Southwest Tour: Part III

The last leg of the trip …


Our next stop takes us to Truth or Consequences (commonly knows as “T or C”) – a small town with a funny name and an interesting history. Formerly known as Hot Springs, New Mexico, Truth or Consequences received a name change in 1950 after winning a nationwide contest hosted by the radio game show of the same name. Its former name describes what the town is best known for – its abundant local hot springs and spas. But we weren’t just there to soak and relax (though we did do some of that too), “T or C” is home to an interesting artist residency called Starry Night Retreat.

Founded by artist and entrepreneur Monika Proffitt in 2011, Starry Night is a residency program offering artists, of all different kinds of mediums, a choice of 1-8 weeks in a furnished apartment near the heart of the small town. This was definitely the priciest residency we have visited at $900 a week, but there are some options for payment plans and work / trade if an artist really wants to pursue this opportunity. Starry Night Programs also offers online classes for artists to develop professional skills as well as a program connecting artists to Art Basel Miami.


After “T or C” we head north to Albuquerque where we meet with some artist friends, one being Erin Elder: artist extraordinaire, curator, artist consultant and co-founder of an off-the-grid residency called PLAND. Practice Liberating Art through Necessary Dislocation (PLAND) existed in Tres Piedras from 2009 to 2014 as a multidisciplinary residency focusing on experimental and research-based projects. Our conversation over coffee and tea was really insightful and inspiring, covering topics about how to start a residency from nothing (which is actually the subject of an essay Erin and the other two PLAND founders –Nina Elder and Nancy Zastudil– wrote for Phonebook 3. It is a must-read!), diversity outreach at residencies, the naivete of starting new projects, and just pulling the trigger and actualizing ideas. Erin about PLAND: “…there was something that was really important to us about the area, and the place. I think residencies are often place-based. They want you to have an experience with this unique landscape, or opportunity, and we really felt that to be true about this area… and wanted to have this place-based, immersive residency, but we saw it as this kind of renegade community, where people were not enforcing building codes, and we thought that was really fascinating. We wanted to build something outside of the norm.”

That evening we went to Sean Hudson’s closing MFA show at Small Engine Gallery and met a bunch of cool artists, a couple of whom had some interesting small world connections! We stayed the night with artist and friend Abigail (Bagel) McNamara. 

On our way north to the next residency, we made a necessary stop at a place we had been hearing a lot about throughout the trip: Meow Wolf in Santa Fe. Expecting a somewhat traditional gallery with installations, we were really thrown off guard (in the best way possible) when we stepped inside the former bowling alley, now converted into a fully immersive, imaginative, and interactive exhibit by the art collective Meow Wolf. Equal parts Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Alice in Wonderland and Netflix’s Stranger Things, “House of Eternal Returns” can’t even really be described in words. It’s just something you have to go see. And we highly suggest paying $1 for the Chromadepth Glasses.

Next stop: The small community of Lama, about 20 miles north of Taos, is home to the next residency, HEREKEKE. On a ranch, overlooking the magical and dramatic landscape of the Rio Grande river valley at 8,200 feet, HEREKEKE welcomes artists in all stages of their career and offers various programs. We talked to two of the founders, two incredible woman with a very similar beginning to us: Peggy Chung and Liliana Mejia met at an artist residency and it changed both their lives in important ways. “I’ve always felt like the biggest artwork you can create is your life,” said Peggy as we toured the studio, the sunlight pouring in through the large windows Artist residencies are from two to six weeks and artists work in a self-directed manner amongst the mountains and expansive landscape. Peggy, Liliana and other founder Nat Wilson, are interested in building relationships with the community and creative sustainable practices, offering music lessons, youth classes and other community resources like hosting a neighborhood goat milking cooperative. We love what they do!


During our time on Lama Mountain, we also had the incredible privilege of touring and spending time at the Lama Foundation: a spiritual community and retreat center that opens to the public once a year for tours, lunch, meditation and dancing.  


nd then began the much anticipated drive to Paonia, Colorado – the place where we first met. Summer of 2013, we both began our first artist residencies at Elsewhere Studios. Due to a scheduling mishap we ended up being there at the same time. It felt almost fated: Elsewhere helped facilitate necessary shifts and changes in not only our artistic practice but our personal lives. After our residency period, Alicia ended up leaving New York, where she was living at the time, and moved to San Francisco with Carolina. Originally from the Bay Area, this transition was much needed and we were roommates and collaborators from then on. We returned to Elsewhere the following year as a collaborative team and further solidified the connection we have to the residency program, the land and community here in the North Fork Valley. (It continues: In late September, I (Carolina) moved to Paonia to be the Residency Program Manager of Elsewhere. Life moves full circle sometimes!) Elsewhere welcomes residents from all over the world at any stage of their artistic career for a 1-6 month residency in the unique and supportive environment that is Paonia. It’s very exciting to live here and work at the place where Piney basically began. I can’t wait to get to know all the residents that come through, and for Alicia to visit!


After catching up with friends in Paonia and visiting our old stomping grounds such as the local brewery, we head to eastern Colorado to a little rural town called Byers. Here we are meeting with Richard Saxton and Mary Rothlisberger of M12 and Rural Environments Field School. In Byers, we pull up to “The Feed Store”: once a bank, post office, grocery store, and ranch supply store, it served as the M12 office, studio, workshop, and an experimental space for rural cultural activities, which is now being moved to another location in the West. M12 is an interdisciplinary artist collective with an ever-evolving group of people creating projects based on the aesthetics of rural culture and landscape. At The Feed Store, we are greeted by college students who are part of the Field School. Connected with the University of Colorado - Boulder, the Field School is an intensive off-campus college course in which students are placed into rural environments in order to facilitate context-based approaches to creating art. We are there as visiting artists, speakers and curators and soon we are put to work, curating the students’ final show. The show is the culminating event after the course, and is a night of art, food and conversations.


From Byers, we drive west to Utah! Our next stop is in Green River, Utah, home to a very interesting and important project called Epicenter. We meet Maria Sykes, Chris Lezama, and Jack Forinash who helped found the non-profit in 2009. The town of Green River, with its red cliffs and blue skies, has a population less than 1,000 and is located approximately 100 miles away on either side from Grand Junction, Colorado and Richfield, Utah. This means that the town’s main economy is to serve drivers on I-70 needing motels, gas and food. Epicenter is an organization of people working towards creating a positive impact by partnering with local businesses to help boost the economy, bringing visiting artists to work on community projects as well as designing affordable housing for residents. As a part of their residency program, the Frontier Fellowship, they bring artists and designers to Green River for four weeks to create community engaged works that help instill rural pride.


On our drive to the next residency we stop in Ephraim, Utah – a small town that Maria told us was the home of the Granary Art Center. The historical building is used as an exhibition and educational space showcasing local and international artists. Maybe home to a future residency?

We spent one night at Birch Creek Service Ranch near Spring City, Utah where Adam Bateman of CUAC (Central Utah Art Center) had some residency space along with a now-closed gallery in Salt Lake City. The residency is in a transformative phase so stayed tuned! While we were there, though, it was buzzing with activity as young camp counselors were getting ready for the yearly summer camp. At other times of the year, the ranch hosts artists who make use of the land, home to a large workshop and a two-story main building made of straw bale.


After sleeping under the stars at Birch Creek Service Ranch, we head to Nevada!

But right before we enter Nevada, we stop at CLUI – Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah. It is located in a former airbase and consists of a public display of an informational interpretive art exhibit.

We leave our car in the small town of Montello, Nevada, and hop into Stefan Hagen’s– the founder of Montello Foundation– big rental car to embark on a harrowing journey down a bumpy, rural road to the most secluded residency we’ve visited yet. The building houses studio and living space and sits on 80 acres of land surrounded by expansive views of an untouched valley, the nearest house being 16 miles away. There is no staff, no other artists, just you, your thoughts…and certain wildlife, of course. Artists are invited to stay for two weeks in this breathtaking desert landscape in order to really focus … or to get distracted by the clouds. While we were there we met artist Micol Hebron (and her dog, Klaus) and had an incredible time exploring the land, watching the sunset and sharing meals.


We were unable to visit our last residency, an artist-in-residence program in the remote Black Rock Desert, because there wasn’t anyone there at the time. But we were able to meet with Michael Myers, Executive Director of Friends of Black Rock High Rock, at the Nevada State Fair in Carson City and he told us all about the program. Artists stay for two weeks, interpreting the ancient desert landscape through their varied creative practices. “This National Conservation Area is steeped in cultural history of both indigenous people and settlers, and is home to dramatic unpopulated desert landscapes.”

At this point, our trip is pretty much at a close and we are feeling a combination of feelings. Mostly we feel a sense of sadness that this incredible journey, with it’s stunning landscapes and unique, inspiring people we met along the way, is almost over. But! We have one last stop with an amazing artist friend, Sarah Lillegard, in Reno. Sarah is a maker of things and focuses on the intersections of personal mythology and the American West. She is also a student at Sierra Nevada College in their MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts Program, the same program that gave us the Lupita’s Grant that helped make this trip happen.


We have a million thanks to give and so grateful for every experience. We will be hard at work compiling everything we learned during our tour in order to print our second publication early next year. But we’ll keep updating you along the way!