It is with great sadness that we share that Nan Elsasser, our founder and former executive director (1988-2014), passed away after a brave battle against cancer. Nan was a mentor, artistic provocateur, activist and great example to many. Our condolences to her family and friends. We are grateful to her for the gift of Working Classroom and for all the lives she impacted. Read more about this amazing woman below:
“Nan Elsasser died December 19, 2016 from the effects of colon cancer, which was diagnosed in January 2015. Nan was born in Hollywood, Florida on June 29, 1945, the oldest child to Ruth Rubin Elsasser and David N. Elsasser, Sr. She attended schools in Miami and as an exchange student in Mexico, graduating from Miami’s Norland Senior High School in 1963 with honors. Nan attended American University graduating in 1967 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the School of International Service.
Nan moved west, living in New Orleans for a year teaching in the public schools there. She settled in Albuquerque in 1972 to attend graduate school at the University of New Mexico, where she studied Linguistics. Nan published Las Mujeres: Conversations from a Hispanic Community (1980); and articles in the Harvard Review, and other journals and newspapers here in Albuquerque. She worked with and supported (SDS) Students for a Democratic Society, (SNCC) Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She was a feminist and a seeker of right for oppressed people; she believed deeply in the First Amendment’s right to Free Speech, and the right of an unabridged press to observe and report on the government, and did not hesitate and did often exercise her right to assemble and petition the government.
Nan was bilingual, speaking Spanish and English. She was a Fulbright Fellow at the College of the Bahamas; a former instructor at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and a former instructor at the College of the Virgin Islands. She traveled extensively in Europe, Mexico, Central and South America.
It was after her travels in Nicaragua that she had an idea which she took to the students at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque, from which a project called “Books for Bluefields” was developed, where students wrote original stories and put them in book form, with illustrations and words, and sent the books to Bluefields Nicaragua for children in the schools to read; this project became the origin of Working Classroom. Nan had seen the poverty in the villages and lack of books in the schools in Bluefields; she was so deeply touched she had to share this with the children in Albuquerque. It was the children here at Washington Middle School, mostly immigrant kids from Mexico, Central and South America, who came up with the idea of writing books for the kids in Bluefields, Nicaragua.
Nan began working with the kids in the classroom and with the kids and their parents outside the classroom. “Books for Bluefields” was a success, children in Nicaragua got their books and a small group of kids and parent volunteers developed here and so began Working Classroom a not for profit entity organized to make available art and culture to people who are forgotten and ignored. The only requirement was a love of art and a dedication to excellence.
Through Nan’s efforts Working Classroom offered arts education and scholarships and an environment where members of the community felt safe and free to express themselves. For 27 years Nan dedicated herself to the Working Classroom community creating a world-wide network of artists and students. She worked with Moises Kaufman of the Tectonic Theater Project, Ann and Bill Cusack …. and many others from around the world to provide performance and visual arts skills to the Working Classroom community.
Because of Nan’s efforts and encouragement and generosity students and friends from the Virgin Islands and Albuquerque went on to schools like Yale, New York University, De Paul, Chicago Institute of Art, University of Washington and University of New Mexico. Nan influenced many young and old alike and she will be missed by all who came to know her.
Those left to mourn her death and celebrate her life are her husband Richard McClarkin, her sister Teresa Elsasser of Vancouver, Canada, her uncle Irving Rubin of Merrit Island, Florida, her nephew Phillip Elsasser and his wife Barbie of Arvada, Colorado, and Brandon Elsasser his wife Sara and their two children of Glencoe, Illinois. Her brother David and his wife Debbie reside in Chicago, Illinois. Nan had many friends around the world who will miss her dearly.
There will be no funeral, but there will be a celebration of her life held in Albuquerque, New Mexico on June 29, 2017.
Nan’s last wish was to create a national scholarship for young artists of color. Contributions may be sent to the Nan Elsasser Fund for Theater Artists, Tectonic Theater Project, 520 8th Avenue, Suite 313, New York, NY 100“
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