John Hazlehurst

John Hazlehurst

A few days ago two back-to-back emails popped up on my screen — the first from the Denver Art Museum and the second from the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

The FAC’s missive announced a summer show featuring “forty-eight works from renowned photographer Ansel Adams’ Museum Set, a series which he felt best represented his life’s work.” The traveling show was “organized by Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, CA, in association with Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA.” It’ll be up from May 26 to Sept. 4. 

Created more than a decade ago, the show is well traveled, having been exhibited in scores of small museum venues throughout the country (including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Fort Collins in 2011 and the Foothills Arts Center in Golden in 2016). For the FAC, it seems like a worthwhile but somewhat lazy endeavor, prepackaged, pleasant and predictable. Think of it as summer break, a small-scale crowd pleaser before the unruly hordes of post-COVID students arrive in the fall.

The Denver Art Museum’s email told a very different story, one of growth, transformation, risk-taking and deep-rooted community support. Following a $150 million three-year renovation and expansion of its multi-building campus, it’ll reopen to the public with a free general admission day on Oct. 24.

Several new DAM-created exhibitions will open then as well, led by ReVisión: Art in the Americas, which brings together works from the museum’s Latin American and Art of the Ancient Americas collections. Another show, titled Curious Visions: Toward Abstract Photography, explores photographic experimentations with abstraction from the past 100 years.

What did the museum do with its $150 million? All seven floors of Gio Ponti’s 1971 modernist fortress have been completely renovated, a striking new welcome center created and every gallery reimagined. 

“The work includes the addition of 33,328 square feet of new gallery and public space [in the Martin building],” the DAM press release noted, “and exterior improvements. The renovation also includes updating environmental and other key systems with the latest technology. Infrastructure and safety upgrades include a new elevator core, which adds two additional elevators and a transparent public staircase for improved visitor flow, along with updated mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, new windows, new flooring and new insulation.

The new Sie Welcome Center, crowned by an elliptical glass event and program space, includes improved spaces for ticketing and guest services, as well as two new dining options. The lower level houses an art conservation and technical studies laboratory.” Another addition, the 17,600-square-foot Jana & Fred Bartlit Learning and Engagement Center features new spaces and creative programs designed for preschoolers to older adults.

Of the $150 million raised for the project, $35.5 million came from the proceeds of a 2017 voter-approved city bond issue.  Board Chair Lanny Martin and his wife Sharon gave $25 million, Anna and John Sie gave $12 million and a dozen named foundations and individuals ponied up $4 million to $10 million. The thousands of contributors to the museum’s “Vision 2021 capital campaign” weren’t noted in the press release, even the 15 that forked over $1 million to $4 million. 

But you can bet the big contributors will have great seats at the museum’s Oct. 15 “Unveiled” opening gala. “This ticketed fundraising event will gather artists, patrons and trustees on a night unlike any other,” the museum modestly claims. “Cocktail hour and dinner in the spectacular new Sturm Grand Pavilion will be included with the inspiring and unexpected program.” Tables start at $15,000 and pairs of seats can be had for a mere $2,500. Oh well… guess we’ll stay at home.

Yet although the centimillionaires and billionaires are funding the show, museum membership is eminently affordable. A dual membership with a year’s free admission for two is $75. Cough up $150 and you’ll get a bunch of guest passes as well as reciprocal free admission to 70 museums nationwide (including the CSFAC).  

And even though the FAC now seeks for truth in the “Groves of Academe,” our own city is full of delights. We’ll never have a world-class art museum, but we’re lucky that Denver does. So let’s enjoy our resplendent Pioneers Museum, visit Ansel at the FAC, stop in at the Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame… and check out the DAM come November! 

John Hazlehurst, whose great-grandfather came to Colorado in 1859, is a Colorado Springs native. He has worked as a reporter/columnist for the Indy since 1997 and the Business Journal since 2006.