Those excited by the fresh energy of the recent El Mac graffiti exhibition
inside the fine-art setting of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
will be thrilled to learn that the curator behind it, Joy Armstrong
, has been named the FAC's new executive director and chief curator.
Armstrong replaces Blake Milteer
, who is soon moving to Scotland after bringing consistently wonderful and dynamic programming to the FAC since 2007.
Courtesy Joy Armstrong
Meet the FAC's incoming executive director and chief curator.
"We consider Joy a rockstar among us," says David Dahlin
, FAC president and CEO. "She's a homegrown talent and she's quite amazing. If I was running a museum in some other city and saw the work Joy's done, and the arc of her career, I'd be thrilled."
Dahlin credits Milteer with developing Armstrong, saying "many chiefs wouldn't give a junior associate the latitude and faith he's given Joy. People aren't always that gracious. ... If I was Blake, I might say my single greatest achievement is Joy Armstrong."
Armstrong — who graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Denver, studying Studio Art and Mass Communications, and obtained a Master’s Degree from Kent State University in Art History — began volunteering with Milteer in fall 2009. By March 2010, she was hired on full-time.
In the last five years, Armstrong says Milteer has "really supported my vision, and that's been critically important to me. He believed in me and supported the projects I've proposed. I feel that we've been tremendously successful as a team."
She points to the fall of 2013 as "a huge turning point in me stepping out on my own, on a grand scale," with Pamela Joseph's The Sideshow of the Absurd
. "It was unlike anything we'd done up to that point. Blake really let me run with my ideas, and he was being super supportive of something that was a huge question mark as to how people would respond. It was a monumental moment for me."
Says Milteer, "When I hired Joy in 2010, that was the idea. She'd have a different skill set and vision than I would. I was hired in 2007 to move things forward, and I believe that we've done that with the resources we've had. We need to continue that momentum."
Milteer adds that at the time of Armstrong's hiring, he knew he wanted someone who had the potential to become curator: "What I've seen with every project Joy's taken on, be it curatorial or administrative, she's taken it to a whole new level."
To be clear, the two still have months of work together ahead; Milteer isn't expected to depart until early next summer, tentatively. "We've got work to do here," he says. "I'm still full speed ahead on some projects that we began years ago," he adds, pointing to upcoming exhibits next spring.
For her part, Armstrong says "Milteer's direction up to this point has been outstanding, especially the variety of exhibitions we've been able to bring. I expect that diversity of shows to continue."
Courtesy Joy Armstrong
From volunteer to chief curator in five years, Armstrong's career trajectory is a bit surreal.
Asked about her vision for the future, she says she'd love to work with some experts on the FAC's Taylor Collection
, and "I'd love to see more projects that bring the artists here to do large-scale installation, like the Charles and Collin Parson show
, or Sideshow
, to activate the space. I want guests to see an artist at work and interact directly."
Dahlin says the months ahead with both curators will be great for our community, presenting a smooth succession timeline.
Looking back over the last year-and-a-half, since he's arrived as CEO, Dahlin mentions the recent John James Audubon and Kevin Sloan show
, saying Blake's strong suit has been "an ability to pair what's in our permanent collection, what belongs to our community, with contemporary works, and find the way in which they speak to each other."
He also cites the recent Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit
as "testimony to [Milteer's] and our reputation" in securing masterpieces "that don't just go anywhere ... it's a feather in his cap, and shows the position he's moved the museum into during his time here."
Looking ahead, he says the FAC will try to balance historic and modern exhibitions: "We try to balance those things, and Joy's really good at playing with that balance."
Considering just how far the FAC has come since its $28 million expansion
in 2007, Dahlin looks at the recent example of Armstrong's El Mac graffiti exhibition and the response he has personally received from older community members: "They were thrilled to see young people and diverse crowds inside the museum — even if it wasn't their thing in some instances. They were glad we were doing it. ... To thrive, we have to reach out to a broader demographic and shift our core."
He says Armstrong has done that, too, via museum special events, such as the recent Halloween Bash and Sashay
, a fashion, music and dance celebration.
"Those events have her signature of being hip and cool and artsy. That's the theme I hear: 'Wow, I can't believe this is in Colorado Springs!'"
Yep, the FAC has definitely found the right person for the job.