Challenge Aspen Partners with Aspen Art Museum for Veterans Program

Challenge Aspen has been bringing military veterans to the ski slopes of Snowmass since 2006, helping vets who have cognitive and physical disabilities get on skis and enjoy the thrill of a supported risk.

Since 2018, the program has also brought vets to the Aspen Art Museum for a new challenge: tackling contemporary art.

Two groups of servicemen and women passed through the museum in February, as Challenge Aspen hosted couples retreats.

“It’s another element they can add to the mind-body experience,” said John Klonowski, who runs Challenge Aspen’s Military Opportunities (CAMO) program. “It’s another opportunity to have a shared positive experience.”

Much of the week-long Challenge Aspen Veterans Retreat focuses on the mountain, where vets learn adaptive skiing. Klonowski said the week typically includes four days of skiing, two days of breathing and a day of sleep therapy, as sleep difficulties are the number one issue reported by the veteran community.

The Aspen Museum of Art offers a different kind of challenge for the mind, bringing five couples into the museum for their après-ski breathing session, followed by a gallery tour and discussion, ending with a dinner in the sculpture garden on the roof of the So Café.

The Challenge Aspen partnership is among the museum’s newest partnerships, which has more than 50 partner organizations for its education and access programs. The initiative — which includes programs with La Tricolor Radio, the Youth Recovery Center, Pitkin County Jail and Ascendigo Autism Services — has earned the museum national recognition, including winning the National Service Medal museums and libraries in 2017.

On a recent evening, five couples gathered to view Seth Price’s “No Technique” exhibit, which features New York-based artist Seth Price’s “Knot Paintings.” Made between 2009 and 2012, the sculptural paintings were created by encasing objects – usually ropes – through a “vacuum forming” process. It was displayed in the museum’s first floor gallery space, with a white noise machine accompanying the show.

The retreat included five couples, who came to Aspen from Colorado Springs, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Florida and South Carolina. The couples talked about the fraying of the ropes, the possible dark connotations of a knotted rope, and the playfulness of these no-fuss paintings.

“Art is an opportunity to be moved, to interact and to pay attention,” said Emily Hightower, who led the evening’s breathing session. “Breathing beforehand gives the opportunity to be emboldened and relaxed and gives the opportunity to practice the skills of bringing aroused, by changing your reaction.”

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