Courtesy photo

When Taos Center for the Arts' spaces were empty, TCA seized the chance to think differently.

With no large audiences or daily activity in the theater, we had eerie quiet, which also allowed us to imagine.

We talked about involving students and young adults in TCA. Not only as audience or performers - (though we love to see the theater loud with kids, a full house for ballet or dance, Night of 1000 Stars or the Fiesta pageant). We thought about involving youth on the organizing side, on the skills side, on the creating, producing and making side.

Thinking big sometimes means starting from scratch.

Early in the pandemic, TCA participated in a series of Zoom conversations hosted by Taos School Zone; TCA connected, there, with Vista Grande High School. We talked with VGHS about how to work together and circled back to the idea of a pilot artist-mentor program that would allow students to explore the arts with practicing artists. Three VGHS students and three artists with TCA staff worked together for six months with virtual sessions and, by late spring, some in-person at TCA. This fall, TCA resumes this partnership with VGHS with a series of experiential, skill-building and community engagement sessions in the theater with 10th and 11th graders. VGHS let us know three seniors were excited to produce a theater-piece; was TCA interested in guiding them? Of course.

Thinking big sometimes means starting small.

In spring of 2021, we were contacted by a graduate student with ties to Taos who was pursuing a master's degree in arts management. Her degree requirements included internships with arts organizations. She asked if she could intern at TCA. We didn't have an active internship program, but we thought, "Let's create one." When we asked why she wanted to learn about arts organizations, this intern said that she wanted my job! Fair enough. We thought about what someone might need to learn within a job like mine. We built a program for her to work with TCA staff on communications, development, programming and administration. She became part of our small team and this experience encouraged TCA to refine ideas about internships and mentorships; to ask, "What does having a job in the arts actually mean?" What could TCA offer to prepare individuals for working in the arts? Training and experience in arts administration, training and acquisition of skills connected to film, sound, light and stage, and the use of technical equipment.

And then we had the opportunity to try it out.

TCA was connected with a recent high school graduate, Carolyn Cantrell, who was looking to be involved in arts. We set up an 8-week paid internship for Carolyn that involved administration and technical knowledge; we involved her in producing the radio show, TCA Radio Hour, preparing for film screenings, and writing press releases. We are preparing Carolyn for exploring the arts not only as an artist but as someone who might support arts in her community. Carolyn has been a joy to work with and we keep extending her internship; how about 12 weeks? How about 6 months? There's more to learn, and she's making valuable contributions to our daily operations.

Our friends at The Paseo Project had four interns this past summer who were involved in producing and preparing for the 2021 festival and events. In August, TCA facilitated three workshops focused on principles of projection, light and sound for interns and anyone in the public under 25 years old.

These experiences with youth inform TCA that we need more formal and informal learning opportunities that are paid. We want students and young adults to wonder if they want to direct a play, make movies, be a stage manager. And we also want to create opportunities for individuals to have our jobs right here in Taos, to see what it's like to research and write grants for the arts, to manage operations or facilities, to consider membership and audience, to be the executive director of one of our many arts institutions in Taos.

Colette LaBouff is executive director at Taos Center for the Arts.

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