Literary arts

Space to think

New residency offers a creative space in the high mesa of Sunshine Valley

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Many people who live south of Questa have not heard of Sunshine Valley. And that’s OK with the residents of this high mesa neighborhood. But Anna Novakov and Ron Hutt are cracking open their doors – and inviting writers, artists and academics to apply for a residency stay.

Dubbed “Freehold Taos,” the residency provides a serene living and workspace. Chosen applicants are well-housed in a renovated two-room casita. The building is designed in the traditional pueblo-style architecture of Northern New Mexico. Its adobe stucco is a peaceful sage green, which accents nicely with the endless blue sky. In the interior, the walls and floors have been redone. The loving attention to detail is apparent.

Residents have their own kitchenette, full bath and bedroom to amply provide for personal needs. But it is the writing office in the front room that immediately draws you in. Furnished with the utmost simplicity, its key feature is a large, east-facing window next to the desk.

It is easy to imagine an early morning writer seated at the desk, watching the sunrise push up over the Latir Peak Wilderness. The force of nature would serve as a powerful inspiration for penning thoughts in those key early hours that many writers hold dear.

Novakov herself knows quite a bit about writing – and the inspiration that is part of the creative process. Her biographical details illuminate a fascinating life journey. She describes herself as a Serbian-Yakut art historian, curator and writer. Novakov was born in Belgrade (now the capital of Serbia) in 1959 and is the daughter of noted environmental physicist Tihomir Novakov. From an early age, she was immersed in the Ecotopian dreams of air pollution control. She was raised in both the socialist utopia of post-war Yugoslavia and the free speech, counterculture capital of Berkeley, California.

A press release states that in 1992, after completing her doctorate at New York University, Novakov came to prominence in Manhattan as one of the first art critics to write about the interrelationship between art, technology and utopian spaces.

At present, Novakov is the author of dozens of books and is professor emerita of art history at Saint Mary’s College of California.

In discussing her own latest writing project about Russian émigrés and Taos artists, Novakov points to the writing desk in the casita and says, “I get up at 5:30 in the morning to write. It’s a very quiet time to think and the work office is ideal.”

Hutt is an internationally active artist whose recent location-based live performances are a layered mix of video, animation and sound. At the University of Rhode Island, Hutt was an art professor with notable achievements, including authoring a digital art and design curriculum. From an artist’s point of view, he explains that “the residency would be appealing to artists who work in small formats, such as plein-air painting, photography or filmmaking.”

With such notable academic credentials for Novakov and Hutt, it makes perfect sense that Freehold Taos grew from their backgrounds as university professors. These two individuals have dedicated decades of their lives to nurturing creativity in students. But their efforts aren’t limited to young people. The press release states that for the past five years, Novakov and Hutt have conducted workshops for adults on ways to encourage creativity in everyday life, as well as within group settings, such as professional workplaces.

Novakov simply says that creating this residency is “a dream come true.” She is serving in the role of executive director of Freehold Taos. Hutt serves as a board member.

 “We’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time,” she says. Sharing her broader vision for the future, she says, “In the main house, we want to have readings and give the resident a chance to meet other writers.”

Interested applicants can visit freeholdtaos.org to learn more. But essentially, anyone interested in the residency should be prepared to provide a very short bio (just one paragraph) and a one-page description of your residency project. The residency is open to applicants from anywhere in the world. Freehold Taos plans to start the residency in September.

Hutt explains that the name of the residency comes from old legalese. “Freehold has something to do with the land. It’s an old legal term for possession of the land in an 18th-century way.”

When Tempo visited the Freehold Taos residency, the appeal of the casita and the surrounding area was immediate. In Sunshine Valley, the quietude is so enveloping, you can hear yourself think. Once you turn off State Road 522 and rumble over the cattle guard onto Sunshine Valley Road, your mind expands – with sweeping views of Ute Mountain and San Antonio Mountain in the western range.

Indeed, the March issue of Poets & Writers magazine devoted a whole section to the importance of writers retreats, quoting author Herman Melville as saying: “Silence is the general consecration of the universe.”

To learn more, visit freeholdtaos.org, along with Facebook and Instagram.

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