New Mexico PBS/KNME, Albuquerque

Major Contributor to the Arts

“The churro is kind of like the buffalo. It’s a very strong and spiritual animal,” Sharon Begay says during the opening moments of “To Walk in Beauty,” a segment of ¡COLORES!, the weekly arts and culture documentary series that airs on Saturdays on New Mexico PBS station KNME (channel 5.1). Begay introduces herself, first in Navajo and then in English, against a backdrop of photographs of her family that were taken by Stacia Spragg-Braude. The interview with the two women, by journalist Megan Kamerick, clocks in at just over nine minutes. It’s a brief but vital glimpse into Begay’s life on the Navajo Nation, in northwestern portions of New Mexico and in northeastern Arizona, where, since the 1970s, her family has worked to reintroduce the traditional practice of raising churro sheep.

“To Walk in Beauty,” which aired in August 2018, is just one of hundreds of ¡COLORES! pieces created since the show premiered in 1989. ¡COLORES! is produced by Tara Walch and overseen by Michael Kamins, the executive producer for arts and cultural affairs at KNME. The show focuses on artists, writers, musicians, historians, and others who live in the Land of Enchantment or have significant cultural ties to the state.

“There are so many great stories in New Mexico,” Kamins says. “Every artist who has a story to tell has a point of view they want to express — inspirations, challenges, things that they want to share. That’s what we’re trying to do with ¡COLORES! But as much as we are looking at the creative spirit, we want to do it in a way that is substantive.”

¡COLORES! was nominated for the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts by Denise Chávez, an internationally acclaimed writer and bookstore owner in Las Cruces. In her letter of nomination, Chávez wrote, “No one is telling the story of New Mexico, our artists, and our communities like ¡COLORES! No one. No one. I honor and celebrate their commitment to New Mexico and our people. Truly, they are sharing our story with the world.”

¡COLORES! segments can be just a few minutes long or as much as an hour. The ¡COLORES! archive (tinyurl.com/yyt2fg6w) showcases a range of subjects so diverse that it’s nearly impossible to distill them into a reasonably sized list. Among the numerous topics: astronomy; architecture; Route 66; murals; poetry; war memories; New Mexico political elections; holiday traditions; Pueblo culture; Trinity Site; Billy the Kid; the paintings of T.C. Cannon, Pablita Velarde, and Judy Chicago; acequias; Japanese internment camps; and indigenous comic book artists.

“I think there’s an understanding about the Southwest that sometimes gets simplified, and I think ¡COLORES! really helps bring out the complexity and the interesting aspects of the state and of this place,” says producer Walch. Because ¡COLORES! is distributed to PBS stations around the country, she says New Mexicans profiled on the show contribute to a national dialogue about art and society.

Kamins and Walch meet each Monday to discuss imminent as well as long-range projects. A short piece can come together in a matter of weeks, while longer segments might require a year of research, production, and editing. Part of that process is amassing information — such as interviews, photographs, and video footage — and then whittling it down. “I always say it’s a collaboration when you’re working with a historian or an artist or a curator, and it’s different with every subject. You have to research to figure out how to tell the story,” Walch says.

Kamins says that the Governor’s Award for Major Contributor to the Arts honor goes to everyone involved with ¡COLORES! — the interview subjects, the camera people, the producers, the journalist-contributors, the administrative staff that gets the show to air each week, and the generous supporters of public television. “I know I sound like a press release, but I don’t care, because it’s true,” he says. “This is an amazing way to recognize all the people over the years who have contributed to making this show work.” 

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