“Here’s who was going to be on the show,” says Kathryn Davis, pulling out a little blue calendar and flipping through its pages. “Next week, we had ViVo Contemporary and the photographer Jennifer Esperanza. Then there was the Santa Fe Art Institute, Creative Santa Fe and independent curator Niomi Fawn.” The art historian and radio personality is nursing a latte at Counter Culture Café, lamenting the end of her KVSF 101.5 show, ArtBeat. News of the cancellation spread by email and social media earlier this month, as Davis informed her guests and fans that Hutton Broadcasting had brought down the axe.
“It hurts a lot, although all of my would-be guests have been so supportive,” says Davis. “Essentially, we cut off the voice for all these people. It feels like a step back into the Stone Age.” ArtBeat has been on the air since 2012, most recently holding a Thursday afternoon slot on KVSF, though Davis has been a prominent voice within Santa Fe’s art scene for much longer. She arrived in the City Different in 1985, and has seen the creative community here change considerably. Davis sees the cancellation as an opportunity to look back at Santa Fe’s successes and blind spots, and launch a new endeavor aimed at filling the gaps.
Davis vividly remembers the 2012 phone call from Scott Hutton asking her to launch ArtBeat. She had hosted a series of 30-second spots about local art events on KLBU, and pitched a show to Hutton when his media company acquired the station in 2007. A few years later, he went for it. “I have these emails I found in my old files about telling Scott what I wanted to do,” Davis says. “My vision then was just as clear as it is now: Give these people a voice and expand the boundaries of the show.” She wanted to broadcast live from art events, and to produce video content as a digital extension of the radio show.
The show was an underdog from the beginning, and Davis is grateful for Hutton’s support. “I never had a problem with the idea that we were going to talk about the visual arts on a non-visual medium,” Davis says. “I know that was a tough sell for a lot of account executives at Hutton. It was a tough sell for galleries, too, who would much rather spend thousands of dollars to have a full page ad in Art in America.” Davis felt some pushback from the radio community to some of her ideas for launching the show in the digital world. Video had already killed many a radio star, and she was among the partisan survivors of the format.
Santa Fe’s art community fell in love with ArtBeat. She made sure to invite guests from all corners of the scene, from well-heeled gallery owners to the leaders of upstart art collectives. From Hutton’s headquarters off Airport Road, she chronicled the battles of a rapidly changing local culture and economy. It was an evolution that she’d been eagerly awaiting.
Originally from California, Davis moved to Eugene, Oregon, in the early 1980s and worked as a dental hygienist. In 1985, she divorced her husband, packed up her blue Volkswagen Beetle and followed the “hippie trail” to the Southwest. “In the ’80s, the art scene here was hip and flashy,” she says. “We were all drinking and doing drugs, and getting smashed and killed in cars like TC Cannon.” Even then, when Santa Fe art dealer Elaine Horwitch was selling out shows by Fritz Scholder, the situation felt a bit precarious. “It was kind of haphazard, even though it was such a boom scene,” Davis says. “It seemed like it would never end, and we’ve all seen ghost towns based on that theory.”
By the early 2000s, Davis had achieved an MA in art history from University of New Mexico and had taken a teaching job at College of Santa Fe. Armed with an expanded knowledge of art history, she was dismayed by Santa Fe’s languishing art world. “I just thought, ‘Why can’t I just shut up, start driving a taxi, and just give up on this whole thing?’” she says. “It just looked like a bunch of crap to me.” As projects such as the performing arts series High Mayhem and the art collective Meow Wolf started to spring up, she saw rays of hope. By the time ArtBeat went on air, a new contemporary art scene was blossoming.
“It’s a new model now,” Davis tells SFR. “I don’t think it works, business-wise, the way the old model worked. People who do things according to the old model don’t know how to function now: the city, the state, the tourism department, many galleries and museums. I feel like a millennial in that sense.” She’s taking a millennial approach to resolving the issue by launching a new project on a digital platform. Davis is currently in talks with a number of local art luminaries to launch a podcast, or a video series, or a Facebook Live show, or a social media news outlet, or a hybrid that incorporates all of her ideas.
“I need help. This is a call to creatives who are already thinking, ‘You know, we really need a voice. How are we going to do this?’ I’m available. I’m ready,” says Davis. She carries with her a mission to connect new audiences with contemporary art and art history. “I thought I was going to be this museum curator, high above the fray. Thank god I was led in a different direction that has to do with being human and being creative,” she says. “I want to be the Sister Wendy of this generation, and have something to hand on to future generations to make art crazier and better and more inclusive. I want to teach weird art history.”
Meanwhile, Hutton Broadcasting is preparing for the December launch of a new program called Art Fusion, to be hosted by Artisan owner Ron Whitmore and broadcast live from the art supply store. “We’re going in a different direction; we love Kathryn, she’s awesome. We just weren’t getting the traction we needed,” Hutton tells SFR. “Ron’s show will be very interactive, it will have a live audience, he’ll have painters live ‘onstage’ with him—he’s very connected, he’s very dialed in. ... I want to be supportive, I just have to fish where the fish are.”