Analysis: Cultural shift part of FAC merger

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As the four-year process of merging the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center with Colorado College moves slowly along, it seems a cultural shift is already well underway. That shift has impacted the Fine Arts Center, but a recently created draft statement of a “museum subcommittee” created as part of the strategic planning process predicts cultural ferment, new creativity and institutional change at both CC and the FAC.

If one were to ask Erin Hannan, executive director of advancement and external affairs at the FAC, the acquisition couldn’t have happened soon enough.

“If the successful and very natural collaborations we’ve already seen out of the gate are any indication of what we can expect for the future of the FAC at CC, I think we’ll look back and ask ourselves why we didn’t do this sooner,” she said.

A long process

The 11-member subcommittee includes FAC benefactor Annette Seagraves, Art Bank owner Blake Wilson, FAC Curator Joy Armstrong, Downtown Partnership CEO Susan Edmondson, attorney Bruce Warren, IDEA Space Curator Jessica Hunter-Larsen and five CC professors.

The draft defines the museum’s central mission, as well as the fears and aspirations of the diverse communities of interest that either welcome or fear the merger’s consequences.

“The aim of the CSFAC at CC will be to explore, challenge and transcend traditional definitions of what a museum can be,” the draft asserts. “The museum will embrace its function as a cultural destination — but it can also be more. Possibilities include a center for interactive and experiential learning, a laboratory for new ideas, a place of solace, a creative nexus for artists, a hub for the exchange of opinions, a platform for inter-community communication, a destination for fun and enjoyment and more. Ultimately, the new CSFAC at CC museum will celebrate the power of arts to inspire people, spark learning and forge equitable communities …”

The museum’s central mission, according to the draft, is “to present excellent exhibitions that expand awareness of diverse cultures, ideas and modes of artistic expression from across the globe, while also respectfully showcasing the cultures of the Southwest and the Americas that are part of the shared history of our community.”

The draft also emphasizes that “renewing our commitment to nurturing relationships with Native communities would not only deepen interpretation for museum audiences but also provide a national model for collaborative care and interpretation of Native objects.”

While the dense verbiage of the preliminary drafts seems to reflect uncertainty, that may be a byproduct of the whole strategic planning process.

“Consistent through the groups and online responses was a desire for the museum to be more relevant and accessible to today’s citizens in Colorado Springs as well as to the campus,” the draft states. “Fears were expressed on two fronts: First, that the CSFAC at CC would become even less accessible due to the CC ‘bubble’ and new academic museum status; and second, that the museum would not embrace the student and faculty perspective.”

Going forward, how will the museum deal with these different constituencies?

“Going into the new CC/FAC alliance, the strategic planning process offered us an incredible opportunity to conceive the institution of our dreams,” said FAC Curator Joy Armstrong. “We listened intently to the community, both of the college and Colorado Springs, to hear what people already love about the FAC and what they would like to see transpire with our new partnership.”

According to people close to the process, conflicts over the path forward are already being replaced by cross-institutional collaborations.

After all, founders Julie Penrose, Elizabeth Sage Hare and Alice Bemis Taylor created an arts center, not just an art museum. They understood the power of the artistic community. Interactions between visual and performing artists, audiences, students, collectors, visitors and city residents were the FAC’s raison d’être.

Blake Wilson, who owns the Art Bank and Oriental Rug Center, said he was pleased with the draft.

“I was very pleased with the agreement of the committee members [on the report’s content],” he said. “We’re not down to details yet, but I think that the merger is a total win-win.”

The next few years  are also likely to feature major exhibits focused on the history of the visual arts in the Pikes Peak region, said FAC trustee and arts advocate Jim Raughton, who explained that the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Broadmoor Art Academy is in two years. “There will be exhibitions, books, performances — it’ll be amazing!”

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