New in Town: Young People Making Art and Things

New-to-Taos band Mirror Travel plays at Ennui Gallery

New-to-town Mirror Travel plays at Ennui Gallery

This week I sat down with seven folks who are new to town. Their average age is twenty-eight and with one exception they all moved here within the last eight months. Three grew up in Taos. Five out of the seven were women. This list is not comprehensive. But it did allow me to take the cultural temperature and explore the motives and concerns of what appears to be an interesting trend in migration to this small mountain town.

The first woman I interviewed, Brooke Jordy, is a Taos native (full disclosure: she is also the author’s roommate). She returned to Taos in September after graduating last spring and spending what proved to be a brutal summer stint in the DC job circuit. Unlike some of her peers who have moved to Taos in recent months, Brooke sees Taos as more of a landing pad than a destination. It’s full of the support networks that family and years of being in a community foster. That said, Brooke counts herself lucky to be from Taos.

John Bowden, also a Taos native, is an old classmate of Brooke’s. He moved back in November, and will remain through June to take care of his mother.

Both were aware of the recent migration of young people to Taos. Both expressed excitement at the influx of youthful perspective, but also some trepidation. “Taos had always been a destination to outsiders,” said Brooke. “They view it as a resort town and an artist haven,” she added. “And superficially it is those things. But that’s an idealized version.”

John reminded me that what many call the land of enchantment is also called the land of entrapment. A significant portion of the community is held here by obligation to family and/or by minimal resources. And its lack of proximity to another larger community can make Taos a very isolating place for those who are unable to leave. There is a history of trauma here that comes from layers of violent, appropriating migrations. But it’s not just a history. Taos holds all of these cultures today and those traumas are still being played out. And any newcomers must reckon with this history in order to take a sound position in the town’s complex cultural mixture.

Johnny Ortiz is another Taos local, and he shares Brooke and John’s concerns about the need to responsibly appreciate existing cultures. After leaving in 2009 for school, Johnny moved back to Taos in February with Leia Layus. Leia and Johnny came from San Francisco, where they had been co-hosting a dinner project that brought small groups together to enjoy artisanal meals. The meals were made with local and foraged ingredients, and served on ceramic dishes that they handcrafted. Leia and Johnny continue their culinary work at ACEQ restaurant — Leia in front of house and Johnny in back of house. Leia also teaches yoga at CrossFit Taos, and has enjoyed deepening her practice in her new spacious environment.

When they moved here, Leia and Johnny had grown weary of spending hours of each day fighting traffic and hunting for parking. They wanted more time and space to focus on actually doing their projects. And they wanted to take up a relationship to a specific place to ground their endeavors. In San Francisco a new restaurant opens every day, said Johnny, and they’re all trying to be different from one another in really minute ways. He’s excited to help Taos reinvent its food culture while maintaining the traditional dishes he grew up with. Leia and Johnny are new in town, but they plan to be here indefinitely.

Talking about moving around a lot in the last ten years, Leia said everything has been “for now” — from the furniture you buy to the job you have. She’s inspired by the tangible shift that she feels having dedicated to being in Taos. Johnny and Leia are also in the process of drafting a quarterly journal about wild food, the body, mind, and arts.

I visited Ashley Arabian in her cozy new boutique Wanderer. Also a San Francisco transplant, Ashley moved here formally in March, surrendering to being here after a trial period of renting a casita and visiting on the weekends. She first came to Taos four years ago for the Earthship program. To Ashley, Taos provides the community and support that she felt so starved for in the city. People in San Francisco want to know what you do, she told me, and that’s how they see you. So if you’re a writer who pays the bills with a barista job, you might as well just be a barista. In Taos it’s much more common to keep your job and your passion separate. And doing multiple things isn’t seen as a lack of commitment, it’s seen as an arsenal of talents.

And that’s exactly what Miss Arabian has brought with her, as a writer, a cook, and now a small business owner. She plans to use Wanderer as a space for events that pull the burgeoning youthful art crowd together—a group that she believes exists, but needs more spaces to come together and support one another.

Later that day, I met with Lauren Green and Meredith Stoner of the band Mirror Travel, and learned that Ashley had commissioned Lauren to make a wooden wall hanging for Wanderer.

Lauren moved to Taos in December of 2014, a little ahead of the current wave. Compelled to escape the destructive pattern of performing, drinking, hangovers, and artistic stagnation that had gripped her in Austin, and moved to pursue woodworking, Lauren busted out for Taos. Nine months later her long time friends and now current bandmates Meredith and Tiffany Lanmon joined her. After visiting Taos for the first time it only took Meredith and Tiffany the twelve-hour drive back to Austin to decide they would move here.

Lauren and Meredith admitted with a little chagrin that they had both already thought about buying land. Since moving to Taos Tiffany has taken up sculpture, Meredith cofounded Lemon Creative Design with Beth Kelly (another newcomer), and Lauren is about to become a certified woodworker. Individual projects have given these three women the opportunity to cleave a little closer to themselves.

As a band, Mirror Travel has been surprised at the large turn out all three of their shows has had. They are also excited to be playing at locally-owned venues such as Ennui Gallery, where small businesses profit and there is less pressure to drink. “Nothing good happens past midnight,” Meredith quipped.

On Monday morning I sat down to do my first interview on the subject of being new in Taos. By Thursday evening I had done seven interviews, and hadn’t come close to exhausting the list of new Taoseños. Odder still, the people I interviewed suggested each other for my piece, showing that this wave of newcomers is well on its way to being an actualized community.

This particular renaissance of alternative culture is being propelled by newcomers, but has not been without its forerunners. Interviewees cited several longtime residents, like Sarah Hart of Ennui Gallery and some of her collaborators, as ingenious curators of community spaces for creative collaboration and appreciation. And the result is that Taos’s famously transient community is starting to stick.

I’m new in town, myself. And as I write this story, I hear Doan Wilson’s voice saying “you can’t create a scene” as I sling coffees at the World Cup. The “S” word makes everyone cringe — perhaps because if you are seeing a “scene” you’re ultimately outside it, perhaps because we don’t want to jinx it. So I’ll keep it general and just say: a wave of “young people” just came to town, and they “like” it and they are “doing” things… “something” is happening.

Don’t blink.