family had a trading post and a post office and across the road was a feedlot and a rodeo grounds. Several families moved to that area, trying to farm and raise beans. These farm children, the Ramah Navajo children, and others needed a school and in the spring of 1947 the project of building one started. Al Ashcroft furnished the land and the school district out of Valencia County (now Cibola county) provided the materials. The community got together and built it.
Former students remember about 20 children attending the two-room schoolhouse. The children walked or rode horses to school, and in the case of children living in the dorms at Mountain View, rode a bus – a refurbished army truck heated with a wood stove in the middle. In the early fifties a school was built in the village of Ramah and attendance at the El Morro school dwindled until the school was closed in the mid 1950s.
The land owners at the time of the closure were Maxine and Vance Bond, who ran a trading post and who used the school building for feed, grain and hay storage. When a son and daughter-in-law joined the business in 1987, they remodeled the old school building and created a stage for wild west shows. When Billy and Lou Gross bought the business in the fall of 1991, the school building was once again being used for storage, meetings and the occasional dance. After the El Morro Area Arts Council formed, the Board of Directors approached Lou and Billy about renting and remodeling the old school building into an art gallery. An agreement was reached, the building was remodeled, the gallery opened and a happy relationship ensued.
Postscript: Members of the El Morro Area Arts Council eventually raised the funds to purchase this building from the Gross’s and by 2011 the entire 5 acres and the old school building now belonged to the El Morro Area Area Arts Council itself.