CC and the FAC finalize details of takeover agreement 

Passing the torch

click to enlarge FAC's David Dahlin and CC's Jill Tiefenthaler discuss the official news rollout. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • FAC's David Dahlin and CC's Jill Tiefenthaler discuss the official news rollout.

Colorado College now runs the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and by 2020, the college will own the historic arts institution in totality. Following negotiations that began in October 2015, CC and the FAC have signed and released details on the planned takeover, first announced to the public in January.

By June 30, 2020, the center will be converted to a limited liability company owned by the FAC Foundation, which "will transfer the legal entity of the [FAC] and all of its assets and liabilities to CC in a restricted transfer agreement," according to a Fine Arts Center release on Aug. 25.

"The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is a cultural gem, and I'm excited about the immense possibilities this alliance presents for all involved," CC president Jill Tiefenthaler says.

Starting Thursday, Sept. 1, CC will take over the center's management duties. Effectively, CC is calling the shots now in terms of who's on what planning board, administration, safety standards and technology infrastructure.

Tiefenthaler says not much will change in this first year — mostly, the college will be planning for the next three years of the transition. CC already has announced members for the five committees it will be using for the transition, all a mix of CC and FAC members.

The oversight committee will consist of nine trustees from the FAC and FAC Foundation's boards, and nine trustees from CC's board. Tiefenthaler herself will chair the strategic planning committee, which has divvied up and built subcommittees to plan for what CC sees as the center's three main arms: the museum, the theater program and Bemis School of Art.

The Bemis subcommittee will have its work cut out for it — during the planning process, an evaluation confirmed that the Bemis School building is "beyond its useful life," according to a list of questions and answers released by the FAC. Though classes will continue for the next two years, they may be relocated.

The plan will be completed and submitted by May 2017, to be approved and enacted by July 1. Tiefenthaler says the plan will include a swath of new positions — the FAC has been unsustainably thin-staffed, according to President and CEO David Dahlin. Still, they're only planning to make one hire between now and July — a curator specifically for the Taylor collection of Southwestern art, and that person will be focused on serving the FAC's new academic mission.

That said, CC already has committed $500,000 for building repairs. Some of that will go to making the FAC greener, in line with CC's sustainability plan.

"Museums, by their nature, are not energy-efficient," says Tiefenthaler. "One of the first things we'll be doing this year, if all goes as planned, is putting some resources into the Fine Arts Center to improve its energy efficiency in the coming year."

Colorado College has also committed $20 million of its own endowment, bolstering the FAC's existing endowment of $13 million. CC says it will increase the endowment to $45 million by 2020, through fundraising and further contributions.

"[We've been] running on very thin margins," says Dahlin. "You can do that for a while, but when you look at the long-term health of an institution, that doesn't bode well."

Actually, the FAC has already been doing some of the academic work that will become a prominent part of its mission in the coming years. Tiefenthaler and Dahlin note that the FAC's Taylor collection has always been a big resource for the college's Southwestern Studies program. And that's just one of many past collaborations.

"We've had joined shows at the IDEA space," says Tiefenthaler. "The FAC has long housed our much smaller collection of Southwest and indigenous art... When I go around and talk to the staff at the Fine Arts Center and at CC that are going to be involved in this alliance, everybody knows each other."

Tiefenthaler reinforces that part of the plan will be keeping a balance between the new academic mission and serving the community as the FAC always has. Those involved have certainly done their homework since the initial announcement in January.

"We have a whole book of all the research that's been done on similar peer schools to Colorado College," Tiefenthaler says. "One of the key things that we saw in looking at the research, there are some museums that are very outward-facing and not serving the academic mission very well, and there are some that are serving the academic mission very well and not serving the public."

Most of their focus was on the practices and structures of institutions that had achieved the balance between public and academics that CC and the FAC will seek going forward.

While the details of the plan were kept under wraps until the official announcement, a few major donors were kept in the conversation, and the FAC and CC have planned three community listening sessions through September to get input as the strategic plan takes form.

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