March 3, 2023 | FEATURES | By Alexis Cornachio

On Feb. 14, students and faculty received an email from the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center announcing the new executive director, Nicole Herden.

Herden was most recently the executive director at the Museum of Nebraska Art, in affiliation with University of Nebraska. She worked at the forefront of transition and growth initiatives which included overseeing a capital campaign that raised $28 million for the program. 

The FAC is eager to soon fill the void of leadership after having been without an executive director since June 2022. During this time of transition, the organization works to uphold their commitment to serving as a bridge between communities

The FAC is re-building partnerships with local schools with an emphasis on underprivileged communities in Colorado Springs. Their commitment to this work persists despite losing their last arts educator on the team, Alie Ehrensaft, earlier this month. The museum’s director, Michael Christiano, has taken on a lot of responsibility in developing projects with schools in the area to make sure opportunities are accessible and enriching for all communities.

One of the initiatives the museum is working on is called “The Collective” with Colorado Springs School District 11. In this program, envisioned by Christiano as “non-hierarchical” and truly collaborative environment, the museum will invite high school students and teachers to be in residence at the center and respond to pieces that are being exhibited. In turn, they will workshop their own artwork alongside peers, teachers, and faculty of the FAC.

Christiano emphasizes the unique position the institution sits at, where they have the opportunity to amplify the “intellectual energy” and ideas circulating around campus to their broadest possible audience. “How we channel those into exhibition content, how we invite people in,” said Christiano, is how this work will be done.

“We are at the intersection of campus and our community,” said Christiano. “How do we do the same for creative work that’s happening in the community, and bring that into conversation with scholarship on campus? We sit at that interesting nexus point – that feels very important for how we grow.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum stopped hosting consistent tours for local schools, and, according to Christiano, staffing losses and transitions were a direct result of the pandemic. In addition to pandemic-induced setbacks, Ehrensaft said the alliance made between the FAC and CC in 2017 was also a factor that led to the fallout of partnerships with local schools because, “the FAC became more focused on the campus community.”

The FAC used to support and sustain School Districts 3, 11, 14, 20, and 49; however, right now they only have a working partnership with D11. Due to a loss of staff, these partnerships have not been able to be managed and sustained. Was this a result of the pandemic? The alliance? Lack of leadership? It’s hard to tell. 

“I think there are a lot of opinions surfacing about what the alliance meant and who it was there to serve. I do believe that an unwavering commitment is to the community and to Colorado College, and that those two things do not have to be separate,” Ehrensaft said.

“It doesn’t have to be that way because we are public-facing and college-facing, we could be that intersection where it all comes together,” said Ehrensaft. 

Most of the student population at D11 from Southeastern Colorado Springs would “not normally step foot into a space like the Fine Arts Center,” says Laurilea McDaniels, D11’s Visual and Performing Arts facilitator.

“They do not see Colorado College as [an] attainable [option] at all,” said McDaniels, likening the FAC more to a “well-kept secret” that the west side of the city is in on, while it still might remain invisible to many in the Southeastern portion of Colorado Springs.

D11’s partnership with the FAC at CC makes it possible for these students to continue having the access they do to the arts opportunities and resources offered by the institution’s facilities.

Allie Unker, the arts facilitator at Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, was just recently awarded a grant that will directly fund a performance at the FAC in May featuring her students, the hiring of an artist in residency with the FAC, materials for various workshops, and a few student-led projects supporting accessibility.

“The FAC offered us to go to a viewing of ‘In the Heights,’” said Unker.

Unker said she will take her students to the stage for them to check it out, and tell them, “this will be you guys.”

D11 and CSDB are two schools in the area whose administration fiercely supports the arts — but what about the schools that don’t? How the FAC will continue to take advantage of these unique opportunities to collaborate with their community, while facing internal limitations, is an open question.

 “I am looking forward to cultivating a dynamic and inclusive institution that is relevant not only to the art world but also to the lives of everyone who lives in the Pikes Peak region,” said Herden, whose start date is in July.

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