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Visualizing a great art museum

Visualizing a great art museum Looks like the smooth talkin' Alabaman whom the Fine Arts Center Board has hired to run the joint will be out in the community trying to raise the big bucks for the FAC's long-awaited expansion. And if he's as persuasive as they say, he might just pull it off.

I certainly hope that he fails. Not because I wish the FAC ill; to the contrary, I'd like to see it become the institution that this city needs and deserves. But stuck in its present location, hemmed in on all sides, with no ability to expand in any significant way, it'll always be small potatoes. Sadly, if the FAC does manage to fund its expansion, it'll delay the construction of an actual art museum by another generation or two.

And that's too bad. We need a real art museum, with enough space to display more of the FAC's permanent collection, as well as the ability to accommodate substantial traveling shows. Such a facility ought to be near Confluence Park downtown, with easy access. Imagine a spectacular new building, something as sexy and exciting as Daniel Liebeskind's new Denver Art Museum. Imagine what kind of impact such a facility would have on our city, aesthetically, economically and artistically.

Can we get there from here? Sure, but it'd require a level of risk-taking and creativity that we haven't seen since the conception and creation of the Pikes Peak Center. Here's how: first, make a deal with Colorado College to buy the FAC building for use as a performing/visual arts center. It'd be twice as good as their proposed new building, and would cost less.

Then, put the arm on the El Pomar Foundation to cough up the kind of bucks that they coughed up for the World Arena. Hit up the city and county for infrastructure money. Finally, raise the rest from private donors. If you sold the building for $12 million, scammed $20 million from El Pomar and $10 million from the city/county, and raised $10 million privately, you'd be there.

And who would benefit from such a deal? First, Colorado College would benefit by getting ready-made performing/visual arts facility without equal, one that is directly adjacent to the campus. They'd also have another 60,000 square feet of land for future, as yet unanticipated uses. Downtown and Confluence Park would benefit mightily, since a new art museum would powerfully anchor that reviving sector of the city.

The local economy would benefit, not only from the shot in the arm that comes from a big construction project, but from the energy and vitality that any major arts facility brings to a city. Just imagine a swooping, spectacular contemporary building, fully visible from Interstate 25 -- it'd become the symbol and signature of this community.

But most of all, we -- the entire community -- would benefit. Visit Pueblo's Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, a magnificent congeries of buildings just off I-25 in the heart of downtown Pueblo. It's airy, welcoming, egalitarian and intimately linked to its community. The Fine Arts Center, by contrast, is closed, formal, clubby and not particularly welcoming. That's through no fault of its own -- it's a function of location and design.

When it was first built in 1936, the FAC was a marvel that helped create and sustain one of the liveliest artistic communities in the United States for 20-odd years. It was an amazing facility for a city of 30,000. It's wholly inadequate for a metropolitan area of 500,000-plus.

There are lots of reasons to think that this is an impossible vision -- it's too expensive, Colorado College won't do it, El Pomar won't do it, nobody cares about art in Colorado Springs, blah, blah, blah. Nevertheless, I'm a crazed optimist, and here's why.

Ten or 11 years ago, when I was a rookie City Council member, I tried to get my colleagues to agree to set aside the earth-shaking sum of $250,000 annually for open-space purchases. As I recall, my only colleagues who supported the idea were Randy Purvis and Cheryl Gillaspie. The other six derisively rejected my motion as a typical crackpot deal.

Their rejection didn't faze yet-to-be Councilman Richard Skorman, or Lee Milner, or John Weiss, or scores of folks who worked from that day to this to make the Open Space tax a reality. And just the other day, Council voted decisively to acquire Red Rocks Canyon for $13.5 million, which is a pretty long way from $250,000.

And guess what? Three council members opposed the deal -- Lionel Rivera, Darryl Glenn and Tom Gallagher. They turned out to be on the losing side.

Times change ...

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

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