Roger Montoya: Our Local CNN Hero

Montoya, co-founder of Moving Arts Española, is one of 10 finalists for CNN’s Hero of the Year.

A lot can happen in a year... just ask Roger Montoya.

Last January, Meow Wolf began work on “Community Voices,”  a documentary video series intended to spotlight organizations in our communities. Our first film focused on Moving Arts Española and co-founder Montoya, who has brought arts education for 12 years to the Española Valley and surrounding communities of Northern New Mexico, one of the hardest hit areas of opioid addiction in the country.

Montoya’s remarkable efforts — depicted in our award-winning film — gained the attention of “CNN Heroes,”  who have since recognized him as one of only 10 finalists for CNN’s Hero of the Year!

Moving Arts Española Founder Roger Montoya.

Directed by Jody McNicholas, the Community Voices film was released in January 2019. Montoya, along with his partner and co-founder Sal Ruiz, welcomed Jody into their lives with open arms. What followed was a deep bond between the three of them, as Jody continually showed up to film the activities of Moving Arts.

“The Community Voices video was a game changer for us. It gave us a tool to share our story in a very, very beautiful way. The film was made with great care and sensitivity. It was absolutely a main reason that we were noticed by CNN Heroes. Because of the film, fundraising has increased markedly. Our attention, from periodicals to checks in the mail, interest, people visiting the site, just raised the profile of the organization measurably. Like, the most profound change to date in 12 years.”

This increased profile helped MAE raise more than $30,000. Ruiz and Montoya report that class attendance is up an impressive 30%. Ruiz says, “After 12 years, to see what we have been doing from the other side of the lens gave us fuel to keep going with more enthusiasm and joy. The video has been a pinnacle for us.”

The funding increase, in particular, has already shown a marked effect on the lives of MAE students. Montoya notes, “It's already made a big difference. There's more money for children who are without means. In terms of having access, there's no barrier to scholarships for those that cannot pay.”

As for what’s next, Montoya outlines plans for a growing station to feed their farm-to-table meal service, as well as a 6,000-square-foot space that will require upgrades to accommodate new STEM and STEAM programs. He says,

“We need to prepare children and young people for the 21st century. When we take technology and stir in a healthy dose of old school art making, I think it's the best mix for children. Creative critical thinking, I think, is really the operative word. We want kids to enter into digital media, film, podcasting, and journalism with a keen eye to making change in the communities that they live. That's a real priority now. The kids are really excited about that sort of rethinking, and now they’re imagining their own futures. Very, very important.”

A Folklorico dance class at Moving Arts Española.

Voting for CNN’s Hero of the Year runs through December 3, with up to 10 votes allowed per day per individual. You can vote for Roger Montoya HERE!

“If we could somehow win this prize as Hero of the Year, it means so much more to me than just (being called) a hero. For me, it's really about our state, northern New Mexico, the families, and the youth that will inherit this place.”

Roger Montoya co-founded Moving Arts Española in 2008, along with his partner Sal Ruiz.

Their mission includes bringing high-quality, affordable performing and visual arts education, as well as nutritional and academic support for youths aged 3-18. It states: All children and youth deserve to have access to a superior arts education and the nutritional and academic support that they need in order to succeed and thrive.

Watch the short documentary on Moving Arts Española HERE!