Mission Ballroom has secured its place in the Denver music scene since its establishment in 2019 not just because of the artists who perform there, but in part because of its unique “Mission Ball” – an LED art installation that spins above the heads of concert-goers and lights up the dark.
But on some evenings, the ball instead sits unused within the venue at 4242 Wynkoop St., in the River North Art District, leaving attendees puzzled, even disappointed.
Don Strasburg, co-president of AEG Presents Rocky Mountains, which owns the concert venue, said the truth behind the mystery is actually fairly straight-forward.
Each performer is briefed on the technical capabilities of the room, including the Mission Ball, in advance, and their teams “determine what level of use they want with it,” he said.
For instance, the ball shone brightly over the crowd at DJ Fred Again’s show last October. Other musicians, including DJ John Summit, electronic music group M83 and house duo SIDEPIECE, also chose to deploy the ball at their sets over the past year.
“We give all the artists’ teams access to everything, and what they want to do is their choice,” Strasburg said. And although fans love the ball, he doesn’t want it to be overused. “Often, less is more,” he said. “A well-deployed accessory to a facility is used strategically.”
Strasburg also clarified that the Mission Ball is “not a disco ball” – a mirrored sphere that spins and reflects light. “The Mission Ball rotates in circles and hemispherically rotates as well,” he said.
He credits the idea for the ball to marketing director Kellie Owens, who oversaw the venue’s decor. “We wanted to find an iconic concept that we thought was fitting for the room,” Strasburg said. The Mission Ball’s price-tag: about $150,000.
Mike Lustig, who has created art for Meow Wolf Denver and Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City, served as the project’s lead artist. Owens first found him at Denver’s Far Out Factory, a warehouse art and music experience, where he was showing his mirrored creations.
Soon after, she consulted with him on designing the ball – which is more of an art installation that he calls “this object of shared revelry” – and the creative process began.
One of his biggest initial questions was about what size to make it. To figure that out, Lustig used weather balloons to compare and contrast its potential breadth. Then he bought “a bunch of cheap mirrored steel,” and used rubber mallets to hammer the panels by hand for two weeks. The goal was to “put ripples into a mirror-finished piece of steel without marring the surface,” he said.
A team of nine people put the ball together in two months. It includes 24 sun lamps, with a lumen capacity of about 250,000, “which, I think, is the equivalent to, like, over 55 pickup trucks worth of headlights,” Lustig told The Denver Post. “We didn’t know how much light would be necessary to fill the space, so we over-engineered it.”
The finished product – officially titled “Crescendo,” although everyone, including Lustig just calls it the Mission Ball – weighs around 800 pounds.
When venue guests experience the Mission Ball, it’s dimmed well below its full capacity, Lustig said. But when the art installation isn’t turned on for some shows, there’s a reason behind it.
Each performer brings their own technicians, who “program industry-standard lighting, and they have their show figured out well in advance,” he said. “If they really want to integrate The Mission Ballroom disco ball, they have to do extra work,” which can be cumbersome.
But when Lustig does see his creation light up the venue during a set, “it’s a dream come true.”
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