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Colorado College finalizes deal to take over Fine Arts Center

August 26, 2016 Updated: August 26, 2016 at 7:52 am
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Dave and Diana Tohlen, left, of Colorado Springs, lead their friends Pat King, second from right, and Mary Anne Johnson, right, from Mesa, Ariz., through the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, and past the photos in local photographer Aaron Anderson's Periphery show. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

It's official: Colorado College will take over the Fine Arts Center.

The documents were signed Thursday by both organizations, and CC will assume management responsibilities Sept. 1. Management at both institutions also will embark next month on an almost yearlong strategic planning process to come up with a three-year plan for integrating the two nonprofits. The changes will begin to roll out next summer.

By July 1, 2020, the FAC will be fully transferred to the college along with its building, art collection and $2 million debt.

In the meantime, the FAC will continue its planned theater, museum and Bemis School of Art programming through June 30. Some minor changes could occur during the change in management, but nothing noticeable.

"There won't be big changes to the public this year," CC President Jill Tiefenthaler said. "We will work hard behind the scenes to figure out how we can be more efficient as two entities together. We're committed to a very exciting and rigorous strategic planning process where we can get lots of folks involved from all over our community."

On July 1, the FAC will be renamed the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

"Our primary mission is to focus on fantastic arts experiences for the community and to hang onto that layer of academic resources and expertise that comes with the vast number of experts at CC," said FAC president and CEO David Dahlin. "It will strengthen our programs overall. Just being part of a college and academic rigor will impact our overall programming and make it strong for the community. It allows us to lift our heads higher and dream bigger because the FAC has been limited because of financial restrictions. With more stability we can think bigger, think bolder, what would be really great programming? And get out of the day to day of how are we going to make it out of the fiscal year?"

Though the main FAC building will continue to be primarily used as an arts institution for the community, CC will also use it for events and activities. FAC staff, including Dahlin, will continue to be employed by the institution, though staffing is one of the first items on the planning agenda.

By July 1, FAC staff will become employees of Colorado College.

"There won't be wholesale changes, but we will look department by department," Dahlin said. "Some changes will happen more quickly. By July 1 we have to make lots of decisions."

After a $30 million expansion and renovation in 2007 under then-CEO Michael De Marsche, the Fine Arts Center was left with a debt of $7 million, Dahlin said. The organization is on a payment schedule for $5 million, and the remaining $2 million due in 2021 will be paid by CC.

"The FAC assets come to CC in 2020 along with the debt," Tiefenthaler said. "It will be our responsibility to make that happen."

As part of the acquisition, the college will dedicate more than $20 million of its $700 million endowment to the support of the FAC. The museum's annual operating cost of about $5 million is funded through multiple sources, including sales and admissions, donations and the FAC endowment, which stands at about $13 million. The endowment will continue to be managed by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Foundation. Financial contributions to the FAC will still be accepted.

Multiple committees of people from the college and the museum will examine each of the FAC's program areas - museum, performing arts and art school - to determine the best way to integrate them into CC's academic mission. There also will be community listening sessions to gather public input through September and public review sessions of the proposed plans in the spring.

"I think it's a really smart decision for both institutions," said David Siegel, executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, which invests in and supports local arts organizations and artists. "It places CC as a national arts leader in the arts space and ensures the long-term vitality of the FAC and the mission of the FAC."

Changes in FAC departments will roll out slowly in the three years after the planning process. Planning will focus on the museum beginning in July, the art school beginning in July 2018 and the theater department beginning in July 2019.

According to a news release, the FAC will continue to produce professional theater, though the nature of productions may change. CC students will likely be involved in some productions and may stage their own production in the FAC theater.

The center's mission to collect, conserve and exhibit artwork remains intact. No art will be sold for operating revenue.

"We are excited about the possibilities for our faculty to integrate the nearly 20,000 pieces of Southwestern and Native American art into the curriculum to strengthen experiential learning and multicultural perspective," Tiefenthaler wrote in an email to CC alumni and parents, "for our performing-arts students to have broader opportunities on the stage and behind the scenes; and for the college to positively influence the Pikes Peak region and beyond by providing greater depth, understanding and context to arts and cultural offerings."

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