The Paseo is just around the corner, and this year it promises to exceed all of our expectations!
When Agnes Chavez and Matt Thomas conceived the idea of taking art to the streets aqui en Taos, they could hardly have foreseen how the Festival would grow beyond their early expectations in such a short period of time.
Matt had come up with the concept and after telling Agnes about it, they co-founded the Festival.
When they put on their first event with the help of a small army of volunteers, they certainly realized that this was not something they could do alone, but the help they needed did not seem to be in Taos. Until suddenly, it was!
I dropped in at the HUB (Paseo’s Headquarters), on Civic Plaza Drive one recent morning, to chat with the Festival’s highly accomplished new team.
Four women were seated around the large table in the front room when I arrived. Agnes Chavez was there with Lili Rusing, Shanti Duval and Estacia Huddleston. Rita O’Connell had not yet arrived.
Agnes introduced me to Lili and Shanti. I have known Estacia (the daughter of my friend, one of the finest women artists here, Stacey Huddleston), since she was a small child. Estacia grew up with my children here in Taos.
I joined the women at the table and pulled out my phone to take a few notes as we talked. I decided to begin with Lill, as I had heard a little about her, and her discovery of Taos (and the Paseo), from Agnes and Matt the last time we had met.
Having lived in NYC for eight years, Lili and her husband were on a road trip (looking for a new place to live), when they passed through Taos in September of 2015.
The Paseo was originally founded in 2014 as a project of Taos Fall Arts Festival. At the time, J. Matt Thomas and Agnes Chavez formed a core team that included Janet Webb, Molly Robertson, Anita McKeown and David Mapes, and together they established the Festival’s mission and guidelines, with its original purpose to connect the multiple venues of Fall Arts’ exhibitions with street activities to keep visitors engaged and moving.
That first festival was one day (September 26, 2014) and approximately three thousand people attended. Fifteen installations were presented by twenty-six artists.
The Paseo 2015 occurred over two days (September 24-25, 2015). Thirty installations were produced by seventy artists for The Paseo 2015. (Sixteen of the installations were by artists living in New Mexico, five from within Taos County.)
Four of the artists were International, and came here from Brazil, Berlin, and Japan.
When Lili and her husband arrived that day in September of 2015, they were immediately taken by the town, and after spending approximately six hours looking around, they were smitten. Once they discovered the Paseo map (insert in the Taos News), they were seriously hooked.
“We made our decision then and there,” Lili recalled, “clearly if this small town had this Festival going on, it was a pretty cool place to live.”
“We knew we wanted to be in the High Desert,” she said, “ but the Paseo was definitely a deciding factor.”
Lili Rusing is now the Paseo’s Deputy Director, the perfect position for her; a development consultant who’s passion for art and especially helping artists and arts organizations have been central to her life and career.
After spending eight years in New York City fundraising for a few of the country’s leading art and culture organizations, including the Guggenheim Museum, the Jewish Museum, Creative Time, and the New York Public Library, Lili brings her formidable skills to the HUB’s table.
She holds an M.S. in Fundraising Management from Columbia University, where she has returned as a guest lecturer on grants, and B.A. in Art History from Northern Arizona University, but it’s her enthusiasm and her obvious love of the arts, and how they inform our culture, that make her a perfect fit for this team. Not to mention the curious serendipity that pulled her in to begin with!
Shanti Duval, the Paseo’s new Project Coordinator, like Estacia Huddleston, grew up in Taos.
“I love the fact that these two women are Taosena’s,” Agnes interjected, as I asked Shanti to tell me a little about her background.
“It’s so great that young women like these two, are returning to Taos and bringing these incredible skills they have acquired, to better our community.” She continued.
I could not agree more.
Shanti recently returned home after a ten year absence, during which time she graduated with a BA in Anthropology and Public Health, specializing in web development and design.
Like Lill, Shanti lived in New York City for over five years. primarily working for Pure Motion Pictures and Deko Design. The two women discovered that in fact, they lived and worked within minutes of one another.
As Robert Mirabal likes to say, “all roads lead to Taos.”
Shanti, a web-savvy organizer is herself, passionate about giving back to Taos. She envisions helping to develop a stronger, more empowered and self-sustaining community. As a key member of the Paseo’s new team, she uses her skills “to connect local organizations and youth to the global art and tech communities while maintaining and encouraging traditional practices within Northern New Mexico.”
As I took notes and asked questions, Rita O’Connell, the Paseo’s new Festival Manager, breezed in apologizing for being late. I had not spoken to Rita since seeing her in NYC in April, when we both attended the opening of Taos: 1960’s – Present at the Vivian Horan Gallery. Matt Thomas was one of the featured artists.
I’ve featured Rita here on taoStyle and am always blown away by her talent, energy and capacity to mobilize and galvanize people and causes.
The Paseo could not have picked a better person for her position.
Rita O’Connell is a performer, writer, and producer who has been in Taos since 2007. A co-founder of both KNCE 93.5FM and LiveTaos.com, she believes in, and supports the creative community that sets Taos apart.
Having recently returned from obtaining a Masters in Public Advocacy and Activism from the National University of Ireland, in Galway, Rita is thrilled to be back and working with the Paseo.
Aside from the Paseo, Rita has her fingers in other pies, including organizing for Code Pink.
“I really am all about working for Social Justice,” she said, “and anything that furthers education and knowledge.”
“I had long respected Matt and Agnes, and so when they called and offered me this gig (she was in Australia at the time), I thought it was both a great opportunity and a place to hang my hat for a while.”
We in Taos, can count ourselves blessed for that!
Finally I turned to Estacia, who had been quietly sitting beside me while I listened to the other women’s stories.
Estacia has spent the past few years caring for her mother who has been healing from Cancer. I know too well what that means and how important our care givers are, during times of such distress, and also how much of their own time is set aside and sacrificed for their loved ones.
Estacia returned to Taos to take on that job lovingly, not imagining that coming home would open up other doors, including one where she could utilize the skill set she’d obtained in her very specific studies.
After graduating from Chamisa Mesa and starting off with an art’ based curriculum at UNM, Estacia transferred to the College of Santa Fe where she studied film. It would be several more years before she moved to the Bay Area and found her passion lay in Place Making, which she focused on in Grad School.
She is now the Festival Assistant, working closely with both Matt and Agnes to ensure the Paseo goes on and runs like a well oiled machine, no matter how large, and this year, large is an understatement.
“I couldn’t have been more surprised or delighted,” she told me, when I asked about her inclusion on this great team. “It is fantastic to be able to use my knowledge in practical terms and better yet, right here in Taos!”
As our meeting came to a close and I got ready to go, Agnes remarked that it’s quite special that women are the driving force behind this Festival.
“It’s all of us and one (not just any), man, Matt!” she laughed.
“It’s 2018.” Shanti responded without a trace of irony.
The Paseo happens this year during two days in September. The 14th and 15th. This is the first time the Festival will not occur during Fall Arts, but will stand alone.
The Paseo 2018 theme is SPACE; the exploration of inner and outer space, artistically, socially and scientifically. From self-identity and space exploration to human impact on the environment, along with where we come from and where we are going, collectively and individually are all looked at through the lens of art and science.
For much more on The Paseo, please visit their site linked below.
Photographs of Agnes Chavez and Matt Thomas by Zoe Zimmerman
Photograph of Rita O’Connell by Bill Curry
Photo of Lili, Shanti and Estacia taken outside the HUB on my iphone
Other image thanks to the Paseo