The Northern New Mexico Regional Art Center is no longer pursuing legal action against former executive director John Werenko, who was accused of embezzling around $100,000 from the organization in late 2017.

    Current executive director Gabriela Silva spoke about the nonprofit’s decision to take positive future steps in a different direction.

    “I tell a lot of our board, you know, we just have to move forward and not dwell on the past, even though, I think, that the last four years we’ve been doing really well, we’ve been doing better than ever,” she said. “And so, you know, John did a good thing for the community, bringing it (the art center) down from Los Alamos. I mean, that’s all I can say is that he did something good for the community and we have to be thankful.”

    The Center faced difficulties obtaining bank records from Los Alamos National Bank, which came under new ownership and rebranded to Enterprise Bank and Trust after merging in 2018 with Missouri-based Enterprise Financial Services Corp. Additionally, Werenko refused to sign for certified mail and the Center does not know his whereabouts. That makes constructing a case against him incredibly difficult, Silva said.

    “People keep telling us, ‘Aren’t you going to go back?’” she said. “And someone’s like, ‘You know, how much money we spend trying to sue him to get nothing back.’ We spent as much as he probably took from us. And sometimes it’s like, well, gosh, what do you do? You know? And the attorney kind of felt that way as well.

    “I mean, we couldn’t really do anything else and, and nobody was responding. And then, uh, you know, (New Mexico Attorney General Hector) Balderas, the district attorney and not actually the state attorney, um, they didn’t ever respond.

    “I mean, I remember sitting there on the phone, on my cell phone for days, trying to get somebody to answer the phone and nobody would answer the phone. I remember, it was frustrating.”

    The Center has focused on improving its online presence during the COVID-19, holding Zoom classes and promoting the Convento gallery online.

    “I’m very excited about moving forward and starting a new year with new gallery events, Silva said. “We’re going to have the themes instead of just allowing people to come into the gallery and have a show. We’re going to try to create themes and make it more of a traditional show where we invite artists.

    “I think now it’s allowed us to reach out in several different ways, not just physically, but also through the internet. And so that’s exciting. I’m excited to do that for the next few years, hopefully.”

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