Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center director Michael DeMarsche doesn't simply enter a room, he strides in. Tanned, tall and lanky, DeMarsche is a man on the go, and his pace has set a new operating standard at the museum, a historical Colorado Springs landmark that will double in size over the next year.
Spearheading efforts to attract new members and bigger crowds to the FAC, in 2005 DeMarsche filled the galleries with glass artist Dale Chihuly's work. The results were bigger than anyone could have imagined: Membership tripled, and some 80,000 viewers were drawn to the exhibit.
Capitalizing on the Chihuly success, the FAC Modern, a downtown satellite space to be used while construction is going on at the main building, now presents Dale Chihuly: New Works from the Fine Arts Center Collection.
In part, the first Chihuly show explored the artist's early interest in Southwestern pieces, particularly in blanket and basket designs, and culminated in DeMarsche and board members taking him to the vault to view the FAC's extensive Native American art collection. A proposal was made to buy some of Chihuly's work for the permanent collection, to be displayed alongside the Southwest collection in the FAC's expanded gallery space. (When the East Dale Street building is complete, the first floor will be dedicated to the permanent collection and the second floor to traveling exhibits.)
Chihuly selected dozens of pieces, with a little give and take from DeMarsche. In the end, says DeMarsche, the FAC got $1.5 million worth of Chihuly glass and drawings for $1 million.
Among the pieces is an art-glass chandelier from Chihuly's famed 1996 Venice show that will become a permanent part of the Modern's dcor.
The public will see the final result of the DeMarsche-Chihuly collaboration when the FAC expansion is completed next August. The Modern show opening this week will foreshadow the direction the museum is taking, with some of the FAC's Navajo blankets, baskets and other objects displayed next to Chihuly's glass and drawings.
"We thought it would be an innovative way to display Southwestern art," says DeMarsche. "I believe it will amplify certain aspects of Native American design color, pattern and will show a contemporary artist drawing on an indigenous form in this unusual medium of glass."
The Modern, DeMarsche stresses, is not a temporary gallery; it will be a permanent satellite location designed to serve local and state contemporary artists.
"When the main building reopens, the Modern can do what we want it to do: show edgy, contemporary work and innovative art forms that are really connected to the moment."
Dale Chihuly: New Works from the Fine Arts Center Collection
FAC Modern, Plaza of the Rockies, 121 S. Tejon St., Suite 100
Opening celebration Thursday, Sept. 7, 4-7 p.m.; show runs through Jan. 7
Opening admission $7.50 for nonmembers; regular museum admission $3.75-$7.50 for nonmembers. Call 634-5583 or visit csfineartscenter.org.