Being a geezer isn’t much fun (oh to be 50 again!), but it has its advantages. You get Social Security, Medicare and early vaccinations. Not bad — especially the vaccinations!
My wife and I are both vaccinated, and ready to get out of town before airline fares and hotel reservations soar back to pre-pandemic levels. Denver, Vegas, New York City — the great world beckons. Vegas because it’s Vegas, Denver and NYC because of museums, restaurants and big-city ambiance. We’ve already booked a weekend getaway to Vegas, and yearn to head east in April.
For me, museums are the draw. I haven’t been to the Denver Art Museum since 2018, and last visited New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 2000s.
The Met is unquestionably the finest art museum in the world, while the Denver Art Museum is in the top 10 or 15 nationally. And what about our very own Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College? The last two words tell you — the CSFAC is now part of a private liberal arts college. It’s lively, interesting and a fine addition to the campus, but no longer solely a community arts center/art museum.
That’s sad, particularly since the FAC was Colorado’s leading art museum and performing arts center for nearly 20 years. When John Gaw Meem’s extraordinary building opened in 1936, the DAM was housed in a broken-down old mansion in downtown Denver. It stayed there until 1948, when it acquired and renovated a nearby building, the hesitant beginning of 70 years of growth and expansion. Once derided as a dusty old cow town out on the plains, Denver has become a world-class city with a world-class museum.
Meanwhile, the FAC stagnated. Colorado Springs lacked the kind of wealthy arts patrons and locally based businesses that support the DAM. A $30 million expansion and renovation in 2007 seemed to signal the rebirth of the sleepy little facility, but the Great Recession put an end to those elusive dreams and schemes. The FAC’s only choice was to fall into the friendly arms of its benevolent next-door neighbor.
Today’s DAM is housed in a spectacular multi-building complex featuring iconic structures designed by Gio Ponti (1971) and Daniel Libeskind (2006). The former has just had a $150 million renovation, entirely funded by private contributions.
For fiscal year 2019, operating revenues were $30.8 million.
“The museum’s revenues were generated from several sources,” according to the most recent annual report, “including admissions, memberships, generous philanthropic donor gifts, endowment distributions, and support from the City and County of Denver. The museum owes special thanks to citizens of the seven-county metro region who approved the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) as it provided $7.9 million of support.”
Why couldn’t the FAC grow and prosper as the city grew from 35,000 in 1936 to 478,000 in 2019? Are we too small to support an art museum? Nope — look at Albuquerque, Omaha and Tulsa, all with flourishing museums that enjoy strong public and private financial support. The FAC lacked a sustainable revenue stream from its minuscule endowment and had no public funding. It was handicapped by public perception that it was a stronghold of lefty elitists. By contrast, the city-owned Pioneers Museum was seen as the apolitical repository of the city’s vibrant entrepreneurial history. And as well as being a history museum, it also has a deep and varied collection of regional art.
In fact, we’re museum-rich in the Pikes Peak region. The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum is the latest entrant, joining the Western Museum of Mining & Industry, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, the National Museum of World War II Aviation, the May Natural History Museum and a dozen other sites and institutions.
But alas, we’ll never have anything comparable to the DAM, much less the Met. What we do have is a continuing delight, but I can’t wait to wander the Met and stand before Giovanni Bellini’s masterful Annunciation triptych, the Mérode Altarpiece, dating from the late 1480s. It’s inconceivably beautiful and moving, as is Jusepe de Ribera’s 1650 “The Holy Family with Saints Anne and Catherine of Alexandria.” The Met acquired these transcendent devotional works in 1908 and 1934.
Alas for Coloradans, the Renaissance masterpiece train left the station long ago. NYC, here we come!