Art News

Skyspace Takes Off at Green Box Arts Festival

James Turrell, Green Mountain Falls Skyspace, 2022, interior.
James Turrell, Green Mountain Falls Skyspace, 2022, interior. ©James Turrell. Photo by Jeff Kearney, TDC Photography
James Turrell’s new Colorado Skyspace light installation, debuting this weekend in an unassuming, box-shaped building atop a butte, is changing the structure of the Green Box Arts Festival. The addition of multi-disciplinary artist residencies has already stretched Green Box’s time parameters beyond a few concentrated weeks each summer, but the plan now is to keep Skyspace — accessible only by two hiking trails up Red Butte — open year-round, weather permitting. And the price of a visit, sometimes free and never more than $5, is another enticement.

We chatted with Green Box executive director Scott Levy to learn more about Green Box’s history and events, the logistics of commissioning a Turrell Skyspace and what you experience inside the new Green Mountain Falls Skyspace.

Westword: What’s the story behind Green Box?

Scott Levy: Founders Christian Kirkpatrick Keesee and Larry Keigwin are a married couple. Chris is president of the Kirkpatrick family of businesses, which has two foundations, the Kirkpatrick Family Fund and the Kirkpatrick Foundation, and is based in Oklahoma City. Green Box started because the Kirkpatrick family has owned a cabin in Green Mountain Falls since the turn of the last century and are engaged in the Green Mountain Falls community.

Fourteen years ago, Larry, who is a dancer and artistic director of the Keigwin + Company dance troupe, wanted to do a summer retreat in Green Mountain Falls. In 2006, they literally built a theater in the back yard and had a family talent show that first year, and that is how it was born. The fest officially launched in 2009.

Now that we’ve reached our fourteenth annual festival, Green Box has expanded into year-round programming. Through family funds, they created the Historic Green Mountain Falls Foundation, which is charged with the preservation of historical and natural assets through town restoration and trail management, as well as buying land in town to preserve the natural state of the town.

The Skyspace is located in the new Red Butte Recreation Area, and is accessed by two hiking trails.

How does one even get a Skyspace?

Chris and Larry did that before I came on board in 2021 — it’s been five years in the making. They arranged to meet with Turrell and discuss their vision of a Green Box Skyspace, and he agreed to the commission.

What makes the Green Mountain Falls Skyspace unique?

For one thing, it’s the first one in Colorado. And it’s the first one in the world built on side of a mountain. Turrell specifically provided us with quotes about how excited he was, because it is the first Skyspace built at altitude in the Rocky Mountain West. Believe it or not, the sky here has a deeper blue quality that increases its intensity. It’s also one of only a handful, maybe six, in the world with a retractible roof.

That gives us more flexibility. We can still activate the space even if we need to close the roof. It just takes on different colors than the open-roof sunrise or sunset shows. At the current moment, we’ve decided to keep Skyspace available year-round, whenever the temperature is above 25 degrees. The seats are even heated. Plus, it works differently depending on the time of season.

How is a closed-roof show different from an open-roof show?

When it’s open for sunrise or sunset experiences, the space is serving as a naked-eye observatory. Seating around the walls in the chamber, which have colored LED lights around the edge, accommodate 25 people. There is a series of bold saturated colors, and as they change, your perception of the sky changes as well. The closed portion of the opening still takes on a different color than those on wall and has its own rainbow set of colors.

Open shows last between 45 and 50 minutes; closed shows are 18 minutes. And outside of the formal showtimes, when the Skyspace’s doors are already open, people can just wander in and look around, but there are no lights on to activate the space.

I know it’s hard to describe, but what exactly happens inside the Skyspace?

The honest truth is that it’s every individual’s experience. It’s very hard to describe, and I’m from the world of theater. Observing it at sunrise or sunset — it’s just different live. It changes every day, and the people you experience it with are also part of the show.

I find it to be a meditative, contemplative experience — I feel there’s something spiritual about it. After hiking up, I feel energized, and as my breathing settles down, I’m relaxed.

I've experienced ours a few times and also some of the others, and it’s always different. Photos do not do justice to the experience. It really is a three-dimensional, immersive, experiential piece of art that’s dealing with color theory, astronomy, science and mathematics.

Turrell was raised a Quaker, and that’s in his work, as well. [In a Designboom interview, Turrell explains that Quakers “adhere to certain essential principles — mainly, that everyone has a light in them, and we come together to find that light in us again and again.”]

We see these factors as opportunities for future programming, and ways to connect thoughts and ideas through Skyspace. In the fall, we’ll be reserving Wednesdays for field trips. We’re hoping to draw school groups statewide.

Are all of the festival’s public artworks permanent?

No. Some are permanent, some are somewhat permanent and others are only strictly, temporarily…permanent. Skyspace is the first real, true permanent installation in the portfolio of Green Box’s works. We also have some new temporary installations going up this year [in addition to Skyspace, new works being unveiled in 2022 on the Green Box campus in town include the Keith Haring Outdoor Fitness Court©; "Communication X9," by Yaacov Agam; and "Meltwater," by Michael Krondl.]

click to enlarge Ballet Hispánico will be in residence at the Green Box Arts Festival. - COURTESY OF GREEN BOX
Ballet Hispánico will be in residence at the Green Box Arts Festival.
Courtesy of Green Box
What else can visitors expect at the general festival?

We have more than fifty events this year. In terms of live performance, Ballet Hispánico is our biggest draw in 2022. They are the largest Latinx company in the U.S., and besides performing, they’ll lead master classes here and in the Colorado Springs area, so we’re really bringing all the arts out into the community.

We have all kinds of music events, from sing-alongs to formal concerts. Rocky Mountain Women's Film is hosting two movie nights. We also host a whole schedule of open mics, workshops, classes, yoga and a slate of lunchtime conversations.

We start and end with big block parties. Pikes Peak Poet Laureate Ashley Cornelius was commissioned to host the opening, and she’ll specifically be doing a piece about the Skyspace. Then local bands from Colorado Springs will play.

For the closing, we have performances by the Denver Dolls, a vintage WWII-style singing group, and the Spanish guitarist El Twanguero. Then water lanterns will be launched on Green Mountain Falls Lake—because they are square in shape, they speak to the shape of the Skyspace. And we have a workshop where people can design their own lanterns, too.

Who comes to Green Box?

Permanent residents and summer residents, and people from around the Pikes Peak region. People summering here from out of state are reserving tickets. We are excited to welcome people from all walks of life, and offer many events for free or at affordable prices. The Founders Board wants to make sure Green Box is as accessible as possible. It’s amazing to work in an organization in which finding earned revenue is not the highest priority.

The Green Box Arts Festival runs through July 4 in Green Mountain Falls, U.S. Route 24 at Green Mountain Falls Road. Find information, a complete schedule of events, registration and more about the Green Mountain Falls Skyspace online at the website
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd