ALBUQUERQUE — It may not be surprising that an organization that’s in the business of presenting leading-edge technologies has been able to quickly pivot during the current pandemic. That’s not to say that everything has been seamless over the last two-plus years for The Paseo Project, the nonprofit entity that curates and presents The Paseo, a site-specific, high-tech, experiential festival that impresses with projections, installations, and performance in Taos, New Mexico.
“I think ultimately what we’ve learned is how flexible we can be and how we have to be,” said Matthew Thomas during an interview with Hyperallergic. Thomas is the founder and executive director of The Paseo Project, which gives arts and educational access to underserved communities. “As much work as it was, we were really able to become more comfortable and familiar with the technology. We could rapidly do events that would be something for our community to enjoy while also celebrating local artists.” For example, The Paseo Project hosted STEAM virtual workshops, Facebook Live events, and created an Art in Quarantine podcast series.
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In September 2020, in lieu of an in-person presentation of The Paseo, the marquee event for the Taos nonprofit, the organization presented a drive-through arts pop-up in the historic Taos Plaza. Since then, The Paseo Project has made it through and, in some cases, created new offerings during the age of social distancing (with the proper COVID-19 safety protocols in place, of course). After two consecutive years of pandemic-related cancellations, The Paseo returns to an in-person, participatory, and immersive format on September 16 and 17, 2022.
The festival version of The Paseo (a Spanish word that translates to a leisurely walk, or a plaza for strolling) started in 2014 via a Kickstarter fund. Two years later, Thomas formalized The Paseo Project in 2016, which hosts free events that typically take place outside in the high desert of Northern New Mexico.
Additionally, the group serves a largely rural community with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) in-person educational offerings and online projection mapping workshops, Facebook Live demos, and coding classes. The Paseo Project also recently instituted an internship program aimed at 16- to 24-year-olds who, Thomas said, either move from Taos or are left out of local opportunities.
“It’s a rural community in a predominantly lower economic tier with not a lot of access, so the opportunity to bring in cutting-edge technology directly to the community… a lot of the teachers and parents have said that they feel grateful because they don’t have to go to a city,” said Thomas.
Last year when social distancing protocols were still in full swing in New Mexico, which was one of the last states to lift mask mandates, The Paseo Project activated the annual Taos Spring Arts with projections. The low-key, spread-out outdoor art walk included digital renderings of artworks from Couse-Sharp Historic Site, Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, and Harwood Museum of Art on the walls of buildings in and around Taos Plaza. It included images of works by Agnes Martin from Harwood Museum displayed on the exterior of her studio on Ledoux Street, which Thomas says helped recontextualize the artwork within the architecture of the historic district.
“We reached out to our local museums and asked, ‘How can we take the art out of the museum and project it into the streets so people can still enjoy the art from our amazing museums here locally?’ The museums were quick to say yes, and so we did this great little outdoor walk in the evening with the artwork,” explained Thomas.
Each year, at least half of The Paseo participants are based in New Mexico. The 2022 line-up includes the mobile art space Axle Contemporary, robotic sculptor Christian Ristow, artist and educators Enrico Trujillo and Sarah Stolar of UNM-Taos Department of Fine Arts and Digital Media, and multimedia artist Dason Culver, to name a few. Out-of-state artists include interdisciplinary researcher Nina Lutz, art and design studio Pneuhaus, the all-volunteer women-led art collective Flaming Lotus Girls, and more.
Culver, born and raised in the Madrid/Cerrillos area of the state near Santa Fe, was scheduled to show his work in 2020. And then instead in 2021, until you-know-what thwarted both scheduled in-person gatherings. The 2022 edition will mark the first time that Culver, who relocated to Albuquerque in 2020, will show in The Paseo festival.
The artist’s practice includes outdoor installations and murals as well as laser engravings and three-dimensional printed pieces that he sells at various vendor fairs which he had planned to showcase Ember Engram during the 2021 festival. The installation invites participants to engage in a theme around “the deities, cryptids, or spirits of the Southwest desert and how the storytelling around these beings is a universal connection experienced across the world,” explained Culver, who added that the title “refers to the memories created and carried as one watches the rising embers of a fire.” Culver is excited for a more blown-out, wholly immersive type of festival that The Paseo is all about.
“It means so much to be included. It is an amazing project that brings equally amazing artists together, and after the cancellations for the past two years, I am eager to finally break ground in Taos,” said Culver. “I feel it is an important part of the Taos artist cultural scene and I am sure it has been sorely missed these past two years.”
Thomas co-signs Culver’s sentiment and enthusiasm about the festival and all of the overall programming the organization provides. “We serve our community by inspiring and giving people an opportunity to imagine what their community could be,” said Thomas.