Arts and Culture

The Mayday Experiment: Tiny House, Big Community

I recently had a conversation with a painter who has had, from my estimation, a great career. He's been gifted with museum shows, his work is in big collections, and his exhibitions have always met with critical acclaim. I don't feel that I've had a shabby career myself -- far from it -- but if I were to compare myself to him, I could only find my accomplishments lacking.

He urged me to find a way to stay in Denver. "You just need to make more money," he said, "It's not that hard." I retorted, "Is my job to make more money or make more art?" But he has a point -- staying in booming Denver requires making more money, which is something I'm not always great at. I'm often so busy with passion projects that I don't have time to focus on making money in the traditional sense, but I always part because I believe that somehow, if I work hard, the universe will provide what I need. And it usually does. See also: The Mayday Experiment -- a Tiny House Becomes a Home

"Maybe if I'd had the kind of successful career you've had..." I began, and he snorted, "Success?! I look at my career as a giant failure!"

I was flabbergasted. "How can your career be a failure?! You've had all these museum shows, your work is in so many collections..."

"My career has been a series of starts and stops," he responded. "I haven't ever been able to just paint every day like I want."

And while I understood his frustration, what I'm left with is the feeling that perspective determines everything. Which means, while my career has also been a "series of starts and stops" (and what artist can't say that?), I look at every day that I wake up and get to do what I love as a total win. Just the fact that I am still an artist feels like success to me, after a lifetime of watching peers drop away, unable to keep up the grind of earning a living on top of their "real job" of making things. My success is measured in my work. We all share the frustration of "not enough time," but then again, not all of us expected to ever have enough time, and expectations are often the cause of disappointment. I spent a lot of bitter years focused on what I lacked before I realized this, but anymore, I'm so excited about being in the studio making things that little else matters.

I've learned I don't need much to get by and be happy. I don't care about buying the latest and greatest gizmo, I am blissfully unaware off what's "in fashion," and pretty much every dime I have outside of survival (and sometimes instead of survival) is spent on art. So this is another solution the tiny house provides: by reducing the number of hours I need to spend in earning the rent, I am spending more hours on doing what I do, and structuring my life around what I feel is important: making my work, and living by my values.

In a consumer economy, we are constantly sold a version of ourselves. Shopping gives many people their identities, and so, when we are constantly sold an image that we can't afford, dissatisfaction sets in. I admire people like Dee Williams , one of the original tiny housers, who lives in 84 s.f. and has narrowed her possessions to a mere 350, but I am not yet sure I can become that minimal. At around 210 s.f., my tiny house is palatial by comparison. And as an artist, just the tools of my trade outnumber Dee's possessions. It's an interesting challenge, to consider just what one needs. And to consider what one has -- how many pairs of scissors are in my studio? I only need one, and yet, I'd bet I could find a dozen-- except when I'm looking for them. Same goes for tape measures and screwdrivers.

But sometimes what you need is provided for you -- without even knowing you need it. I always accept that the day would come when I would need to fundraise to complete this project, and yet, my background in fundraising is as minimal as Dee Williams's home. But in conversation after conversation, people have reached out to help -- friends, mothers of friends, even neighbors. My doorbell rang yesterday morning, and it was a neighbor from a block away, Anastacia Dadashpour. She is renovating her garage and, as a result, offered me a bunch of old trim -- which I will be using for a wall in the tiny house. It turns out she works as a fundraiser, too! I am surrounded by wisdom, and everyone is willing to share. So many friends have shared their time and knowledge already. Even mystery gifts have been left on the tiny house by total strangers -- for example, a small rock that had been beautifully crocheted, already a possession that will have a permanent home once the house is finished. And I am also grateful for so much generosity. The first tiny house fundraiser, on Sunday at Deer Pile, was a great success. Leon Gallery and City, O' City collaborated to throw a fundraiser for the Mayday Experiment. City, O' crafted an insanely good wild rice and mushroom stroganoff concoction that I suggested and Chef Ryan made happen, along with bottomless bloody Marys and mimosas. Daniel Landes, owner of City, O' City, read from his wonderful fable Joonie , and talented songwriter Joshua Novak played, while my best friend, Ukulele Loki, was the MC. Even the tiny house made it there for people to walk through without event (thanks to Bertha and the weather both holding out this time!). Friends and strangers came, asked questions, chatted and enjoyed one another's company, and I realized: As alone as I feel at times, and overwhelmed by the huge task I've taken on, I have plenty of people on the journey with me.

Perspective determines everything.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, will be 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. See more of her work at

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Lauri Lynnxe Murphy

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