Columns » Between The Lines

He'd rather be in Armenia


Michael De Marsches next stop, the valley city of - Yerevan, Armenia, has mountains visible in the distance - on a clear day, but much farther away than Pikes Peak - from Colorado Springs.
  • Michael De Marsches next stop, the valley city of Yerevan, Armenia, has mountains visible in the distance on a clear day, but much farther away than Pikes Peak from Colorado Springs.

Michael De Marsche arrived in Colorado Springs four years ago this month, inspired to take this city's arts community to the Promised Land.

He did the bricks-and- mortar part, overseeing the Fine Arts Center's $28 million expansion. But if that building was the fancy vehicle, its materialistic captain decided his mission didn't include the actual voyage.

So he bolted. Just like that. Here today, gone tomorrow. Love "em and leave "em. Take the money and run.

They all fit in trying to describe the sudden departure of De Marsche as president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

Mikey came here and used us, milking $28 million out of 350-plus wealthy people to build the FAC's expansion. Then he took a hike, spitting on us as he danced out the door and hit the road.

Not to Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta or some other high-profile city. He's going to Yerevan, Armenia (population 1.2 million), formerly a part of the Soviet Union.

Mikey didn't care about Colorado Springs. All that he cared about was how he could take advantage of well-meaning, mostly deep-pocketed people who believed in him. If he'd had the class and/or the nerve to break the news in public, one can only imagine what he would have said. Perhaps something like this:

"I really enjoyed it here, Colorado Springs, but surely you didn't believe we'd be working together for years to come. You've got your big new museum. Now excuse me while I catch the next plane for the Middle East. And I have to find someone to teach me Armenian."

Uh, by the way, Mikey, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

You couldn't leave Mayberry soon enough, could you? Oh, excuse me, you came here from Mayberry actually, Auburn University in Alabama. And before that, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Colorado Springs must have seemed like cultural paradise after that. But we digress.

De Marsche apparently never realized, or cared, that he was on the cusp of becoming an icon here. He already had constructed the palace. Now all he had to do was make it truly great the unquestioned mecca of the local arts scene.

He had control of center stage, and he was in position to do so much more to build on his success. He could have used his momentum, and influence, to blaze important new trails, such as more opportunities for rising young artists, from residency programs to scholarships. He could have helped them mentor others currently at even earlier stages in their creative development.

He could have explored more ways to expose the best work of area artists and those top students, while also continuing to bring in world-class exhibits from everywhere. He could have pulled together the arts community, even cultivating governmental support, more so than anyone before him.

All of that was just as important as the palace. As he said in an interview with the Indy in April, "The first step is happening. If we don't get bogged down in negative and silly discussions, the sky's the limit. But it's going to take some vision."

De Marsche could have stayed here 10 more years, and by then, he would have become larger than life.

Instead, now he's waltzing off into the Armenian sunset, clicking his heels with glee over being able to parlay Colorado Springs into winning the Wheel of Fortune.

And now, rather than being remembered forever with reverence as a monumental figure in the city's arts evolution, Mikey will go down as the well-groomed, blow-dried, snake-oil salesman who took money over commitment, who upstaged his own grand opening, who jilted the FAC board like a Hollywood actor looking for a new lover.

Meanwhile, it's surprising to hear some locals, the same people who so ardently want more of the city's residents to support the Springs art scene in every way, giving De Marsche a free pass. Oh, this has been his history, they're saying. Finish the building and move on to the next challenge. We can't be too shocked.

That's bull. First, it's one thing to build an art museum at Auburn or Southern Miss, leaving behind the benefactors who still care about their schools.

It's totally different to come to Colorado Springs, to a facility and organization without taxpayer support (like a public university, for instance), raise nearly $30 million in part by convincing the donors to make their own long-term pledge of allegiance to the future of art in the Springs, and then renege on his personal responsibility to set an example with a commitment of his own.

De Marsche should be held to the same standard as anyone else involved with taking the FAC to new horizons. The expansion was just the first step. Now comes the truly rewarding part. And the president/CEO is off to frickin' Armenia. That's simply nauseating.

Also, it's condescendingly low and undiplomatic, and a slap in the FAC's face, for De Marsche to release his orgasmic (yes, orgasmic) going-away letter, saying it's his "greatest pleasure" to announce his new appointment in Armenia. So much for the afterglow of the FAC's Extremely Grand Opening. Turn out the lights, the party's over.

No "extreme regret" or "totally mixed emotions"?

In effect, he was saying something more like: "Hey, I honored you with my presence. I never said it was real. I never said I wanted to be buried here. I never made any promises. Adios."

It's too late now. De Marsche is gone, taking vacation time until his official departure of Sept. 1 the final snub to the organization and city that opened their arms to him.

Those Armenian drams (the currency there) obviously mean more to him than Colorado Springs ever did. And now the FAC must rebound quickly and find someone who truly cares, who can repair the damage, who can reach out to members and nonmembers alike, who can come here and stay long enough to become everything that Michael De Marsche wasn't.

That person will have to deal with a lot of skepticism and wariness from people who feel burned now. Hopefully the FAC board can find the right replacement and move on from here.

But the scars won't heal for a long, long time.

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