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“Creative arts are essential in terms of getting us through hard times,” says Matt Thomas, director of the Paseo Project in Taos and one of the community leaders who helped to spearhead an initiative with local artists last summer. “Art creates inspiration, new perspectives, wonder, hope. We need those perspectives now. As we get bogged down in doom and gloom, art has the power of drawing us up, letting us see through the fear.”
Windows on the Future—a collaboration between the Paseo Project, Vital Spaces, 516 ARTS, Falling Colors, Creative Santa Fe, and supported with funding from the LOR Foundation—was tailor-made for the COVID-19 era, when downtown life had come to a standstill and the future seemed so uncertain.
In fact, the idea—to fill vacant storefront windows with the work of local artists—was in the works even before the pandemic arrived. COVID-19 just fast-tracked it, Thomas says.
“Our downtown was already struggling,” Thomas says. Of the 20 vacant Taos storefronts that housed art installations last June, he says several were empty before COVID-19 swept in and shuttered the rest. But suddenly, in the face of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, he and others found themselves wondering what would happen when the orders were lifted. “Will our town be hollowed out?”
He and the other creators of Windows on the Future were hoping to guard against that possibility, and the LOR Foundation stepped up with funding to make the initiative happen in Taos (the Paseo Project worked with other organizations on similar projects in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.)
The Taos exhibition created a sense of vitality while showcasing both artists and the business community, says Taos native and LOR program officer Jake Caldwell. “It brought life back to downtown and portrayed a place that’s adapting toward a better future.”
The juried exhibition, designed to be forward-looking and future-focused, was opened to artists from every discipline. Selected participants received a $500 stipend, plus logistical support from a professional curator or established artist, and installed their exhibits in the window of an empty storefront initially for one month.
The project was a win-win—especially for local artists who lost income but weren’t eligible for the kinds of relief programs available to many businesses and nonprofits. In fact, the project was so successful, Thomas says, that it was extended for an additional month and PASEO has been working on similar projects since then—including a series in which a selected artist takes over one downtown window for a rotating six-week exhibition. The new location, located at 107 Civic Plaza Drive, was offered by the town of Taos.
The idea to host Windows on the Future in Taos emerged as part of a larger conversation about how to create excitement around what Thomas calls a “complex but beautiful place.”
Taos has long grappled with the ups and downs of a tourism economy. The need for economic diversification—to broaden revenue streams so the community is not so dependent on outside dollars for survival—is just one of Taos’s challenges. The town also faces a long history of poverty and multigenerational trauma, a widening income disparity, plus the challenges familiar to many rural communities striving to provide educational, employment, and cultural opportunities that will retain—and draw more—young people.
Taos has long grappled with the ups and downs of a tourism economy. The need for economic diversification—to broaden revenue streams so the community is not so dependent on outside dollars for survival—is just one of Taos’s challenges.
While an art exhibition can’t solve these big systemic problems, it can provide fresh perspectives and spark deeper conversations. “There’s already a great cross-pollination that’s happening,” says Thomas, pointing to conversations with groups like Taos Main Street and adding that the ultimate goal of Windows on the Future was to “activate and inspire our community.”
For all the short- and long-term challenges facing the rural town, as well as the artists who live here, Thomas points to a crucial trait shared by both communities: they tend to be resilient—if only because they’ve had to be. “They are familiar with having to survive on less, with income or revenue always being in flux. In some ways, that’s built into their lifestyle.”
That resiliency—and the innovative ideas and unique perspectives it fosters—will serve the Taos community well as it strives to emerge out of the COVID-19 era into a brighter, stronger future.
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The Paseo Project has partnered with the Town of Taos to bring more artwork to storefront windows. Don't miss the upcoming installations!Learn More
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