Work & Play finding new callings and creative outlets in a year of change and challenge

Written By Andrew Travers | Photos By Kelsey Brunner

Digital Production By Rose Anna Laudicina

Chasing 100 Days at Age 6

Early this ski season, with kindergarten gone virtual, an uncertain future ahead and an energetic 6-year-old snowboarder eyeing the mountain, the Barr family decided this winter was as good a time as any for Kingsly to get a 100-day pin.

The pin, a rare achievement and point of pride for Aspen’s most dedicated adult skiers and snowboarders, is a rarity for kids. This season, the Barrs are one of a handful of families who have used the pandemic’s disruption to in-person schooling as an opportunity to rack up ski days and hopefully hit the coveted century mark.

Kingsley’s kindergarten in Aspen has proceeded haltingly, like many schools, with variations since the fall including a hybrid that had him in-person two days per week, completely remote school and everyday in-person school.

At the end of the winter break and the beginning of 2021, as COVID-19 cases spiked dramatically in Aspen, the school announced kids would be staying home for another week off. That decided it for Kingsly; he wanted to go for it. The family had traveled to St. Louis for Christmas and began the 100-day quest when they returned, happy to aim toward a positive achievement amid all the frustrations of pandemic life.

Kingsly only had tallied 12 days from weekends during the early season, but he said he wanted to commit to do it.

“When we got back, we counted up the days and were like, ‘Yeah, we can do it,’ so we started doing it,” his mother, Drew, recalled.

Kingsly has missed just two days on the mountain since then.

Kingsly and Thom Barr in the turnstiles at Buttermilk for an after-school lap.

On a recent afternoon on Buttermilk, as he rode up Summit Express with his parents and a reporter, Kingsly described watching Jamie Anderson’s slopestyle and Big Air-winning X Games runs. A visual learner, he can watch boarders on the mountain or on YouTube and then replicate their tricks on snow, though he’s not throwing aerials quite as big as Anderson’s yet.

“After watching, he’ll come and try all this random stuff on a box or a rail,” Drew said.

From the Buttermilk peak, he sped through the terrain park, hitting the jibs and jumps and verticals and throwing his latest trick – a 180 – off anything he could find to huck. He rides with a speed and boldness that belies his 4-foot-tall stature (still not quite big enough to load a chairlift on his own, his dad, Thom, hoisted him up). As the mini shredder passed them, adult riders pumped fists and shouted encouragement.

“He’s so proud and he loves it so much,” Drew said. “It’s great to see and we’re doing everything we can to encourage him.”

Kingsly skis as well, and is in an Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club snowboard group - the lone kindergartener among older kids at his skill level - on weekends.

“I’m better at snowboarding,” Kinglsy said, “but I ski for fun.”

In the classic Aspen style, he started skiing as soon as he could walk around age 2. He didn’t love skiing, but took quickly to snowboarding and excelled once he tried it. Drew, a gymnastics coach, wondered whether Kingsly’s time since birth on trampolines and gym equipment made him more prone to snowboarding and terrain park theatrics.

With kindergarten back in session in-person these days, he goes out for a lap or two everyday after school, promptly hitting the mountain after the 2:30 p.m. bell and getting in the last bit of the day before lifts close. Often it’ll be laps on Lift 1A at Aspen Mountain or a run on Aspen Highlands, where the Barrs recently moved. But his favorite is to hit the park at Buttermilk.

“We’ll usually try to race to get two runs in on the terrain park before they shut it down,” Thom said.

Along with the 100-day chase, Kingsly recently started hockey and still spends time on gymnastics with his mom. Boarding is pure fun for the kid who plans to put his pin on his ski jacket. Thom and Drew said they’re careful not to push him too hard toward competition.

But as he eyed the Olympic hopefuls warming up for the FIS Snowboard and Free Ski World Championships on Buttermilk in March, right in his hometown terrain park, he put himself in their boots. As he asked his dad, watching the pros: “Do you think I can be over there one day?”

Kingsly Barr and his mother, Drew, between laps on Buttermilk. "He's so proud and he loves it so much," she said of the 6-year-old's passion for snowboarding. "it's great to see and we're doing everything we can to encourage him."


Consolation, Solitude, Creativity

In the early days of the novel coronavirus stay-home period in spring 2020, the artist Louise Deroualle revisited an early work of hers titled “In solitude there is consolation.”

She’d made these ceramic landscapes in graduate school, inspired by views of the flatlands of Lincoln, Nebraska. Now in lockdown in her apartment on the campus of Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, where Deroualle is ceramic studio coordinator, she found comfort in looking out of her window, across the Roaring Fork Valley to the forest above Woody Creek, and especially in the clouds moving overhead.

She has photographed the view almost daily, capturing it in all seasons and all weather in hundreds of images since 2018.

“This time we are living in, there is a lot of solitude with our thoughts, a lot of introspection,” she told The Aspen Times during the stay-home period in April 2020. “I find the consolation out my window looking at nature.”

Spending so much time alone through the pandemic, she sought to make new ceramic landscapes that might capture that view and speak to the comfort it provided through the grief and uncertainty of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

She had aimed to complete this new body of work by September 2020, when she was among the featured artists in the Red Brick Center for the Arts “Resilience” group show.

But Deroualle didn’t get the conceptual and physical pieces of the project together before then. That experience taught Deroualle a valuable lesson so many Americans have learned in the past year about letting go of pre-pandemic notions of productivity and achievement, going easy on herself and letting the work take its time to ripen.

“I feel pressure, like I need to be producing all the time,” Deroualle said in February 2021. “It took me a few months until I was just like, ‘It’s not time yet. It will come and things will evolve.’ Sometimes things have to be on hold.”

The original body of “In solitude” work was born out of Deroualle’s jarring move to Nebraska from her native Sao Paolo, Brazil. This follow-up would instead be about a journey inward during the public health crisis.

As she made tiles for the new work, she found it needed to be physically more rigid in form than the earlier iteration. She pressed them into frames to shape them, and made them very thick – about an inch – shaping bulky forms. They’re literally substantive and weighty works, matching their emotional heft of their subject and, Deroualle suggested, the resilience this historical moment has demanded.

Listen to artist Louise Deroualle talk about creativity and solitude and her new work made during the pandemic

“The work is personal to me," Deroualle explained. "Looking at the view of the sky was my way of finding peace, a way to reconnect with myself. … It was my way of coping with COVID.”

“It has something to do with COVID, too, like how we’re feeling so constrained and how we’re being pushed to adapt to this new thing,” Deroualle explained. “It was not a freeing thing, it was very contained.”

It took much exploration to figure out how to finish them. The original “In solitude” pieces had used slips and glazes, but that wasn’t working for Deroualle anymore.

“I did a lot of trials with glazes and I was just very unhappy because they were not communications that I wanted,” she explained.

Frustrated over the summer, she put it on hold for a while and turned to other projects, in hopes that some new creative solutions would germinate in her mind during the time away.

Eventually, in December – nine months after she’d begun creatively gestating – Deroualle tried using watercolor. The paint, with all its gauzy impressionistic properties, turned out to be just the right way for Deroualle to represent her perspective and the view from her room and the dreamy sense of calm it provided.

On top of the paint she put a layer of encaustic, further fogging up the view.

Artwork from Louise Deroualle's series "Coberta de Nuvens," which she will exhibit at the Carbondale Clay Center in April. "The clouds give me peace and perspective," she wrote of the work, completed over the course of nine months during the pandemic. "They make the uncertain more bearable.”

“The work is personal to me,” she said. “Looking at the view of the sky was my way of finding peace, a way to reconnect with myself. … It was my way of coping with COVID.”

In the end, the title of the new series changed to “Coberta de Nuvens,” Portuguese for “Cloud Covered,” inspired by the blanket-like emotional warmth that the view has provided the artist. And the public will get to see it soon.

Deroualle will exhibit the series at the Carbondale Clay Center April 3-May 1 in a dual show with the ceramicist Molly Peacock titled “Nas Nuvens — Perspectives of Two.”

“I find connection and a sense of belonging by looking out and up to these ever-changing formations,” she wrote in an artist statement. “Touched by light, they constantly change colors; touched by wind they are always moving and transforming. These clouds give me peace and perspective. They make the uncertain more bearable.”


A Call to Service

Photos By Austin Colbert

When Andy Williams was a teenager, career aptitude tests suggested he go into law enforcement. His life went a different direction until the past year when Williams, at 41 and amid a once-in-a-century public health crisis, made a mid-career jump to join the Aspen Police Department.

Last spring, with Colorado in the early days of the pandemic, Williams went to the police academy in Glenwood Springs — the first class to start after the stay-home order, going through a masked and distanced version of the required classroom legal instruction, firearms training and high-speed driving tests over 15 weeks.

After summer graduation, with the city still under a state of emergency due to the pandemic, he donned a uniform and started his on-the-job officer training.

Andy Williams photographed during an evening patrol shift in March. During the pandemic, Williams, 41, left his career in building maintenance to join the force.

The career switch was the fulfillment of an aspiration that had been in the back of Williams’ mind ever since those high school counseling tests but that he’d never acted on. In a peaceful mountain town like Aspen, with a half-century tradition of “community policing,” and in a historic crisis like the current one, Williams was called to serve.

Williams moved here with his wife and young daughter from Memphis in March 2019, fulfilling a long-standing hope to live in a ski town. His boyhood included time in Tennessee and Utah, which hooked him on snowboarding. With a well-established career in building maintenance, he figured he could land a job if he could get the clan to Aspen.

“We knew we wanted to live here, so we packed a truck and headed this way,” Williams recalled during a recent night shift.

He landed a gig maintaining buildings for the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority, overseeing Truscott, Marolt and other APCHA-managed properties. But as he heard about Aspen’s history of progressive policing, he wanted to be part of the department.

“It's kind of been something that has been on my mind since about middle school,” he said. “But I got on a career path and it was providing well for my family. Then when we got here, I asked my wife. I hadn't have talked about this in years. And she said, ‘Absolutely. Go for it.’”

The Aspen force is filled with cops who’ve had previous careers, all the way up to the Chief Richard Pryor, who was a farmer in England before jumping into law enforcement, to classically trained violinist and Aspen Music Festival alum Richie Zah and former Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancers Seth DelGrasso and Joseph Watson, who graduated from the academy with Williams.

“Being in the customer service industry for as long as I was doing maintenance has definitely contributed to this work,” Williams said. “Just talking with people and trying to understand kind of where they're coming from, I think has been very helpful for me.”

Putting on a badge during the COVID crisis, enforcing mask mandates and public health orders and dealing with public frustration and the widespread mental health strain of the pandemic is one thing. Williams also came on the force in the midst of national protests against police brutality and institutional racism, demonstrations that filled the streets of Aspen in summer 2020.

Williams, right, at the beginning of a night shift with his training officer John Woltjer. "This past year, 2020 especially, has been rough for people," Williams said. "It's been a pleasure to feel like I'm helping."

Williams said he is proud of the work of the Aspen police, historically and under the scrutiny of the past year, noting how the community-policing model has become a talking point and a goal for many larger cities across the U.S. to stem police misconduct.

“I think a lot of us see this as an opportunity,” Williams said. “This department has been doing community policing for a long time. I think we can be an example and we have an open relationship with the community.”

Amid the cascading crises of the moment, Williams is proud to be part of the solution.

“This past year, 2020 especially, has been rough for people,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure to feel like I’m helping. Even if somebody just needs to vent. I’m happy to be that ear if somebody needs it. … My long-term goal is for this to be the last career I have. That’s my plan.”

Williams in the patrol room at the Aspen police station.

The moment he knew he made the right choice in switching careers, Williams said, was the late-December natural gas outage, when vandalism knocked out heat for some 3,500 Aspen homes. Williams was among the team handing out space heaters to locals on Main Street.

“That was a huge moment for me,” he said. “To be a part of that and to witness the selflessness of the people that work here. It was just kind of one of those moments in life that you'll remember for the rest of it.”


Naka G’s New Groove

Amid the fallout of public health restrictions due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, DJ Naka G went back to work for the first time in a decade as Mike Nakagawa.

He had become, since he turned to music full-time in 2010, one of Aspen’s most prominent and popular cultural exports, earning an industry reputation as a go-to DJ for live sports with skills and relationships honed here at X Games Aspen and that have taken him to Olympics and competitions the world over.

But most of his work was in Aspen at smaller events and club gigs.

“My bread and butter was working local events and doing weddings, private events,” Nakagawa explained. “Because of the restrictions, those are gone.”

In Aspen, his calendar is normally booked solid with nightclub and party bookings. The onset of the novel coronavirus and its public health restrictions nixed all of those last spring. He was shocked to find that his job, which supported his family, had essentially been outlawed.

“Everything canceled when we shut down in March,” he recalled. ”I didn’t have another event until July 4. So I spent wisely, cut expenses, sold a car and made some financial adjustments.”

That and a PPP loan carried this Aspen native and father of four into the summer. But with little hope on the horizon for him to be able to get back to work full-time as a DJ, he looked for work outside the DJ booth and landed a job as a property manager in August.

“The event world has taken a big hit and we’re last on the list to come back, so I didn’t have time to wait around," Nakagawa said. "I’ve never given myself to option to fail my family financially. If I can’t provide for them, what purpose do I have?”

The six-month contract, with a family temporarily relocating here for the pandemic, would support him through late January and his annual gig at X Games Aspen.

“With all the restrictions going on, I wasn't legally allowed to do what I do as a DJ and work events,” he said. “It was either dip into the savings and spend money that we didn't want to spend or, you know, seek a different line of work, at least temporarily.”

Nakagawa in the Superpipe at X Games Aspen in January. He DJ'd the event as he does annually, though for the first time there were no fans on hand listening. It marked his first major gig since March 2020 when the pandemic struck.

Growing up in Aspen, Nakagawa’s parents had run a property management company that gave Nakagawa his first job, helping his dad at local homes and learning the value of work. (“Literally, like, ‘Here here's the bucket, here's a shovel – go pick up all the dog shit. You get $1 for each one.”) So he was able to slip back into that role, at 43 after a decade behind turntables, doing the catch-all Aspen version of property management: getting things fixed around the house, keeping cars filled with gas, doing airport pickups, getting takeout, and so on.

“I think the family was really happy with my performance,” he said, adding that he’ll keep doing some property management work until events and live music pick up again. “It definitely wasn't the money I was making DJ-ing before.”

He’d made his DJ business a profitable full-time operation since 2010, when he lost a graphic designer job at the Aspen Daily News in the wake of the Great Recession. Before that, it had been a passion but not a true vocation.

“Now DJ-ing has kind of gone back as a side hustle,” he said of 2021’s slow trickle of returning gigs.

As the pandemic neared its one-year mark, Nakagawa has had a few DJ opportunities come back — including a regular gig at the Little Nell’s revamped all-vinyl listening room and wine bar, a few small wedding receptions and March’s FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championships at Buttermilk where, without cheering crowds, his music is about the only thing pumping up the athletes.

Nakagawa at the Winter Youth Olympics in January 2020 in Switzerland. As a renowned DJ for sporting events, he performed at events around the world until the COVID-19 pandemic struck. | Photo courtesy Naka G

“The event world has taken a big hit and we’re last on the list to come back, so I didn’t have time to wait around,” Nakagawa explained. “I’ve never given myself the option to fail my family financially. If I can’t provide for them, what purpose do I have?”

He kept himself going creatively while the paying gigs went way, making new mixes and spinning at home. Also, beginning in the early days of the stay-home order last spring, he hosted live performances on his social media channels.

They became a cherished near-nightly community experience in those grim early days of the pandemic.

With his home turntable setup, some black lights, a disco ball and occasional cameos from his children, Naka G’s shows became communal experiences for quarantined Aspenites and people around the world who follow him. Hundreds of people watched and commented — upward of 1,100 tuned in for an April 1 performance on Facebook Live.

He’d usually play for about an hour, spinning mash-ups of crate-diving old school funk, hip-hop and soul with pop hits and rock anthems and peppering it all with his dry wit and snarky humor, picking up his handheld microphone to react in real time as fans commented.

“During that time I was able to provide those livestreams, people were just so psyched to have it,” he recalled. “We didn’t know what was going on. We just knew that we had to stay home. That virtual sense of normalcy was something that people embraced.”

After a few streams, at the encouragement of other DJs, he started accepting tips via Venmo.

“It wasn’t something I was making a living off of, I just wanted to do my part in some way,” he said. “It took me a few livestreams to put that out because I felt like I was asking for charity.”

But the response, in tips and in gratitude, was moving for Nakagawa: “It was definitely like, ‘Wow, people do care about each other,’ you know? It was amazing to see that.”

Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Nakagawa would normally have 20 to 25 gigs on his calendar – everything from après-ski sets to Belly Up opening gigs to private parties. This year there was almost nothing. Then the New Year gave way to a bleak January and tighter public health restrictions and spiking virus caseloads.

But now, with vaccines rolling out, restrictions slowly loosening and the promise of a more open summer ahead, Nakagawa is eager to spend more time doing what he loves with some in-person crowds listening again.

“With the restrictions, it was pretty hard,” he said. “It was tough on all of us that were DJs or musicians. But now that it's slowly, slowly coming back, man, if it does feel really good.”