Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pending CC/FAC alliance already adjusting plans

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2016 at 4:57 PM

As updated here just one week ago, from an earlier teaser of plans to "forge a future together" back in January, Colorado College and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center remain in the final phases of a negotiating a new alliance. 

click to enlarge The FAC's financial situation at present has meant understaffing woes on the curatorial side. A hook-up with CC should shore up funding for significant growth. - COURTESY COLORADO SPRINGS FINE ARTS CENTER
  • Courtesy Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
  • The FAC's financial situation at present has meant understaffing woes on the curatorial side. A hook-up with CC should shore up funding for significant growth.
FAC President and CEO David Dahlin has said to expect a decision before summer's end, but one bit of personnel-related news has already become public ahead of the seemingly imminent merger. And unfortunately, it undoes something the arts community, including Dahlin, has been looking forward to since last November. 

Contrary to the prior plan for her ascension, Joy Armstrong will not become the FAC's new executive director and chief curator for the long term.

That's the case even though the FAC still has asked Armstrong to step in as an interim ED and chief curator once Blake Milteer departs, soon. At that point, she will be the sole curator for an undetermined amount of time.

Bear in mind Dahlin thinks of Armstrong, who began volunteering with Milteer in fall 2009, as a "rockstar among us" and "an exceptional talent." She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Denver, studying Studio Art and Mass Communications, and earned a master’s degree in Art History from Kent State University.

But apparently — and we don't have all the details yet due to tight lips surrounding the final negotiations — Colorado College as the new boss has a desire for a Ph.D.-credentialed curator in that position at the FAC. 

Leslie Weddell, CC's director of news and media relations, offers this much of an explanation: 
If an alliance between Colorado College and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is finalized, we expect we will be adding new resources to the museum. We would go through a strategic planning process that involves the FAC, CC and the community that would help to guide those allocations.

We will need a director with the background and credentials to integrate the academic mission and programs while continuing the community mission. Most likely this person would be experienced in working with an academic program in a museum.
"We’re looking at a different structure than what we were considering when we initially asked Joy to take on that position," says Dahlin. "The future position will be significantly different. Not to minimize Joy at all, because she's very well educated at a master's level, but in the academic world, they value terminal degrees." 

We could digress here in an old debate about the necessity of Ph.D.'s and contemporary calls to reinvent our college models, and there may be such factors at hand as the potential to win more and larger sums of grant money via the power of those three letters at the end of one's title. 

click to enlarge CC's Cornerstone Arts Center sits just across the street from the FAC. Students and staff won't have to go far for expanded academic programming the merger will usher in. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • CC's Cornerstone Arts Center sits just across the street from the FAC. Students and staff won't have to go far for expanded academic programming the merger will usher in.
But as some see it, in order not to look a bit like the big bad wolf or calloused new overlord, CC will owe the arts community and early supporters of Armstrong more explanation of their decision-making process. With her strong curatorial background, why not train her into the academic side, or hire other curators to meet that role? 

"We're on hold with what the organizational structure will look like," says Weddell. "I know Jill [Tiefenthaler, CC's president] is planning for a year of a strategic planning, and listening to community input."

But to the making of lemonade with lemons, Dahlin quickly points to positives that the CC acquisition might offer Armstrong: "This will allow Joy to focus on modern and contemporary art, and maximize her role in that regard. We’ve been understaffed for many years. Our curators have had to be jacks of all trade. She and Blake haven’t gotten to do all they could have because they’ve had to wear so many hats. The future state of the FAC will allow Joy to focus on her expertise. This can be long-term good thing for Joy. It can suit her strengths and she can totally thrive in that role." 

Zooming out to the bigger picture of impact on a legacy institution and our high-rated liberal arts school, Dahlin reiterates the "win-win" result for broader Colorado Springs. 

"We’re hoping and expecting to add additional curators, gain depth, attract research and research grants in our future state," Dahlin says, adding that "more robust programming" will ultimately be "a treat to the community."

Still, it's a bummer all that excitement looks to be built upon a first move that equates to a rug-pull for our "homegrown talent" who'd already been selected to lead the museum side of the FAC into the new era. It feels a bit like opening a blockbuster exhibit but hanging the fan-favorite piece in the stairwell. Nobody will find Joy in that. 

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