Colorado Springs native Tara Thomas’ journey to director of Bemis School of Art illustrates her hardworking nature, and the creative path of a true art lover.

Thomas has developed the Military Artistic Healing program for veterans and active duty military, and actively works with local organizations focused on at-risk youth.

“I’ve seen some lives saved and some lives transformed through the arts,” said Thomas, who took control of her life at a young age.

“I was a high school drop out with the assistance of my parents,” she said. “They knew high school wasn’t working out for me, and they supported me through getting a GED and into college. I have deep roots here and my parents have always been extremely supportive.”

As an undergraduate at UCCS, Thomas was drawn to teach. She started down that path by way of a grant while completing her undergraduate studies. Once she graduated, she started her own business creating unique jewelry and art pieces. She continues to run her business, TaraDesigns, alongside her tenure at the Fine Arts Center, where she has worked since 1995.

“As director, I’ve learned to develop a much deeper trust in my team members, and the people I’ve worked with over the years. I try to give everyone around me some input into decision making, and make sure that they know I value their suggestions,” she said. “I try to take a holistic approach, soak in all aspects of the situation, directions we could take, and viewpoints involved. Being a business owner taught me to take things in stride and be consistent in my actions.”

Erin Hannan, executive director of advancement and external affairs at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, nominated Thomas.

“She is one of the most influential women I know, who selflessly and quietly leads the Bemis School of Art with a level of passion and commitment that has a ripple effect on those all around her,” Hannan said in her nomination letter. “She takes her leadership role seriously, and somehow also has time to see to the smallest need of the most vulnerable in her sphere.”

Thomas’ devotion to the arts is clear in her volunteer work. It seems there’s not a single arts-related committee or initiative she hasn’t touched. She’s served on the board of the Center for Non-Profit Excellence, Public Art Commission of the Pikes Peak Region and the Art Business Education Consortium. She currently volunteers for the Colorado Springs Creative Collection Steering Committee, and is senior advisor at the Youth Documentary Academy.

“I find inspiration in the ‘a-ha’ moments, when a student realizes that they can do it,” she said. “That’s just so energizing for me, and I live being able to be supportive. I was attracted to the Fine Arts Center because of the immersive experience it offers, and even more so by the opportunity to teach. There’s nothing like it.”

Thomas notes that she’s rejuvenated by those around her who are passionate about what they do in life.

“I really respect hardworking people. My parents work extremely hard — my mother as a published writer and my father continues to work hard even in retirement. Maybe because of their hardworking and supportive nature, I’m an all-hands-on-deck kind of leader. I’m willing to move tables and do the dirty work to get the job done.”

For many, art serves to help reclaim their lives after a loss and cope with tragedy. Thomas, ready to roll up her sleeves to connect people with the arts, has recently worked on projects such as From Ashes to Memories, which helped Black Forest residents create works of art from the ashes or remains of their homes and belongings, and workshops created for children grieving the loss of a loved one.

— Hannah Caproon