The Mayday Experiment: A DAM Fine Time

It’s hard to sustain passion over a long-term project. Setbacks – like the broken windows – feel monumental. Timelines and schedules are thrown out those broken windows as lack of experience and weather affect intentions and plans. Even the commitment of writing this blog each week gets tangled in my complicated schedule of teaching commitments, freelance projects, design work and personal projects. And then there's finding time to build the tiny house and fundraise for it. So it's no surprise that at times I find myself wondering, why on earth am I doing this?

Last Friday, at the Denver Art Museum’s Untitled Series event focusing on "Habitat," I got a big reminder of why on earth I am doing this.

In a way, my routine has no real boundaries between life and work. Living in my studio, I bounce between writing, working in the studio, household chores and too much Facebook all day long. The Mayday Experiment is a reflection of this pattern and a further blending of life and work…so while it’s been spurred by needing a place in rapidly gentrifying Denver, the bigger picture reason is the idea of changing the conversation…having conversations with people about sustainability. 

At its heart, this has always been my premise: We are having the wrong conversations. We are talking about whether or not global warming exists or if it is “anthopogenic,” whether we should regulate, should we despair…and all amidst a swirl of junk science, bad information and outright propaganda. But what if the conversation was about sustainability instead? What if we flipped the script to a positive conversation of empowerment and hope? Because really, in many ways, we are only talking about adopting the things our grandparents did…and perhaps, by showing people one way sustainability could work, and examples of what sustainability is and could be, then our focus could shift into productive conversations. Conversations without hate, without judgment and without condemnation…and plenty of listening, too.

These conversations aren’t all that easy for me to have. Though I have trained myself to overcome anxiety and speak in public after many years of doing it, and I enjoy talking to people, I’m also a born introvert, and can speak to people for about three hours before my battery is drained and I start wanting to curl up in a dark corner and not talk for a while. And I am naturally a fairly private person, too; I’ve never enjoyed doing studio tours, for example, where it feels like my guts are just exposed to the world. However: integral to the idea of this is the neighborly notion of inviting someone in for a cup of tea and a talk. So as much as I have thought of this as my future home, it also is intended as a tiny semi-public space, a mobile laboratory of sustainability for curious eyes and, ultimately, a place for conversation.

And curious is exactly what people are, we found out Friday, the minute we pulled up in the tiny house. After an afternoon of rushing around like mad getting ready – breaking the remaining glass out of the stubborn broken windows, for one thing — a process that left me wrestling with a rubbery goo, cursing and suffering numerous puncture wounds, though it was also weirdly fun. Tensely awaiting the new postcards, which UPS finally delivered RIGHT before we left, and packing quickly, we were left with little time to hitch up – a process that in the past, with multiple people helping, has usually wound up a confusing, time-consuming mess — especially considering Bertha’s propensity to reject any notions of going into reverse and hard sticky clutch. But Victoria Salvador and I we did it like old pros: In five minutes, we were hitched up and ready to go, sans windows. 

As soon as we pulled onto the Denver Art Museum’s plaza, people approached, eager to see inside. Even unfinished and wrapped in Tyvek, the tiny house doesn’t seem tiny and has a commanding presence, despite being dwarfed by Daniel Libeskind’s spiky and imposing architecture. But from the moment I engaged the parking brake and opened the door, people flooded in as we struggled to run extension cords while answering myriad questions. We were parked right at the entrance of the museum, and nearly everyone walking in stopped by.

We had brought a pile of the resin antlers I had made for my last show, Lament, at Leon Gallery, so that we could have something a little fancier than a clip light, and piled above a simple bulb they cast a beautiful cozy glow. We tacked what few plans exist, drawn by Victoria Salvador, to the walls, set out the postcards, and hung up the special fundraising pins I had made from cut-offs of 2 x 4s, sliced into the shape of a tiny house. (One can be yours for a mere $20 by clicking here! I need your help to get to the next step, which is going backwards and replacing the aforementioned broken windows!) And all through the set-up, we fielded questions about everything from poop to how much I would sell it for to what the layout would be.

At 7:30 p.m.,  Victoria and I gathered in front of a standing-room-only audience under the tent that the staff had set up, and I talked about my vision, the plan and the process so far, while battling against an overhead helicopter drowning us out. And then we were inundated with more questions – so many questions. Where would I get water? Would I have a kitchen? What does it cost? What does it weigh? And always: Where does your poop go?

And just like that, I found my purpose again, and reconnected with my reasons for pursuing this path. For our first outing we couldn’t have hoped for a better reception, and it was exhilarating to see people’s enthusiasm. And despite my exhaustion and anxiety about how it would all go, it was as easy as both hitching and backing up the trailer had turned out to be. It's a little exhausting — but slowly, I’m becoming a pro at both. 

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here or here. See more of her work at

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Lauri Lynnxe Murphy