In preparation for his first interview with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Sam Gappmayer made sure to pack his climbing gear.
"I went out to the Garden of the Gods," he says, "and found a couple of 20-somethings to hook up with, and I did a quick route."
Surely no one can question those community-building skills touted by the FAC Gappmayer can't even climb a rock without networking.
Gappmayer will relieve interim director Shawn Raintree at the FAC on Oct. 6, after six years as executive director of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum, Idaho.
"My background is primarily in the visual arts," says Gappmayer, 52, who got his master's degree in art history from the University of Oregon 24 years ago. "My personal interest is contemporary art."
Ketchum is a seasonal resort community, which, counting nearby Hailey and Sun Valley, comprises about 20,000 people. But Gappmayer notes that despite the size of the community it serves, the Sun Valley Center like the FAC offers performing and visual arts as well as arts education.
"The role that Sam has played in Sun Valley has been as an enabler," says Tariana Navas-Nieves, FAC curator of Hispanic and Native American art, who was part of the interview process. "He brings together great minds to create great programming ... he gave us a sense that he'll go out into the community, get to know it, and really be a great supporter."
Navas-Nieves says that Gappmayer brings a different approach and mindset than his predecessor, Michael De Marsche, but that "it makes sense for the time we're in."
Under Gappmayer's direction, the FAC likely will see fewer of the blockbuster events De Marsche arranged. (The Baroque World of Fernando Botero, set to hang next summer, will conclude De Marsche's programming.)
"It's always appropriate to do high-profile shows," says Gappmayer. "They bring prominence and educational opportunities to the institution ... but on the other hand, there are different strategies one can apply in addition to them to engage audiences deeply on as meaningful a level as possible."
Something that Gappmayer's employed at Sun Valley and aims to bring to the FAC is organizing committee meetings with the heads of each art department, board members and community members.
"We sit down and have these very open-ended discussions, almost like old French salons," he says. "We ask, "What are people talking about? What issues are they having? What subjects are you encountering in the books you're reading? What common themes are you seeing in art outside the area? What music are you listening to?'
"The bottom-line question is, "What kinds of issues are most pertinent to our community at this time and place?'"
Ultimately, says Gappmayer, "We start with an idea and then find work that matches or addresses it, rather than bringing in a big blockbuster and then trying to come up with how it serves the community."
Gappmayer's directed shows tackling issues such as land use, water rights, intolerance and surveillance.
"There are artists, writers, theater shows, poetry and literature about all these subjects," he says.
All this is not to say the FAC will never see more blockbuster shows Gappmayer says it will. But citing "a ton" of industry writings on the subject, he says "the general feeling is that you end up chasing your tail. The next show has to be bigger and better."
Director of communications Charlie Snyder says he expects the team-oriented approach to include upcoming projects such as repurposing the former gift shop space at the FAC Modern into "a more community-oriented space."
Prior to Sun Valley, Gappmayer directed the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (1999-2002), Fresno (Calif.) Art Museum (1996-99) and Salt Lake Art Center (1992-96). So it's certainly only fair to question how long one might expect him to stay at the FAC, which was jolted by De Marsche's abrupt departure last year.
"I certainly plan on being at the FAC for a long time," Gappmayer says, adding, "With each of my moves, it was related to opportunities that came up that I couldn't pass on."