The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center formally opened its then-revolutionary building on April 20, 1936. The new nonprofit was directly descended from the Broadmoor Art Academy, amplifying and fulfilling the ambitions of its predecessor.
Like the BAC, the CSFAC was conceived, funded and created by powerful women. Elizabeth Sage Hare and Alice Bemis Taylor joined BAC founder Julie Penrose in a visionary, unlikely and expensive project; to demolish the BAC building (formerly the Penrose residence) at 30 W. Dale and build a vast modernist center for the arts on the site.
Hare and Taylor were independently wealthy philanthropists unburdened with spouses who might question their charitable priorities. Betty Hare had been a major funder of Fountain Valley School (founded in 1930) while Alice Bemis Taylor had founded the Colorado Springs Day Nursery.
Led by Hare, whom Marshall Sprague described as “rich, witty, smart, imperious, dominating and tremendously energetic,” the three friends put together a deal. They hired Taylor’s nephew, Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem, to design the building, which would also house Taylor’s expansive collection of southwestern art. The cost: close to $1 million, including a relatively small endowment. Taylor footed most of the bill.
The gala opening featured Martha Graham’s dance company, a performance by Eva Gauthier of Erik Satie’s Socrate with sets by Alexander Calder and an exhibition of French paintings that included works by Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Leger and Van Gogh. In a town of 35,000, 5,000 visited the new building during opening week.
It was a rip-roaring start to a new era. Meem’s extraordinary building, marrying Native American pueblo architecture with Art Deco, modernism and emerging regionalist art was unequaled in the Mountain West. For years to come, FAC instructors and students would gain national renown, while helping to create and sustain the center as a community institution.
For nearly 80 years, the FAC endured as an independent nonprofit arts entity, with a relatively tiny endowment and no government funding. Hoping to attract new donors, patrons, members and visitors, then-Director Michael De Marsche raised funds for a $30 million addition, which opened in 2007. De Marsche resigned a few days later, the Great Recession took its toll and the FAC’s balance sheet cratered. Seeing no good alternative, the FAC’s trustees agreed to a 2016 merger with its financially stable neighbor, Colorado College.
Now rebranded as “The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College,” the organization’s mission and focus have evolved to meet the needs of the Colorado College community. The building and its collections endure, and should continue to inspire and enlighten future generations of Springs residents. That’s what Betty, Alice and Julie would want – and no sensible CC President would want to summon those angry ghosts!
Generously Submitted by John Hazlehurst, Journalist & Historian