Can an art festival change a community?

Robert Rauschenberg quoteBy Janet Webb, August 12, 2015

This is my personal observation about a new development in Taos that is touching the youth of the community, the artistic population, the energy in the downtown area, and the economics of the town. That this development will change Taos is a fact I believe will be proven in a few years. Read. If you believe, please get involved in The Paseo.

In fall 2013, right after the 39th annual Taos Fall Arts Festival (TFAF) concluded, a conversation began between a young architect with a focus on community planning, a new media artist who leads STEAM and bilingual arts programs in schools across the hemisphere, and the new director of TFAF. What emerged was an idea for a new art event to happen concurrently with the 40th annual TFAF in 2014. The plan was based on core values meant to change the community. Now preparing for its second festival on September 25 and 26, 2015, the lofty plans seem totally plausible.

Meet The Paseo. Read its vision for Taos, penned that fall of 2013:

“The Paseo project believes in the contributions of a rural and urban connection. Through efforts like The Paseo, the wealth of rural geographies, like that of Northern New Mexico, can create alignments to urban centers in new and interesting ways. Participating in this alignment through key partnerships and exchanges promotes new narratives on where wealth can be found and how to sustain it, all while engaging youth in a greater social inclusion. The Paseo believes in the collective creating of a greater quality of place socially, environmentally, and economically for Northern New Mexico.”

The Paseo describes itself as “… a festival dedicated to bringing the art of installation, performance, and projection to the streets of Taos, New Mexico.” Occurring in collaboration with Taos Fall Arts Festival, the Paseo’s 31 art installations (created by over 70 artists) will unite the walkways between four Fall Arts exhibition venues and create a new platform for the public display of art within the Taos Historic District.

STEMartsLab@ThePASEO student projection piece on the walls of the Luna Chapel, August 6, 2015. Artist-instructor: Nettrice Gaskins. Photo: David Mapes

So, how is the Paseo changing Taos?

In the schools.
Through Agnes Chavez’s STEMarts Lab initiative, the Paseo is placing 8 of this year’s 70 festival artists into Taos middle and high schools to create 12 innovative hands-on workshops that combine science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and arts. The students’ projects from these pre-festival workshops will be part of the performances and installations presented on the streets of Taos the last Friday and Saturday of September.

A recent pop-up Paseo event on August 6 presented a piece from the first STEMarts Lab workshop, led by artist Nettrice Gaskins of Boston, MA. Sound- and movement-generated graphics were projected on the adobe walls of the Luna Chapel, part of the Couse-Sharp Historic Site on Kit Carson Road.

In the art community.
Sixteen Taos County artists will be included in this year’s Paseo, presenting eight installations. Some of the artists are not yet well known in Taos, as their work deals with robotics, sound illumination, and digital media—media more popular in urban art scenes. Other artists are students who will be experiencing their first public art show. In both instances,

The Paseo opens new opportunities to Taos artists and the viewing public.

Artist collective, SJ2, includes Taos artists Jennifer Longo, Sasha Vom Dorp and Josh Cunningham
Artist collective, SJ2, includes Taos artists Jennifer Longo, Sasha Vom Dorp and Josh Cunningham

In the historic district.
With an architect at the helm, it’s no surprise that this festival engages Taos’s historic core with architectural and urban ideals. Through the implementation of art and temporary interventions, new civic realities can be uncovered—suggesting new opportunities for community organization and pride.

Last year, The Paseo painted geometric designs on five crosswalks around Taos Plaza. The success of the event spurred the Town to inquire about investing in a permanent installation that would detail all the crosswalks in global and local patterns, highlighting the central historic district and its relationship to the arts.

If the 2014 event is any indicator, the weekend of September 25–26 will see over 3,000 people on the streets of Taos each day. With Town help, several experimental alternative traffic flow plans are being explored, the results of which may affect future traffic planning.

Artist Betil Dagdelen's painted crosswalks, The Paseo 2014
Artist Betil Dagdelen’s painted crosswalks, The Paseo 2014.

The economics of it all.
It’s too early to tell how “unhangable,” impermanent, not-for-sale art may have an economic effect on the community, other than additional hospitality revenue during the festival weekend. But it’s likely there will be a substantial upturn in Taos art commerce due to the Paseo.

Finally, The Paseo Core Ethos.

Create a platform for art that is experimental, time-based, ephemeral, participatory, and context responsive

Encourage conversation on contemporary art practices, local & global

Build 21st century skills and opportunities for underrepresented youth in rural areas

Engage the local community through education, workshops, and presentations

Challenge art and audience: local and global

Support local artists and businesses; emergent and established

Respect art making

Learn more about how the Paseo is changing Taos.

Meet the Paseo team

Learn about STEMarts Lab@ThePASEO

Meet the seventy 2015 Paseo artists

Get involved with The Paseo

The Paseo 2015 is sponsored by New Mexico Department of Tourism, New Mexico Arts, the Town of Taos, Taos County Lodgers Tax Funds, Taos Community Foundation, the Healy Foundation and many private and business sponsors.



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