Taos: A Sound and Light Show

By: Bill Whaley
2 October, 2015

watch-our-tv-ads-MOD1When the established press, a mainstream newspaper like The Taos News, a community organ more interested in boosting ads and sales than publishing reports of chicanery, criticizes the town administration for not providing “basic services,” i.e. “a chief building official” one can only wonder whether Mayor Dan Barrone, a lumberjack at heart, has lost his work gloves. The Mayor brags that GRT are up and takes credit for an upsurge in the mainstream economy due to local events like the “Paseo” and “Fall Arts” or the “Mother’s Day Concert,” all of which were organized by volunteers and do-gooders, historically and currently.


Meanwhile The Taos News wonders whether “the town administration’s attention has been focused on marketing, putting on events in the hopes of drawing more visitors and, hopefully, more residents. But that doesn’t do anyone much good if the town isn’t able to provide even the most basic services to those who come to Taos, let alone those who are already here.” Amen.

The Mayor and Manager have the resources to hire a “sound and light man” but not a building inspector. The County has three inspectors cum code enforcers. While the aspiring concert promoter took a year to hire an out-of-towner to preside over a skeletal (non-existent?) planning department, he also took an equally long time to hire a marketing firm and marketing coordinator. Now Barrone wants credit for promoting events despite a non-existent staff.


Bellis also turned down Patrick Nicholson for planning director despite a plethora of local experience and upper echelon academic qualifications. Now a team of consultants and officials hired Patrick as the Planning Director for the City of Espanola. Patrick, a Hahn-Barrone supporter, will preside over seven employees, including a qualified chief building inspector. Reportedly he will receive a salary that is much higher than what Taos offers, which should help pay for the commute down the canyon. Apparently Espanola, like Taos County, is more progressive and more in touch than this little backwater up here in El Norte.


Several employees, Taosenos, left the water department and other departments presided over by the little cowboy, reportedly due to a “hostile work environment.” Now they work for the Village of Angel Fire. As “basic services” are neglected at The Town of Taos, the brain drain continues.


Apparently, the Barrone-Bellis administration has forgotten who brought them to the dance. Councilor Hahn drank Bellis’s version of craft beer. Councilor Cantu appears frustrated and confused. Councilors Peralta and Gonzales are MIA. If you want to visit the new Roswell, park in the town’s lot on Camino de la Placita and watch the Aliens emerge from the UFO at Town Hall.


The Paseo and Fall Arts

Since my upper division class at UNM’s Bachelor and Graduate program, a class held in the old Bisttram Art Studio, is studying Existentialism and the Philosophy of Art, this semester, I sent them out to report on the Paseo and Fall Arts. In summary, everyone, families, and parents with children seem to enjoy the spectacle. As described the combination of conceptual art and carnival-like presentations appealed to all, though few experienced a transcendental response a few did find solace in traditional forms. Others were more impressed by the reaction of their own children. In general viewers seem more “bemused” than “inspired.”

In anecdotal terms, we had compliments from the comparatively small numbers of attendees at the “Acequia Show” of historic photos and the flat screen projection of some 1343 photos upstairs in the historic courthouse. Nothing like the numbers of viewers appeared in 2015 in comparison to 2014. (A number of bureaucratic snarls also conspired against the fulfillment of the acequia show despite the best efforts of the volunteers.)


Last year’s Fall Arts program opened at the Harwood with Curator Jina Brenneman’s fabulous cross-cultural “NUEVO LOWBROW: POP CULTURE IN THE WEST” to amazing crowds and excitement. (Jina’s gone and so is the former director). Everything changes as the brains leave town going north, going south, going east, going west.


Apparently, attendance is down in general this fall or so it appears. Several returnees noted that the intensity and excitement level of the Paseo didn’t compare to 2014’s dynamic show. Few major artists and longtime supporters of the art community participate in the “Taos Selects” and “Taos Open.” The community “art fair” concept has always struggled with its own provincial guidelines in comparison to general standards of excellence and widely recognized reputations established by the greater art world and well-known local artists. Why would the professionals submit their hard-won legacies to amateurs?


Just as my students and even Arthur Danto, our-in house philosopher critic (RIP) struggle with the “meaning of art” or “What is Art” so the community struggles. While the traditions of “fine art” and “contemporary art” are maintained by the Harwood Museum of Art and the TSA founders’ relatives, these notions are disappearing from public consciousness and being replaced by the “popular arts”: anything goes. The Paseo has much in common with carnival sideshows as free-wheeling high-tech creativity gurus transform appearances and stimulate sensory responses with electronic aids or gigantic movie monsters.


watch-our-tv-ads-MOD1Perhaps the Barrone-Bellis administration is taking its cue from the above-mentioned Paseo, more interested in providing entertainment than “basic services.” Both the Paseo and the Fall Arts labor under the pressure of providing more intense experiences each year. The Bellis-Hahn-Cantu supporters hoped for “honesty” and “competence,” in governing. But instead of hiring a building inspector, Bellis hired a sound and light man. Bellis thinks he’s P. T. Barnum and well, Barrone’s selling the show to the public.

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