by Bill Knowles
LAS ANIMAS — Apogaea, which means “far from Earth,” is a festival celebrating outdoor arts and music in Colorado. This year it was held in Las Animas County near Valdez, from June 9-12, and it brought in around 1,800 participants.
The festival establishes a temporary autonomous zone where radical self-expression, inclusiveness, and self-reliance are practiced. This includes art installations, performance art, DJ-music, live music, camps, and theme camps. Apogaea has a creative grants program that provides financial assistance for artists wanting to create visual art, performances or events, workshops, or art vehicles such as those seen locally at Artocade.
This year’s event was hampered by the stage one fireban enacted by the Las Animas County Commission this past May.
After a close inspection of the area the festival had selected to use, by both Las Animas County fire officials and the festival’s organizers, it was decided that no ember producing fires would be allowed at the festival, given the terrain and limited access to the area.
Parking and traffic, also a concern before the event, proved to be less a concern then first thought. Dust mitigation was also of little concern; due to the rains earlier in the month, the ground was still somewhat moist.
Apogaea is an all-ages event, though minors must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, and those under 21 are given a different color wristband. Past attendees have organized kid-friendly camping areas with planned activities for children.
First established as a way for the Burners in Colorado who had cut their teeth on the Burning Man held each year in Nevada at Black Rock City, Apogaea had to first pass approval by the Borg. The Borg is a group that is part of the Burning Man and acts as an approval committee to make sure that, in the beginning, Apogaea reflected the main ideas and ideals of Burning Man before sanctioning the event.
According to an article in published in Westword in May of 2015, “Apogaea symbolizes a more expandable system or model for what Burning Man started, which is just basically a huge artists’ community of gifting.” People normally aren’t encouraged to give anything away, but that’s the attitude at these events.
This was the festival’s first year in Las Animas County. Previously, Apogaea took place near Lake George, Colorado. The forested space, known as the Happy Ass Ranch, was the location for Apogaea for six consecutive years from 2005 to 2010. A steady annual increase in attendance presented certain challenges for the festival in terms of size and space limitations. The approximately 1,100 participants in 2010, while successfully accommodated on the site, presented parking and camping challenges for the organizers of the event. Since 2011, Apogaea has taken place on a larger site a few miles south of Bailey, Colorado, until space and logistics problems caused the event to be cancelled for 2015. The organizers then decided to move the event to Las Animas County.
Apogaea is the evolution of that experiment — an effort to push the thing outward and into communities where Burners live during the 51 weeks they’re not on the Playa where Burning Man is staged.
For many, the question is how far the experiment of a sharing community can be pushed while remaining true to the original vision. After 20 years, the notions of radical self-expression within an inclusive and democratic community seem at odds with some of the realities of the default world.