The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center just selected Joy Armstrong as its next executive director and chief curator.
"We consider Joy a rock star among us," says David Dahlin, FAC president and CEO. "She's a homegrown talent and she's quite amazing. If I was running a museum in some other city and saw the work Joy's done, and the arc of her career, I'd be thrilled."
Armstrong will replace Blake Milteer, who plans to move to Scotland soon, having delivered exceptional programming dating back to the FAC's $28 million expansion in 2007. It's Milteer who Dahlin credits as developing Armstrong, saying "many chiefs wouldn't give a junior associate the latitude and faith he's given Joy. People aren't always that gracious."
Armstrong, who graduated Magna Cum Laude from University of Denver (studio art/mass communications) and earned a Master's Degree at Kent State (art history), first began volunteering with Milteer in fall 2009, earning a full-time job in March 2010. Since then, she says Milteer has "really supported my vision ... I feel that we've been tremendously successful as a team."
She points to fall 2013 as "a huge turning point in me stepping out on my own," with Pamela Joseph's The Sideshow of the Absurd. "It was unlike anything we'd done up to that point. Blake really let me run with my ideas, and he was super supportive of something that was a huge question mark as to how people would respond."
That was the idea, he says, in terms of appointing someone with a skill set different from his.
"I was hired in 2007 to move things forward," he says, "and I believe that we've done that with the resources we've had. ... What I've seen with every project Joy's taken on, be it curatorial or administrative, she's taken it to a whole new level."
For her part, Armstrong says "Milteer's direction up to this point has been outstanding, especially the variety of exhibitions we've been able to bring. I expect that diversity of shows to continue."
As Milteer isn't expected to depart until early next summer, the two still have months of collaborative work ahead before the official torch passing. Examining just the 14 months since he arrived to be CEO, Dahlin cites the recent Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit as "testimony to [Milteer's] and our reputation" in securing masterpieces "that don't just go anywhere ... it's a feather in his cap, and shows the position he's moved the museum into during his time here."
Looking ahead, he says the FAC will try to balance historic and modern exhibitions, and "Joy's really good at playing with that balance."
Dahlin points to Armstrong's recent El Mac: Aerosol Exalted graffiti exhibition and the responses he gleaned from older community members: "They were thrilled to see young people and diverse crowds inside the museum — even if it wasn't their thing in some instances. To thrive, we have to reach out to a broader demographic and shift our core."
He says Armstrong has also done that via special events like the recent Halloween Bash and Sashay, a fashion, music and dance celebration.
"Those events have her signature of being hip and cool and artsy. That's the theme I hear: 'Wow, I can't believe this is in Colorado Springs!'"
Ahead, Armstrong says she'd love to see more projects that bring in artists for large-scale installations, like fall 2014's Continuance: Charles and Collin Parson, to "activate the space. I want guests to see an artist at work and interact directly."