Space to Create

Mainframe Studios inspired a cross-country move

Sarah Booz and Kyle Kirwan looked around their crumbling Hudson Valley apartment and hatched a plan to leave New York. The creative couple, who met at a bar in Bushwick, loved the natural beauty of the area but felt isolated from New York City’s art scene 100 miles south. They were wide open about where they might move, but never imagined they’d wind up in Iowa.

Sarah, a tech employee, can work from anywhere but prioritizes good food and the walkability she grew up with in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They also wanted to settle in an affordable locale where Kyle, an artist who specializes in designer toys, could rent separate studio space. Like the “elder Millennials” they are, the couple turned to the internet to help them narrow their search.

Sarah Booz and Kyle Kirwan standing in front of artwork displayed at Mainframe Studios
Kyle Kirwan and Sarah Booz at Mainframe Studios in Des Moines, Iowa

“We read a lot of listicles and watched YouTube videos highlighting high quality of life with low cost of living,” Sarah said. Among the top contenders that emerged from their research were Fayetteville, Ark., Columbus, Ohio, and Des Moines, a city in the center of Iowa—a state they’d only ever passed through.

“At first, we were like, ‘Stop saying Des Moines, Iowa! That’s a really weird suggestion,’” Sarah joked. But when the couple started to dig into the arts and culture amenities available in Iowa’s capital city, they were impressed.

Art Community Connections

Discovering Mainframe Studios, a colorful building billed as the largest nonprofit creative workspace in the nation, was “the clincher” to selecting Des Moines. They conducted an apartment hunt with the help of Google Street View. Kyle applied for an affordable art space at Mainframe, and they signed a lease for a pet-friendly elevator building in Des Moines’ Historic East Village. Finally, the couple, their cat and bird moved to the state sight unseen in November 2021.

“I remember posting something like, ‘Spread the word: We’re moving to Des Moines, Iowa!’” Sarah said. “People thought that we had lost our minds.”

But taking a leap into the unknown was on-brand for the couple, who traveled the country from 2015 to 2018 while living in an RV. Serendipitously, a few contacts in their designer toy network already lived in the Des Moines metro. One even showed up on their first day in town with an offer to help unload their truck and a four-pack of Des Moines IPA, by Confluence Brewing Company. That same friend has since become a collaborator in the “No Coast Trouble Club,” a group Kyle formed to talk shop and showcase their collective works to the public during one of Mainframe’s public First Friday events.

“In addition to having a dedicated art space that I can get up and go to, the intangibles that come with being part of the Mainframe community are really beneficial,” Kyle said. “There’s a lot of creative energy that I can tap into. It’s also constructive. This is one of the only places I’ve been where it’s not cutthroat. People are happy for others to succeed… Chasing the art dream is a lot of effort, and to come out here and sort of pool all our resources was really interesting and cool.”

Exterior view of Mainframe Studios

Sharing Their Discoveries

Kyle grew up in the outskirts of Los Angeles, so settling in the middle of the country has offered visitors from both coasts an opportunity to enjoy Midwest hospitality.

“More people have come to visit us in Des Moines than came to see us when we were in the Hudson Valley,” Sarah said. “Essentially, there’s some sort of outdoor festival or something special going on every weekend. Between CelebrAsian, the Des Moines Arts Festival, the World Food and Music Festival, East Village Holiday Promenade and others, there’s just so many things happening, especially downtown.”

Surprised by how much they’ve enjoyed cycling the city, Kyle and Sarah plan to upgrade their bikes to take full advantage of the 800 miles of connected trails throughout the Des Moines metro.

The food scene has also more than delivered. After Sarah’s positive review of a sandwich from Maccabee’s Kosher Deli went viral online, she’s become somewhat of an influencer on the local dining scene. In a full-circle moment, Catch Des Moines reached out and asked her to help promote their “Best Sandwiches in Greater Des Moines” list.

“When we talk to people in New York, we’re like, ‘Yeah, we live right downtown in the cool neighborhood,’” Sarah said. “We can walk to all the events we want to go to. We can walk to the baseball stadium, Wells Fargo Arena and all the amenities—but the cost is shockingly lower.”

Use our cost-of-living calculator to see how much you can save by moving to Iowa.

Published January 26, 2024

Additional Stories

The best move you’ll ever make

The life you’ve always wanted is in Iowa. What better time than now to start living it?

Connect with an Iowan