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Tight job market 

With 25 other art institutes seeking directors, Michael De Marsche's departure comes at a less-than-ideal time

At a time like this, it's pretty much reflex to say something along the lines of, "Replacing Michael De Marsche won't be easy."

With the revered Fine Arts Center president/CEO announcing that he'll be leaving Colorado Springs on Sept. 1 for a position in Yerevan, Armenia, such sentiments are hardly out of line. In fact, they're quite accurate likely more so than art fans in Colorado Springs realize.

Forget, for a moment, all that De Marsche brought to the Fine Arts Center. The fundraising knowledge, the sense of professionalism, the curatorial talents, the specific exhibitions and displays, all of it. Yes, he will be missed for all of those things, and yes, his particular skill set will be difficult to replace.

But finding any replacement at all in the next eight to 18 months the usual time it takes to fill such a position could prove a difficult task for the FAC, says Mimi Gaudieri, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors.

De Marsche's exit makes the FAC the 26th art institute around the country searching for someone to fill its head position. That's an especially high number, Gaudieri says, explaining that there are usually only 15 or 16 position openings nationwide at any given time.

Gaudieri blames the pull of prestigious European positions and the slew of recent retirements from an aging set of museum directors for the uncommon situation.

Thus, the timing of De Marsche's announcement puts the FAC in a difficult spot, especially if its board of trustees hopes to replace De Marsche with an experienced director.

"With all of the openings that we have," Gaudieri says, "the people with the established track records are going to be drawn to the more established institutions, of which there are many on the list."

Prominent museums currently seeking to fill leadership holes include New York City's Guggenheim Museum, Minneapolis' Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

The FAC's Board of Trustees is meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss how to commence its nationwide search for a replacement.

Despite De Marsche's claims that the recent $28.6 million expansion to the FAC has made Colorado Springs a player in the national art scene, his successor isn't likely to be a big name. Instead, the FAC will probably be forced to bring in an unproven commodity.

"We have some really talented young directors [across the country]," Gaudieri says. "But they've only been in their positions for a few years."

The best thing the FAC can do, Gaudieri says, is avoid aiming too high.

"Once an expansion has been completed," she says, "the board could have unrealistic expectations."

And if last week's statement from trustees Carol Kleiner and Sally Hybl is any indication, Gaudieri may be on to something.

"The FAC Board of Trustees is poised and ready to continue the momentum and enthusiasm that we have experienced in the transformation in this institution," they wrote in a press release last Thursday announcing De Marsche's move.

"The excitement, energy and support of our renovated and expanded facility puts us in a unique position to attract the highest caliber leader to lead us in the next chapter of this momentous journey." pete@csindy.com


Hair today, gone tomorrow

Lost within the coverage of Michael De Marsche's impending departure is perhaps the most devastating news of all, the news of what else the soon-to-be-former Fine Arts Center president/CEO will be taking with him.

Don't fool yourselves: When De Marsche skips town, so too will his perfectly coiffed hair.

But why? And how?

We thought it had a good thing going here. We always admired its shine and groom, and we determined that it, in return, thought we were pretty OK, too.

And though we never outright told it so, we affectionately started calling it "De Mullet." We excitedly talked of its potential and how it could help lead this town to new heights. Its fundraising-up-front, opening-gala-in-the-back style was exactly what this town needed atop the domes of our movers and shakers.

So, inevitably, the news of the De Mullet's upcoming departure shook us to the core. We wanted answers.

We called FAC director of public relations Charlie Snyder to see if we could get De Marsche's hair on the phone for comment.

It seemed as though we were the only media outlet to make this inquiry. Our question baffled Snyder. At first, he thought we were kidding. Then he realized we weren't.

"Seriously, that's why you called?" he asked.

Uh-huh. Do you think it'd be willing to talk?

"I don't think anyone's hair talks," Snyder said. "If hair talks to you, you may have a problem."

He was displacing the blame a classic public-relations spin move if we'd ever seen one. Still, it worked. We, in turn, got flustered. And we never got De Mullet on the phone.

It's a shame, too. We wanted to ask it about any fears that De Marsche might cut it loose as a concession to Armenia's stifling heat.

Instead, we came away answerless. All we know for sure is that the De Mullet is leaving, and that we'll miss it.

So what if we always knew in the back of our minds that it was eventually going to leave us? We can still be upset at the fact that it's all happening so soon, right?

Oh, De Mullet. We hardly knew ye.

Stay cool, OK? Pete Freedman


The success of the successor

Christopher Lynn knows a thing or two about replacing a prominent figure in the Colorado Springs art community.

And, well, it ain't easy.

When Lynn was brought on board at UCCS' Gallery of Contemporary Art, he was faced with the task of replacing longtime director Gerry Riggs, whose eye for local talent elevated him to near-legend status within the scene.

Lynn's challenge wasn't just establishing himself as a leading figure in the community; it was also dealing with what Riggs had left behind. Almost a year into his tenure as GoCA director, Lynn is still managing an exhibition schedule Riggs booked.

Being faced with the proactive planning of a previous gallery director brings negatives and positives. For Lynn, it hindered his ability to make an immediate, unique splash on the community. At the same time, it forced him to think outside the box and create non-exhibition-related GoCA events like panel discussions, art-making sessions and film screenings to make a name for himself. To his credit, Lynn's strategy has largely worked.

Just as Riggs did, Michael De Marsche is leaving the FAC with a planned-out exhibition schedule through 2008. But the FAC scenario is unique, Lynn says, "especially since Michael De Marsche was so involved in everything."

An interim director took the reins of GoCA in the months between Riggs' departure and Lynn's arrival. Similarly, the FAC board will meet Thursday to discuss naming an interim CEO.

Lynn points out that even with an interim director, he still faced miscommunication issues when he arrived at UCCS. He expects that while "they're trying to stay positive and ride the wave of things [from the opening]" at the FAC, "there will be problems."

"Any departure," he says, "is going to have a negative impact on an institute."
Pete Freedman

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