The country is in the midst of a category 4 social, political, economic and health crisis (holy crap), and I have found myself more distracted and maybe even disgusted with our behaviors and response to our core national issues.
It seems we are beginning to aim our outrage at each other, rather than taking our time to better understand and connect with members of our community.
While technology has fostered the evolution of so many things in our lives, more specifically, how we share and receive information, I can't help but recognize the rise in public shaming and the all-out beat down social media serves up on a daily basis.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a public freak-out compilation just as much as the rest of you. However, when I see an incident transpire which could have easily been avoided, or is clearly the result of a communication breakdown, I can't help but feel the urge to reach for my "super-save-a-hoe" cape and swoop down to save the day.
Not because of some invisible privilege I wish to assert. Or because I have some special badge or standing in my community. But because I recognize that maybe a critical point is being missed on one, or both sides of the aisle. I think to myself, maybe the slightest mediation in an effort to, humbly and maturely, take a stab at suggesting or even initiating a possible solution may assist in preventing a unnecessary hurt, embarrassment or even worse death.
If you are feeling triggered, charged and ready for action, congratulations, you are officially alive! If you are feeling emboldened and righteous, leaning ever so strongly on your constitutional rights, well hooray you are officially American. Free to speak, bear arms, vote, protest and worship as best serves your lifestyle.
But at what point do we stop, look and listen? Remember that learning technique? I recall being taught to stop, look and listen very early in my childhood - a safety procedure implemented to young children who at an age when being able to ride your bike, walk alone to school or the neighborhood store or a friend's house became allowed. A procedure designed to prevent you from being splattered across the asphalt by an unsuspecting driver, semi, police car, or even an EMS truck.
As you become an adult this procedure becomes second nature. But lately I've begun to wonder in what other areas of our lives could this procedure be implemented?
Then one day, aimlessly strolling through my Instagram feed, I ran across a post that caused me to exclaim out loud to my phone, "Oh crap! No!"
Two artists were requested to remove their window display at the Kachina Lodge, 413 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
Members of my community, artists and business owner were at odds with one another and the disagreement had been made public. Yikes! I thought. I know all parties involved. I have respect and appreciation for what both sides bring to the table. How can this be happening? There must be some misunderstanding.
So I decided to poke my nose in to see what the stink was about. I figured because I am not directly involved with the incident, I could be an objective voice in the whole matter. Maybe.
So I grabbed my cape (or cellphone) and decided I would call to get more details.
First on my list was the artist. Anaïs Rumfelt. Raised in Taos, well known by the locals, blessed with artistic vision, successful, big heart and strong opinions. I contacted her first because it was her feed where I first learned of the disagreement.
Rumfelt explained first: "It really was an unfortunate series of events. I was presented, along with a fellow artist and friend Nina Silfverberg, with a paid opportunity to display our art for the 'Windows on the Future' project headed by The Paseo Project - an art-based initiative dedicated to bringing the art installation, performance and projection to the streets of Taos' historic district."
Upon agreement, Rumfelt and Slifverberg were given a short but reasonable amount of time to create a concept for a one-window installation. Soon, the wheels of creativity began to grind and the artists had manifested a plan of action. Crows!
"They symbolize communication, transformation, authenticity and truth," Rumfelt explained. "I have been working with crows for at least 10 years and their symbolism seems relevant in these times."
Not to mention, you're in New Mexico.
When asked about what triggered the whole kerfuffle, Rumfelt explained to me that there were a few issues that led up to the removal of their installation and subsequent post on Instagram. One small, yet critical logistical issue was a quick change of the original agreement for one window to eight windows.
This information sent the artist into a mild frenzy trying to figure a way to best expand their vision. And they did. Now, what was originally designed to be a one window installation of crows had evolved into an eight-window dedication to the ancient bird and its prophetic symbolism.
No big deal, right? Wrong. Apparently it was a big deal. And this is where things got hairy.
While implementing their plan to create a series of crows connected by their beaks with red string (meant to represent the common thread of human life), the blood that runs through us, the manager of the Kachina Lodge decided to approach the hardworking artists, inquiring what exactly the installation represented.
Silfverberg said, "I allowed Anaïs to speak with her as she is better versed with the meaning and symbolic reference we were attempting to convey."
While explaining the installations meaning to the manager of the establishment - who hasn't returned my call for comment - both Rumfelt and Silfverberg said it became clear that their message was being misinterpreted, and the manager became upset at what it "looked like" to her.
According to Rumfelt and Silfverberg, the manager expressed her discomfort with the work and told them she felt it represented the Black Lives Matter movement.
As artists, both Rumfelt and Silfverberg understand and respect the occupational hazard of having their work criticized and even misinterpreted. "That's fine," Rumfelt said to me. "We don't expect everyone to see our work the way we see it."
"We are artists, not decorators," said Silfverberg. "Our sentiment in this piece was originally the greater whole. We were creating an installation which we felt stood in solidarity with the movement but not a direct statement to its cause."
Unfortunately, for the artists, this sentiment pushed the envelope for the guidelines relayed by the property owner to the project coordinator prior to the commencement of their installation.
"I was very happy and excited to volunteer my establishment to The Paseo Project," explained Pender Gill, owner and operator of the Kachina Lodge since 2019. "I only asked that the artists' presentation refrain from anything political, religious or dark."
His reason for these three requirements was based solely on the fact that he is in the hospitality business and he did not want to offend or deter potential guests. "I am very passionate and diligent about bringing business back to this location," Gill continued. The Kachina Lodge has been an iconic staple in the Taos community for over 50 years.
But when he received a phone call from his manager while out of town on holiday, Gill began to worry that something was amiss as it related to the art installation being displayed on his property.
"I got a message and photos from my manager saying that she didn't think the artwork was appropriate and that maybe I needed to contact the coordinator for further explanation."
Upon speaking with the coordinator the next morning, Gill said he was told that, while the artists respected his interpretation of the art, they did not see how it was making a political statement, let alone a statement about Black Lives Matter.
But regardless of the artists' intent or vision, Gill maintained his standing that he did not agree. A "creative difference," he called it.
He felt like the birds represented Black people and the red string represented the blood that had been shed due to police brutality and the violence against the Black community. Since a common understanding of the installation could not be had over the phone, Gill decided to pack up his family and return from his vacation a day early in order to deal with the disagreement in person.
Upon arrival back to Taos and his business, Gill was able to see the installation and it did not sway his interpretation.
Even after lengthy discussion and possible solutions being presented by Rumfelt, Silfverberg and coordinators from Paseo, Gill was not to be moved and he wanted the art down.
"I have complete and total respect for the artists and their work," Gill explained, "but not when it jeopardizes my livelihood. This is not a gallery, it is a hotel. If I were a gallery owner and this were a gallery I would have no problem with this work. But it is not and I feel the piece represents ties to the Black Lives Matter political movement sweeping across the country."
So out of respect to the owner and his establishment, Rumfelt and Silfverberg agreed to remove the installation. But before they took it down, they wanted to document the work for their own record. So they quickly slapped the remaining pieces together with tape and glue and took as many pictures as they could without being disrespectful or intrusive.
"Yeah, we were disappointed, we worked hard on this project," both Silfverberg and Rumfelt explained. "We felt we gave multiple opportunities for the owner to better understand our mission and that it was not a direct political statement about Black Lives Matter."
However, the artists did wonder what what be so wrong if people who happened to see the installation were moved by it in a political way. "That is what artists do, we use our privilege as artists to reflect the times and mood of the world around us."
So as a result of the removal of their art from Gill's establishment, Rumfelt and Silfverberg decided they needed to make a statement to their community about the incident and share photos of their work on Instagram.
It was met with immediate responses from their followers and contemporaries. A range of emotions were expressed. Everything from disappointment and disbelief to encouragement and support for the artists and their work.
All of which is fair, right?
But what about the controversy it creates for Gill and his attempts to reinvigorate the condemned hotel known as the Historical Kachina Lodge? Should he face the threats and insults of his community to boycott him and condemn his efforts all because of a "creative disagreement"?
In order to begin to heal the hurts of our nation's history we must first agree that ignorance, arrogance and trepidation are traits we all suffer from. Unfortunately, these character flaws more often than not have resulted in the division, avoidance and all-out violence of men, women and nongender conforming citizens of all backgrounds.
I realized approaching our issues on a national level can oftentimes be an overwhelming task. Especially when top officials have obviously fallen short of leadership on many levels.
But from my perspective, this is when the community needs to pull itself together and maintain clear and open lines of communication and respect for each other's opinions and beliefs.
It is now when we as adults can apply the stop, look and listen theory to avoid misunderstanding and conflict.
If you are disturbed by the current mood, sentiment and confusion coming from each and every which way, know that you are not alone.
If you feel anxious, shamed and therefore disregarded for being silent, neutral or perhaps patient, have no fear - it is natural and OK. No one is the boss of you.
Crystal Starr is a playwright and filmmaker who lives in Taos.