Colorado College Completes Fine Arts Center Merger

As the school year begins and students return to campus, Colorado College is also embarking on a new endeavor as it takes the reins of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (FAC), now officially known as the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

The new welcome sign on the southeast lawn of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, now an integrated part of the CC community. Photos by Anna Grigsby

July marked the official transfer of power from former CEO, David Dahlin, and the FAC board to the college, which, now assumes full operational and fiduciary responsibility. This means the college takes on the building, collection, and teaching school at the FAC, as well as its $2 million in debt, all by the year 2020. Additionally, by 2020, the college plans to contribute $20 million of its own endowment to support the FAC.

The transition comes one year after the alliance was formally announced, months of public and student listening sessions, and after the FAC was named “The Best Museum and Gallery in Colorado” by the American Art Awards this past April.

Shawn Womack, chair of the Theater and Dance Department at CC and member of the Strategic Planning Committee, is excited about the partnership, saying, “I think it has so much potential. And, I think that the arts at Colorado College…are strong programs, but I think this will strengthen them,” adding, “The college now has tremendous facilities in the arts.”

The partnership was termed “game-changing” in a joint CC and FAC press release. In the same release, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers hailed the partnership, “an example of innovative, collaborative future-building.”

Yet, there was concern in the Colorado Springs Arts community. The union of the college and the FAC, long realized as a hub for regional and local artists, made some residents prickle. The college’s educational mission will be integrated with the museum’s programming and vice-versa, and some residents raised concern that the “re-envisioning and redefining of contributions to arts in the region” would be lopsided to favor the mission and mandate of the college.

When asked about the community’s initial reluctance to fully embrace the plan Womack said, “ [Now] it feels like a very lively new transition. I think the community is much more relaxed now” parsing,  “It was a big change for people who had attended the fine arts center for many, many years. They weren’t sure how the college would be receptive.”

On the part of the college she added, “[The transition] bursts our bubble a little bit.” But Womack noted that much of the concern present in earlier listening sessions the college hosted had all but evaporated by the May listening sessions.

A glimpse of the sculpture art featured outside the entrance to the Fine Arts Center. Photos by Anna Grigsby

This early portion of the transition, while notable for students, only marks a segment of the process that is part of a four-year planned transition between the two institutions. Along with the tide of the ‘new’, Dr. Rebecca Tucker, a full-time art faculty member at the college will join as Museum Director. The museum has also hired a Southwest curator, a added curatorial staff position.

Broadly, for the Colorado Springs community the college’s takeover of the FAC means a greater degree of accessibility via elongated hours, reduced entrance fees, additional free days as well as expanded programming (especially in the performing arts). For students, the benefits go even further. Free admission is extended to anyone with a Gold Card as well as extended hours (Tues-Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday hours will remain the same).

Additionally, classes are already being taught in the Fine Arts Center. There are also plans to allow students to utilize the Gold Card Plus function on their gold card to purchase food and beverages from the museum cafe. The only downside remaining is, not many students know about what exactly this integration means for them.

Womack admits that’s something the committee may need to work on in the coming months, simply spreading the word. The partnership definitively bolsters the strength of CC’s arts program; something Womack would tend to agree with, sharing, “ I left a tenured position at Grinnell College because of the potential for the arts here, I think we’re really fortunate.”

The first fruit borne of this new partnership can be seen and participated in this weekend at JAM FAC, revival of a popular 2015 street-art festival program replete with a Denver graffiti artists demonstrating tagging and a staged reading of CC’s own English and Theatre professor Idris Goodwin’s Hype Man.  The program is completely free this Saturday from 12-6pm at the new Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

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