This Old Crater

A volcanic cinder cone near Flagstaff will soon become one of the world's most significant pieces of environmental art

"His point," Ruppel recalls, "was, 'I've been funding this dream for 20 years and I've nearly bankrupted myself in the process. So you can't, at this late date, separate just the portion you want to fund. That's only part of the vision.'"

Dia's Michael Govan says the ranch was a major sticking point.
"But all of the parties involved basically wanted the same thing. They wanted the land protected, preserved as much as possible within financial means around the artwork. Nobody had any disagreement about that. There were questions of how you do that."

Yet Govan also points out that none of the foundations, or Turrell for that matter, would be involved in this just for the ranching.

"I think that's accurate," says Kathleen Merrill, director of Lannan's art program. "One of the issues for us was Jim was personally financially involved in the ranch and because we're a foundation and we're funding a foundation-sponsored project, we had to make sure our funds were going to that."

She adds, "Had it been something we wanted to get into, there would have been a way to explore doing a nonprofit ranch. It's not that the idea was unappealing. It was that the situation was complicated."

Yet Lannan eventually did come through for the ranch. The compromise among the parties--largely funded by Lannan--called for Turrell to sell Skystone five square miles of ranch land and donate another five miles around the crater to the foundation. The approximately $690,000 Turrell received for the sale enabled him to pay off all of the ranch's land debts--more than $500,000.

Skystone became the builder and owner of the crater, allowing Turrell Trading to continue to ranch on most of the property it sold to the foundation.

Lannan agreed to bankroll most of the cost of the first round of construction.

And Dia agreed to raise an endowment to help Skystone operate and maintain Roden Crater.

The arrangement provided Turrell a fee--about $400,000-- that allowed him to curtail his extensive travels and worldwide commitments and concentrate on completing the architectural plans for the crater, something he had never been in a position to do.

No one from any of the organizations is willing to officially discuss the project's initial construction budget. But sources familiar with the partnership tell New Times that Lannan is committed to spending roughly $7 million on hard materials and another $2 million to $3 million on preliminary planning and construction administration. Between 1994 and 1997, Lannan poured slightly more than $1.6 million into the project and Skystone.

Dia's endowment is expected to be $1 million to $3 million.
"We're in the process of figuring out how the operations will work and what the revenues will be," says Govan.

A portion of those revenues, says Skystone's director, Nancy Taylor, will come from the $100 to $125 the foundation plans to charge overnight guests at the crater's 14-bed lodge. The cost of day visits will be $20 to $25.

There's little doubt in the art world that when the first phase of Roden Crater finally opens next year, it will become a must-see land work of the Southwest--part of the Arcosanti, Wupatki, Chaco and Grand Canyon tour for the visually literate.

When visitors rise up through its innards and look out at the sky, they aren't likely to know or care much about the hurdles Turrell cleared to get his mountain off the ground. Yet it won't be the first time.

Once when a major museum exhibition of Turrell's work was on the verge of being shut down over a dispute about whether Turrell or the electrical unions should handle lights he had made for his installations, a curator took him aside and whispered, "James, you know, nobody cares about how difficult it is for you to do your work. They just want to see it."

Contact Edward Lebow at his online address: elebow@newtimes.com

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