Lauri Lynnxe Murphy is the perfect model of what an artivist should be, but for her, there’s no time to wax on what that means. Murphy is a doer and a maker, and a proud loudmouth when it comes to issues like the gentrification of cities, the plight of undervalued artists, and a world caught in ecological crises and fighting for its life. A member of Westword’s first class of MasterMinds, Murphy had yet to embark on her art collaborations with bees and snails or the tiny-housebuilding venture she dubbed the Mayday Experiment the first time we put her to this task six years ago, but if anything, she’s bypassing old projects and hurtling through new ones at the speed of light.
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy isn’t likely to slow down any time soon. Catch her as she is in this moment, as she returns for a redux bout with the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: How has your creative life grown or suffered since you last answered the CC questionnaire?
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Lauri Lynnxe Murphy: Like all creative lives, mine shrinks and expands continually in response to life pressures. I went through a difficult couple of years personally and feel like I’ve come out into the light this year and am back to my work fully. It’s felt like reuniting with a lost lover to resume my work with the bees. There is nothing more frustrating than having to abandon something just as you’re figuring it out, but without outdoor space and being allergic, I needed the stars to align, and they finally did, thanks to my ex-husband, Rick Benjamin-Tebelau. He expressed interest in bees, and he’s been a great beekeeper, helping me make this work while enjoying learning about caring for bees. Every hive is different, so I learned a ton and made some amazing strides forward for this work. I’m so excited for people to see it!
For the first time in my adult life, I’ve been without a studio since January, when I lost mine of twelve years, and that’s been the biggest challenge of all, especially while preparing for two shows. I’ve been fortunate to work in the wood shop at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design this summer (my classroom), and every single part of my house is essentially studio at this point, including the back yard. Much of my studio equipment is in Rick’s garage near the bees, so I’ve been working over there some, too. My car is like a mobile studio, and everything I ever need always seems to be somewhere else!
But a lot of growth is definitely in the future, and I’ve proven to myself that wherever I am, I’m going to find a way to make art. I credit my time at some wonderful residencies in the past in preparing me for this, and while my house is utter squalor right now, all I really need to be happy is to be working...though it will be nice to unbury my living space again! It’s definitely shaped what I’ve been able to make, however. Luckily, bees and snails are small.
As a creative, what’s your vision for a more perfect Denver (or Colorado)?
Oof. It’s never been a harder question to answer, because it seems like Denver insists on prioritizing creative folks from elsewhere. Meow Wolf, whether you see it as a force for good or bad, is going to radically change the shape and feel of this place, and it’s been so interesting to watch the community response. But not just Meow Wolf. Denver had an opportunity in the Rossonian renovation to elevate groups who grew up in its shadow, like Slam Nuba or the Black Actors Guild, and instead, is importing culture yet again, by allowing Busboys and Poets out of D.C. to be in charge of the culture at one of our greatest historical cultural institutions. And it’s not that Busboys and Poets isn’t great in its own right, but I fear that by the time Denver learns to support its own, it’s going to be too late.
From the disastrous Safe Occupancy Bill to grants that are simply just loans, Denver and Colorado again and again trip over themselves in this strange support that isn’t really that supportive, and while things seem to be improving slowly, we are still far from having the kind of supportive infrastructure that a city of our size and wealth should have.
I think muralists are doing great here, and I love how they’re beautifying our city, but for a truly vibrant art scene, art forms and ideas that don’t make money need to be supported or the view becomes one-dimensional, and art forms like performance, installation and video have a tougher time finding purchase. So what I would do to improve things, first and foremost, is to work on that infrastructure, following the lead of organizations like RedLine and looking to what other cities have done, especially in terms of financial support and space. Part of that is making sure that artists are paid fairly, so I would want every arts institution in Colorado to sign on to become W.A.G.E. certified and follow their guidelines for pay. And I think we really need to be sure that this support isn’t just for professional artists, but protects the cultures in neighborhoods, too, and supports schools and gives emerging artists opportunities to thrive.
It’s a challenging time for artists and creatives in the metro area, who are being priced out of the city by gentrification and rising rents. What can they do about it, short of leaving?
This is an issue that has affected me personally for many years now; I have lived and worked in over thirty different spaces in this city, and I have rarely moved because it was my decision. In almost every case, spaces were simply sold out from under me, even when I held leases. This isn’t just about space for living and working, though. Each move takes money and time away from artists. Imagine small businesses surviving while moving every year. It’s always a big setback.
I think we need to come together collectively and start exercising our power within this city; we represent a huge financial benefit, and it’s time we acted like other industries that contribute to the tax base. Developers make money off of artists and use us as agents of gentrification; it’s time they paid us back for their profits and created permanent space for communities and artists to occupy. The city could create a tax break for developers who do this. I also think that people who love art and want to see it in this city have to start fighting for us instead of leaving us to whatever happens. There are many wealthy collectors and patrons who could help by providing space, grants and other forms of support.
I also think that many businesses in this town could help, by offering space they don’t use at night for artists to work in. I think there are even possibilities for businesses to create residencies within themselves, in ways that could really benefit their employees by providing an injection of creativity into the space, perhaps even opportunities to work with the artists there. Huge warehouses sit empty at night that bands could be practicing in, short-term empty retail space could always be used for shows and projects. If this town wants art, it’s time for it to step up, before Lakewood gets all the artists. I’m trying hard not to leave, especially because of family and community, but I have felt for some time that my fate is written on the wall. The constant stress and pressure of watching encroaching gentrification really takes a toll.
What’s your dream project?
It isn’t so much a dream project; it’s more the direction I’d like to see my work taking me. It’s been a goal for several years to create a mobile studio that could help me become more nomadic, creating residencies where I could work with giant snails in the south, or work with zoos and botanic gardens around the country, or visit apiaries to create work. Instead of bringing bugs and mollusks to me, I want to go to the bugs and mollusks, worldwide! I’m also dreaming of buying land in the San Luis Valley and building a crazy earthship/living sculpture. That’s a dream I’m getting closer to making a reality, though I’m sure that, like many projects of this sort, it will never, ever be truly finished.
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
Define your own idea of success and make your own opportunities. Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you can do something — just do it. Remember that the paths already forged are known and familiar, and that you are free to wander off of them and come up with your own way of doing whatever you want. There is no “right way” to do anything in the arts, except where chemistry is involved, and then: safety first. And because I’ve said this to twenty years of students: Don’t be a dick. It’s more important to be a decent human being than to be an art star. The world has enough difficult prima donnas.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
It’s pretty much the year of Bobby LeFebre! I’m so proud of his being chosen as Colorado’s Poet Laureate on the heels of his stunningly good play Northside premiering. Katie Caron and I share so many conceptual brain cells that I’m always delighted to see all the ways our work crosses paths. I’m always so amazed by my friend Tameca Coleman and the myriad ways her creativity expresses itself. She shares my wandering spirit when it comes to embracing whatever form the muse comes in. I’m thrilled that Nora Abrams was chosen to lead the MCA after Adam Lerner; I think her curation is stellar, and I’m so excited to see what she does. As usual, I can’t pick just one, and it’s painful stopping there! I’ll think of twenty people I should have mentioned the minute I hit "send."
What's on your agenda right now and in the coming year?
I have never been busier. Things have been crazy! In addition to the two-space solo show I have opening on September 6 at Mai Wyn Fine Art and ReCreative Denver, which focuses on the insect apocalypse through my continued work with insect species facing extinction, I get the cool opportunity to take over the Denver Art Museum for the last Untitled Final Friday of this year in October! I’m having a blast working with the DAM team, curating the events, and working on my own collaborative projects for it — even coming up with cocktail recipes and playlists. I have a large upcoming project I’m not yet at liberty to talk about, and I’m also working on a collaborative immersive project that is in the very early stages of planning, that’s hoping to provide a space for public grieving over extinctions and the harm to the planet — shooting for 2021 with that one. I’m also excited to be expanding the bee operation in the spring thanks to a generous gift of some more hives from artist Thomas Scharfenberg, and I’m excited to get started on some new larger bee works in the spring. I wish I could say more about so many things, but I’m hammering out several exciting projects at the moment that will take place over the next couple of years and don’t want to jinx anything!
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
To be honest, it’s a harder question than it would have been a few years ago, because they keep leaving!
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I’ve been so excited that Adrienne DeLoe is focusing on the same issue of insect extinction right now, and love these gorgeous spiked chimeric beetles she’s been making. I’m always really excited about Tiffany Matheson’s work, too; I feel like she’s someone who grows in leaps and bounds whenever I see what she’s doing. If you’d asked me three months ago, I would have had to name my former students Mark Fitzgerald, who is now away at grad school, and Mari Crespin, who is off having adventures. I hope they both return one day. Megan Bray, however, is still here making lovely light-based work. Tya Anthony is starting to get some much-deserved attention for her brilliance, and I’m privy to some new directions that look very promising. Drew Austin is definitely someone to watch, both as an artist and a curator, and I’m loving working with him right now on my upcoming shows.
We Were Here, a two-location solo exhibition by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, opens with receptions on Friday, September 6, from 5 to 10 p.m. at Mai Wyn Fine Art, 744 Santa Fe Drive, and ReCreative Denver, 765 Santa Fe Drive. (Mai Wyn Fine Art will also host a preview reception on Thursday, September 5.) Murphy will give an artist talk at Mai Wyn at 11 a.m. Saturday, September 21.
Attend Untitled Final Friday: in/visible, with Lauri Lynnxe Murphy on Friday, October 25, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway.