Contemporary Cool

Basalt Gets a Great New Arts Venue

The midvalley’s live entertainment scene amps up with its first permanent, dedicated performance space.

By Todd Hartley July 5, 2021 Published in the Summer/Fall 2021 issue of Aspen Sojourner

A rendering of The Contemporary

Two years after closing the doors of The Temporary, its much-loved, pop-up performance venue in Basalt, The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW) gives midvalley audiences something to applaud this summer with the debut of The Contemporary, the nonprofit’s long-anticipated permanent home. The new building was designed by Basalt-based architects Lipkin Warner, the original developers behind the multiblock commercial/residential Willits Town Center.

A performing arts center was always part of the vision, but it took years of fundraising, planning, and dedication to come to fruition. “This is something Michael Lipkin has been working on for more than 20 years, and he did all the architectural work pro bono,” says TACAW Executive Director Ryan Honey. “Obviously, we had theatrical consultants, acoustic consultants, kitchen consultants, and everything else that you have on a project like this, but Michael had the vision and worked with the board and me to put together a great building.”

Among The Contemporary’s notable exterior features are a suspended concrete canopy that shades the entrance plaza and coppery shingles sheathing the walls (Honey calls them the “dragon skin”). Just as notable, though not as obvious: the building’s net-zero carbon footprint, a first for a performance center in Colorado. A 64-kilowatt solar array, aided by a grant from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, powers the all-electric building.

“But the most important thing is the theater space,” says Honey of the 250-seat (400 standing capacity) venue. With a stage that approximates the Wheeler Opera House’s in size and options for different configurations, “it’s beautiful yet still intimate with maximum flexibility,” adds Honey. “People loved what we did at The Temporary, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t lose that closeness to the artists.”

When not staging shows, TACAW can host other private or local events (the building includes a restaurant-size, all-electric kitchen), and the Alpine Bank Community Room can be booked at any time for meetings or smaller gatherings. Honey also plans to offer educational components and internships.

As part of a potential Phase 2, The Contemporary hopes to expand its building outward. But for now—and exclusively this summer—an outside amphitheater and spacious lawn provide additional performance space. Beginning July 3, TACAW presents bands and other shows alfresco on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, including parts of the popular townwide Wednesday Night Live series that launched last summer.

The public will finally get to see a performance inside the venue at the September 25 grand opening. Honey wasn’t able to confirm any upcoming artists at press time, but take it on good word that future shows may feature the type of big-name artists midvalley fans have previously had to go to Aspen or Vail to see. That’s definitely something to clap for.

Meet Basalt’s New Murals

Basalt’s latest townwide art exhibit has had artists climbing the walls. That’s because they’ve created a series of murals in seven locations downtown and at Willits Town Center. A project of the Basalt Public Arts Commission (BPAC), the murals were crafted by Roaring Fork Valley artists Charles Andrade, Rae Lampe, Teal Wilson, Ali O’Neal, and John Przonek, as well as Seth Weber of Paonia and Denver-based painter Max Kauffman.

Look for the works, which range from depictions of fish and wildlife to bright abstracts, in high-profile places—the side of town hall, the back of the Lions Park bandshell—as well as stealthier spots like the new building near the Basalt Park & Ride and a fence by the Willits rugby field. “It’s going to be a little bit of discovery for people,” says BPAC Chair Jeff Orsulak.

The murals are slated to stay up for at least a couple of years, and “if they become beloved, they could possibly stay,” says Orsulak. So you have plenty of time to stare at the walls—productively, in this case.

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