Foundation's $1M donations will expand arts programs at Pikes Peak Community College, UCCS


The local state university and state community college have each received $1 million from the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation to expand arts programs.

It's the largest donation in the 48-year history of Pikes Peak Community College, according to Lisa James, executive director of the school's foundation.

"We couldn't be more grateful," she said in a news release. "This level of cultural investment gives us more than upgraded programs, equipment and facilities. It gives us tremendous momentum. Where that takes us in the next decade will be nothing short of astounding."

The $1 million to the Galleries of Contemporary Art at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is the largest donation for that program since 1981, when a $400,000 gift enabled the gallery to open, according to Daisy McGowan, director.

The donation is "emblematic of the thriving partnership between the university and the community," McGowan said in a news release.

Pikes Peak Community College will use the money to carry out a goal of developing its Downtown Studio Campus as a cornerstone for regional arts education as well as a major destination for cultural events in downtown Colorado Springs.

Renovations to the campus, at 100 W. Pikes Peak Ave., will start this winter and are scheduled to be completed by fall 2017, said PPCC spokeswoman Karen Kovaly.

The centerpiece of the project will be the Marie Walsh Sharpe Creative Commons, a multi-use art studio with digital and traditional art tools.

A garden and outdoor studio and an indoor 2-D art studio also will be built. Large airplane-hangar-style doors will open to Pikes Peak Avenue, Kovaly said, taking advantage of the view of Pikes Peak and natural light.

Baltimore-based Hord Coplan Macht is the project architect. The design will preserve the integrity of the building, Kovaly said, which originally served as a Catholic school, while making it more functional and stylish.

Some 1,500 PPCC visual arts students, along with community members and established artists, use the campus.

"We see these upgrades of our campus and programs fitting in well with the City of Colorado Springs' Cultural Plan, leveraging its location in the cultural corridor, near the planned Olympic Museum," PPCC President Lance Bolton said.

The Galleries of Contemporary Art at UCCS will use the funds to establish an endowment to support arts programming and educational initiatives.

The galleries is one of several university arts programs that will move into a new $60 million arts complex under construction on North Nevada Avenue. It's scheduled to open in 2018.

The galleries' new space in the forthcoming Ent Center for the Arts will bear the name, the "Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery of Contemporary Art."

The endowment will fund in perpetuity support for visual arts initiatives, educational programs and artists-in-residence at the galleries.

This is the first endowment for the galleries. UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak said that the gift "builds on the momentum to create a vibrant destination in southern Colorado for the visual arts."

Both donations were made to carry out Sharpe's vision, according to Steve Mulliken, president of the board for the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation.

"Supporting emerging artists and inspiring fine arts education were her passion," he said.

Though not an artist herself, Sharpe was dedicated to helping struggling artists and developing the talent in younger artists.

Sharpe grew up on an Iowa farm and lived in Colorado Springs for 40 years. Upon her death in 1985 at age 95, her estate was used to create the foundation.

For decades, the foundation had funded a summer visual arts program held at Colorado College and a renowned studio residency program in New York City. Graduates took on the nickname "Sharpies."

Following the death last year of foundation president and program director Joyce Robinson, foundation advisors decided to concentrate on expanding existing fine arts programs, ultimately creating the donations to PPCC and UCCS.

The gift to PPCC is a "game changer" for not only students but also the entire arts-and-cultural community, David Siegel, executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, said in a statement.

"As the largest single gift in PPCC history, the grant speaks to the critical importance of art and creativity in developing the next generation of thinkers, innovators and problem solvers," he said.

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