Artists Frankie Toan and Therin Zimmerman were looking for a new way to safely bring people together to experience art. They’d met six years ago through Secret Love Collective art instillation and found their work was compatible- both stylistically, and in the sense that they’re both drawn to event-based art designed to facilitate community.
“We were trying to figure out: art plus what equals community,” Toan said. Then, someone suggested they start a roller skating rink.
“Roller skating really fit because of the activity, the physical nature of it,” Toan said, explaining that rinks are natural community spaces. “You have this thing that you’re focused on. So you’re socializing, but you’re also trying to not fall down, or to move yourself around. And it kind of tears a lot of your social walls down, because everybody-especially if you’re not a skater-looks somewhat foolish on skates. And that’s sort of the fun of it.”
Toan and Zimmerman will tell you they’re not really skaters themselves.
“I never really roller skated till we decided to open a rink,” Zimmerman said. “And I was like, Oh, I guess I better learn!”
The two began work on Rainbow Dome, a melding of art and roller skating designed to provide a fun, safe, queer-oriented activity welcoming to everyone. Zimmerman said they named the project Rainbow Dome because they’re “keeping it queer.”
“The rainbow, to throw a nod to the LGBTQ+ community, but also our artwork and the amount of color that we both like to use,” Toan added.
When most people think of roller skating rinks, they might think of greasy pizza, party rooms with 80’s carpeting and windowless spaces illuminated with disco lights, all of which looks as though it hasn’t changed in decades.
“A lot of roller skating rinks, the visual component of it hasn’t really been a major thought. It gives us that kind of stage to go nuts on,” Toan said. “We can pair the social element, the visual element, the physical element, and then also have nightlife that-at least some of the time- is sober, and queer oriented as well. And those are things that we really thought were kind of lacking in Denver.”
This Saturday, Rainbow Dome is launching an outdoor pop-up art and roller skating event.
“Welcome to the Rainbow Dome” invites guests to the Plaza at Centennial Center Park, which is oriented in a huge, concrete circle on the ground- perfect for skating. You can rent skates for $4 (they’re free for kids) or bring your own. There’ll also be a photo booth, merchandise sales, food from the Chile con Quesadilla Food truck, and DJ sets by Lauren Zwicky, Genevieve Waller, Sensitive Jock and Indie 102.3’s Demi Harvey, all emceed by Lee Robinson. Typically, roller rink playlists tend to seem as frozen in time as roller rinks’ aesthetics. Zimmerman says the music at Rainbow Dome will be a bit different from what you might hear in traditional rinks.
“We’re putting a lot of trust in the DJs, and we’re just telling them to keep it family friendly and more dance oriented,” the pair said.
In the center of the skate circle, the Rainbow Dome team will set up a temporary art installation-a colorful explosion of plush sculptures designed by Toan, and spooky, whimsical wooden cutouts by Zimmerman. Skaters will share the rink with ghosts, jack o’ lanterns, skulls, toadstools, rainbows, Venus fly traps, and lavender tombstones painted with lighthearted epitaphs. Running through the center of the installation will be a six foot-wide one-way tunnel that people can skate through, made up of huge fabric panels painted with portraits of queer ancestors. Toan and Zimmerman call it a “hallway of remembrance,” a tribute to trans and queer elders who have passed, including Divine, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Audre Lorde, Keith Haring, George Michael and one of Toan’s own mentors who recently passed away.
Toan and Zimmerman talked about continuing to create these portraits as a sort of living, breathing altar.
“This is something we’ve talked about as possibly an ongoing series, that maybe other people can submit names that are not just famous people, but folks who have impacted them,” Toan said.
If you’re not a pro skater, don’t fret. Rainbow Dome is inviting people to show up early to experience the art without skates, if they prefer. The team also hand-built 10 PVC skate aids to help keep you on your feet, and has enlisted the help of experienced skaters they’ve met to show visitors some moves.
“One big thing that we’re learning about is the skate community in Denver, which is robust and very diverse,” Toan said. “I’ve just so enjoyed understanding the different styles. There’s jam skating, and partner skating, and rink skating. There’s park skating, trail skating- so many different facets.”
Zimmerman said the local skate community is excited about having another option.
“Most rinks have one adult night, once a week,” they said. “A lot of people rink hop, and go to the different adult nights. So I think it’d be good to have more adult times.”
Rainbow Dome is now in their pop-up phase, but working towards creating a permanent rink space.
Once they secure a space, they plan to build out a brand new art installation in the center, which will include a permanent place for the portraits commemorating queer elders. They’d also love to build a sort of “lazy river,” an offshoot of the regular rink space that leads skaters down a visual immersion path.
Like a more traditional roller rink, Rainbow Dome will eventually have party rooms and a café area, albeit updated versions of both.
“We’re not totally trying to remake the roller skating rink by any means,” Toan said. “We’re just trying to add what we love.”
Some of the things they’re considering adding are a performance space, a gallery for other artists to stage exhibitions, a community library and a gift shop to sell art and merch.
“I want it to be a place where people can just come hang out for the day or the evening, and feel comfortable being there for long periods of time,” Zimmerman said, adding, “That’s why we want so many options and things for people to do, and hang out and relax and meet new people.”
They also plan to host events, classes and special programming. For example, Toan says that lots of other rinks have queer skate nights
“Those are traditions that we hope to continue on. But also, maybe there’s targeted programming for queer families, or that kind of thing,” they said. “We want to create a space where people want to gather but also have some of that targeted programming to promote some of that gathering.”
The team is now hunting for a permanent space, primarily looking at warehouses and big box stores. But it’s proving difficult to find exactly what they need-a big, open area with floors that aren’t so precious that they can’t be scuffed up by skates and a landlord willing to rent to artists. They said it took them four or five months just to find their office and fabrication space.
“That is a constant conversation among everyone we know and artists in the city. Space is expensive. It’s hard to come by, Toan said. “There’s so much competition for space that, why pick artists if you can have a plumber?”
In the meantime, this weekend’s pop-up, and possible future projects, will give Denverites a taste of the Rainbow Dome.
“I hope it gets them excited about the Rainbow Dome of the future,” Zimmerman said. ” I hope it gets a lot of people trying to skate that haven’t skated before. And maybe just realizing that a rink can be so much more than it has been in the past.”
Welcome to the Rainbow Dome will take place Saturday, October 9 from 10am-4pm at The Plaza in Centennial Center Park, 13050 E Peakview Ave, Centennial. You can bring your own skates or rent a pair (free for kids, $4 for adults). While it’s free to attend, you’ll have to reserve a 30-minute skate window in advance.