All week long, it seemed Taos was experiencing a “calm before the storm” moment leading up to the opening of this year’s Taos Fall Arts Festival and The PASEO. Traffic was heavy up and down Paseo del Pueblo Sur y Norte. People were pouring into town and it looked like we’d be having well-attended art openings and events. Art matters in Taos, and this past weekend showed some of the best of what this means.
On Friday evening (Sept. 22), TFAF’s “Taos Open” exhibition featured more than 200 artworks by a diverse group of artists – some quite known, some not known to the public at all. The “Open,” mounted in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Gymnasium at 205 Don Fernando St., featured mostly paintings, along with a very small percentage of sculpture and some jewelry. Youth were given a showcase and a heartfelt sense of pride to be included. Some of the strongest work presented was by local Hispanic artists, including Michael Vargas, Bernadette Pino and Victor Goler.
Over the years, the Taos Fall Arts Festival has become known as a collectors market: a place to view and purchase from a wide selection of Taos art. The 2017 show featured an impressive range of artwork by an engaged and dedicated array of Taos artists. Presenting the “Open” in one venue – instead of two, as in years past – allows it to become a clearer and more succinctly focused showing of what many artists are creating here.
“The board of Taos Fall Arts Festival feels very good about the opening weekend,” TFAF Board President Paul Figueroa said. “Many positive comments by the participating artists and the many visitors on the presentation of over 200 works of art. Attendance for Friday’s opening public reception and Saturday’s opening day was near 1,000. Atmosphere observations ranged from best show in recent years, indicative of the talent and skills of artists in Taos. There was an abundance of joy at opening night. Sales of work are surpassing last year. Our setting ... was enhanced by additional improvements to the installation and a single location was a benefit to artists and visitors. A single, all-inclusive exhibition encouraged both established and new artists to participate in a celebration of the arts and offered a comprehensive venue to market their work. The Taos Fall Arts Festival offers something for everyone, starting with the opening weekend and continuing for its 10 days.”
The PASEO, which took place on Taos Plaza Saturday evening (Sept. 23), was not to be dampened by the dark clouds that brought a constant light rain to the proceedings.
Amazingly, there were people everywhere having a good time right there in Taos Plaza, the rain never once dampening the spirit of Taos. Ollie Bell set the mood for a wet PASEO with his video projection of waves on several of the front windows of empty spaces along Paseo del Pueblo Norte south of the Taos Inn. Approaching the entryway to Taos Plaza, a towering construction of brass horn instruments was presenting a fire-breathing dragon-like performance. Video projections of spirits and goblins onto the Hotel La Fonda and the Historic Taos County Courthouse buildings playfully taunted the crowd of onlookers below.
The Plaza was full of young people engaged with art, lining up to control the fire displays or creating art at Twirl’s various interactive booths. In the center of it all was the pure fun of a “Silent Disco” party, which had even more people moving and grooving, featuring the BalletTaos dancers, tuned in to dancing the night away. Everyone was having fun. There seemed to be a smile on each and every person’s face.
“The PASEO definitely is an adventure that stirs up creativity in you and, yes, it has brought new life and excitement to Taos Plaza,” said Adobe Café at Taos Pueblo owner Mary Esther Winters. The ever-present rain (which one year completely shut down The PASEO) was planned for by the organizers, who had the foresight this year to set up tents over various installations.
“The energy in our Plaza was incredible. Our visiting artists put on a great show and the audience just couldn’t be stopped,” J. Matt Thomas, co-director of The PASEO, said. “The rain really just became another installation, adding reflections, shimmers and glimmers from the explosive fire installations and the expansive projections. It was the ‘Party on the Plaza’ we envisioned and we thank everyone that came out to enjoy it. Our visiting artists were again blown away by our community. They fell in love with Taos. And mostly from the friendly, creative and engaging community that comes out in force to support public art and events … our volunteers stepped in, showed up and we had a very successful event with a buzz that is sure to stick around for a while. The Paseo Project seeks to transform community with art and art with community. That was shown in force last night! The PASEO really just creates the platform for Taos to put on a show!”
Highlights during the weekend included the ongoing (through Oct. 1) “Pressing On 7” exhibition, featuring 21 printmakers at the Taos Center for the Arts’ Stables Gallery, 133 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Prints are often thought of as an affordable alternative to buying paintings. The range of work presented in this exhibit is all quite beautiful and is indeed affordable.
Then, there was “SoDo” (”South of Downtown”), an afternoon of open studios at 1022 Reed St. held on Saturday (Sept. 23). If you thought there was no such thing as contemporary art in Taos, then you haven’t met any of the artists working in this part of Taos. You’ll find printmakers, sculptors, crafters, photographers and painters all making some of the best art in Taos, mostly unknown to the general public.
Another highlight of the weekend was “Solace in Sanctuary,” an exhibit at Wilder Nightingale Fine Art, 119 Kit Carson Road, through Oct. 7, a thoughtfully curated show of paintings and photographs referencing imagery of mostly Northern New Mexico churches.
A few tweaks here and there may be needed and looked at for future TFAF events. There may be too much going on for this one weekend. Far too many people visiting Taos this weekend had no idea that the festival was taking place. With more than 20 arts-related events all over Taos, there is little chance that everything could be or would be attended by all during a single weekend. Thankfully, much of TFAF continues beyond the festival’s Oct. 1 end date.
“Fall arts is the best time of year, the most colorful. It brings the most qualified collectors to Taos,” said Donna Heinley of Heinley Fine Arts on Bent Street.
Taos was declared an art colony more than 100 years ago by a small group of artists who came here to paint in the clear mountain air. At one time, the Taos Fall Arts Festival was the make-it-or-break-it weekend for many Taos art galleries and artists. Collectors were known to turn up in Taos during TFAF and, sparked by what they saw there, would visit their favorite galleries all over town. Sales at this time of year are more important than people can imagine. Art sales right now help galleries and artists to make it through the long slow season of winter in Taos. Otherwise, gallery owners face the burden of deciding whether to stay or go. Already there are four or five Taos art galleries set to make that decision before winter arrives.
“When things are going tough, I have more faith in what I do,” Peter Chinni, sculptor at SoDo Open Studios, said.
Much of the best of Taos Fall Arts Festival is due to the hard work and perseverance of the people who volunteer their time and effort. They are the current crop of Taos “movers and shakers.” Without them, Taos arts would be a lot less than what it is and continues to be.