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Outsider

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Time to turn a baleful eye toward the Fine Arts Center, our city's leading (and only) art museum.

A couple of months ago, curator Scott Snyder resigned and went back to his old job in some desolate Illinois suburb. And last week, David Turner, the FAC's amiable director, resigned and took a job in some desolate Oregon town.

So what's going on here? Is this yet another institutional crisis at the Fine Arts Center, or is this just the ordinary turnover that any museum experiences?

Whatever Snyder said, and whatever Turner may say, there's no disguising the fact that these are, at best, lateral moves. If either of them had been really excited about the FAC's future, they would have stayed.

And, personal considerations aside, why would they leave? Isn't the FAC poised to begin a major expansion? Won't that make it a much bigger, much more significant player in the museum world? Wouldn't it have made sense for Snyder and Turner to stay on for a few more years, and then move on, rsums powerfully enhanced?

It sure would, but there's an "if" or two. And, as Denver Bronco Ephraim Salaam said Sunday, "If ifs were fifths, we'd all be drunk."

If # 1: Are they really going to build the new wing at the museum? In case you hadn't noticed, the economy's in the pits, and the stock market's not doing so well. That affects donors large and small, from El Pomar -- whose investments have suffered along with everyone else's -- to the art-lovin' citizens whose generosity is so important to the FAC.

If #2: Suppose they build it after all -- what then? The museum will get another 12,000 square feet of gallery space, which, as museums go, is insignificant. Contrast it with the Denver Art Museum, whose new wing will add 140,000 square feet to that magnificent institution. Moreover, once the FAC completes its mini-expansion, that's it. There's no room to expand, no place to go. It won't matter how much the city grows, or how much we might need a real art museum; we'll still be stuck with our mustily charming Art Deco relic.

If #3: Just how good is the FAC board, anyhow? Nonprofit boards often have their problems; look, for example, at the symphony's board, which helped put that organization into a million-dollar hole. Ideally, an art museum's board would be composed of generous, art-loving multimillionaires.

But this is Colorado Springs. Now that philanthropist Dusty Loo's gone, we don't have anybody like that. After all, it's not exactly encouraging that the board named longtime Gazette executive Jon Stepleton to be interim director.

Jon's a nice guy, but a nice guy without, as far as I know, the slightest interest in art. Or if he has any, he conceals it well -- in 20 years, I don't recall ever seeing him at a gallery opening.

Even without all the ifs, the FAC has structural problems that are difficult to address. It has magnificent collections, a distinguished past, and a problematic future.

It's been clubby, insular and marginal. Past directors have been so abysmally awful that David Turner's competence looked like genius. Given its location, it can never be the art museum that this city needs and deserves.

So to launch the New Year, here's a suggestion. We made it once before, and it had quite an impact -- so much so that the then-president of Colorado College buttonholed me at a party and gave me a public scolding.

Colorado College: Take the $20 million that you're going to spend to build a visual/performing arts center across Cascade Avenue from the Fine Arts Center, and use it to buy the FAC's existing building. It's adjacent to your campus, it's exactly what you need, and you can be open for business the minute the existing tenant moves his stuff out!

Fine Arts Center board of directors: Forget about your piddling expansion, and think big. Sell the building, take the cash, raise another $40 million or so, and get your world-class architect to design a spectacular museum on an expansive site near Confluence Park.

I can see it now: The El Pomar Museum of Fine Art. The Loo Galleries. The Buck Blessing Sculpture Garden. Look, if this community can put together $50 million to build a venue for hockey games and tractor pulls, we can do this.

But, of course, we won't. We won't even try. We'll think small, do small, and live small,

And we'll even congratulate ourselves for our small thoughts, our small ambitions, and our still smaller achievements. And we won't even be Fort Worth to Denver's Dallas.

We'll be Hoboken to Denver's Manhattan.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

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