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Original Thinkers festival mines for creativity in limestone quarry near Telluride

“Otherworldly” installation hosted by Deep Creek Experimental is the mortar for lofty ideas floated 7 miles away in Mountain Village

Studio Chromasonic, was founded by visual artist Johannes Girardoni, center, and sound artists Orpheo McCord, left, and Joel Shearer, right, to create immersive, multi-disciplinary works. They will present their newest work at the Deep Creek mine during Original Thinkers in Telluride. (Photo provided by Original Thinkers)
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SAN MIGUEL COUNTY — In this place, where miners in the past harvested limestone from the mountains near Telluride, Gabriel Lifton-Zoline hopes to extract creativity and ideas.

The decommissioned Deep Creek Mine is ground zero for an art, music and light show installation as well as the grand finale for the second annual Telluride Original Thinkers Festival.

The festival, which starts Thursday, brings together a variety of creative people, artists, thinkers and participants from different backgrounds who want to engage in the consideration of big ideas.

Art is a big part of the festival, co-founder Lifton-Zoline said, and the decision to locate the installation at the mine is intentional. It’s about seven miles outside Telluride, removed from other distractions and will provide a truly unique experience to festival attendees.

“It’s a really far-out place,” he said. “The whole thing is kind of deeply immersive.”

What exactly the installation will look like is a mystery, and that’s on purpose, too. The whole idea of experiencing this art is to see it in person, and so Lifton-Zoline describes it in somewhat vague terms aside from touting the creative minds behind the project. He really just wants people to come see it for themselves..

This festival is about bringing people together and opening their minds to deep thinking and collaboration, but the organizers also wanted it to be fun. The events at the mine, including the art installations, a panel discussion and the grand finale on Saturday night, are all intended to provide a sense of wonder to complement heady, lofty discussions.

In this world of instant gratification, Lifton-Zoline wants to provide a surprise and a place where people can engage with those who create.

The big event on Saturday night, mysteriously called “The Happening at the Mine,” is the brainchild of Anton Viditz-Ward, who is called the “wizard of the mine.” Lifton-Zoline promised it will be “otherworldly,” and left it at that.

The artist’s past projects provide the best clue as to what “the happening” entails. 

Viditz-Ward, who has lived in Telluride for more than 20 years, is famous for building massive fire wheels, welded metal sculptures engineered to hold bonfires and swing them in a mesmerizing, fiery display. Some look like catapults swinging the embers, showering sparks in their wake, and others resemble a flaming carnival Ferris wheel. In 2017, he constructed an enormous moving sculpture titled, “Incinerator of Obsolete Resentments,”  at the mine and then hauled it deep into the Nevada desert, where it spewed arcs of sparks during the Burning Man festival.

“The Incinerator of Obsolete Resentments,” created for Burning Man in 2017, gives a hint of what the big show by Deep Creek Experimental at the Original Ideas festival may look like.

Prior to the big Saturday night show, the mine features art installations, talks and events involving several artists.

Though the space isn’t what one might think of as a traditional place to showcase art, it’s a place where art is actively created by the local artists collective Deep Creek Experimental, which Viditz-Ward leads. 

It’s a kind of mountain workshop for artists who want to build things, a space rezoned by San Miguel County two years ago to heavy industrial use instead of mining, as owners Collins Morehead LLC wanted to allow the artists to use it.

Deep Creek Experimental is hosting the events at the mine during the four-day festival. These include smaller, more intimate tours for attendees to experience the art installations and presentations. Lifton-Zoline said these tours will have groups no larger than 20 people interacting with the artists and their installations. Attendees can expect to wind through different areas of the mine, encountering the artists’ work or the artists themselves, as they might even be performing live. (Visitors should wear sturdy shoes and dress warmly in layers.)

He described this part of the festival at the mine as kind of a “guided museum experience,” meant for festival-goers to see during breaks from other events in the schedule, since it’s not in the same location as the other events and they can get outdoors.

Tours at the mine will include:

In his past projects, Lifton-Zoline has produced films and he ran former President Obama’s Colorado campaign. He has a habit of focusing on the intersection between stories and ideas, telling the tales of people that involve some sort of call to action.

One of his goals for the festival events at the mine is to draw attention to connecting creatively with others and ourselves.

“I think the mine installation is a call to unplug and reflect and renew a little bit,” he said. “It’s a call to put down our phones and get back in touch with ourselves a little bit in this chaotic world.”

Ultimately, he hopes people will come to the festival and try to soak it all in.

“This isn’t meant to be kind of this Instagram sensation,” he said. “Hopefully you put your phone away and just kind of experience it.”

Lifton-Zoline and the festival’s cofounders, David Holbrooke and Nancy Schafer, are trying to create an experience people take with them after they leave the festival, something they think about for weeks and inspires them for years to come.

“We want it to be something you revisit and return to,” Lifton-Zoline said. “It’s not just about a kind of ‘wow’ factor up front, but something that hooks people and stays with them.”

Telluride Original Thinkers festival events at the mine are summarized under “Unearthing Culture,” or show number seven, on the festival website


The festival, of which The Colorado Sun is a media sponsor, opens Thursday at the Telluride Conference Center in Mountain Village. Visit originalthinkers.com for more information or tickets.


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