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An Artful Evolution

This year, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College celebrates 100 years.

Muralist Boardman Robinson taught at the art academy and recruited artists from all over the country to come to Colorado Springs.

Muralist Boardman Robinson taught at the art academy and recruited artists from all over the country to come to Colorado Springs.

A century ago, a small group of artists and art lovers conspired to create the Broadmoor Art Academy. Now, 100 years later, it has evolved into the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College (FAC), and it draws more than 100,000 visitors and students each year to its sprawling campus.

How this little, elite art academy became a city jewel, treasured by all, is a story that could fill a book. Its evolution, however, has been in size and scope rather than mission. It always has been, and still is, an art exhibition space (a museum since 1936), an art school, and a theater company.

That trio of objectives will be honored in 2019’s celebration of the FAC’s centennial year.

Beginnings

Small groups of artists and art enthusiasts emerged here in the late 1800s and early 1900s, including the similarly named Colorado Springs Art Club, Colorado Springs Art Society, and Colorado Springs Academy of Art.

All these groups coalesced into one when Julie and Spencer Penrose stepped in. In 1919, they joined together to become the Broadmoor Art Academy, so named in honor of their financial benefactors, the Penroses.

Before the Penroses opened The Broadmoor hotel in 1918, they moved into El Pomar, their nearby estate. In 1919, Julie donated her former home on Dale Street to the newborn academy. The house made a perfect artists’ studio with lots of light and unimpeded views of Pikes Peak. A greenhouse and spacious grounds allowed artists all sorts of places to work, indoors and out.

It was here that the academy members met and where visiting and resident artists worked and had their works displayed. Artists such as John Carlson, Robert Reid, Birger Sandzén, Charles Craig, and Laura Gilpin spent time here. Collectively, they brought national attention to the academy early on, says Erin Hannan, director of the FAC.

In addition to practicing, teaching, and exhibiting art, the academy was also a setting for music performances and social events, and a small group of actors performed plays. Enter Elizabeth Sage Hare, who founded the prestigious, private Fountain Valley School. She lured artist Boardman Robinson to the city, and he not only taught art at the school, but began teaching at the academy as well.

Evolution

Julie Penrose’s friend, Alice Bemis Taylor, was looking for a place to display her formidable Southwestern art collection, so the house became the site for a bold new facility, including a museum for Mrs. Taylor’s vast collection and a full-scale theatre. Julie Penrose’s aging home was razed, and the stunning, modern, newly renamed Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, designed by the famous John Gaw Meem, was erected in its place in 1936. Alice Bemis Taylor contributed major funding for its construction. Meem’s Santa Fe–style building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Its grand opening was marked by much celebration, including dance performances by the legendary Martha Graham and an exhibition of French painters that would be the envy of any museum today: Picasso, Renoir, and their ilk. Robinson created many of the exterior murals.

In intervening years, the center continued to grow its collection and accolades, and in 1967, it underwent its first expansion. Then, in 2007, it experienced another major expansion. Much of the credit for its constant improvement goes to the El Pomar Foundation, established long ago by the Penroses, as well as other donors and dedicated directors, Hannan says.

The FAC today

Part of the FAC’s success can be attributed to its three-pronged approach, Hannan adds.

The theater productions—with an in-house group of players for 30 years now—drew 38,000 patrons last year. The museum exhibitions drew 33,000 visitors, and the art school offered nearly 400 classes that were mostly filled.

“I think the impact we have on the community goes beyond that of contributing to [its] cultural vitality,” Hannan says. “For example, a lot of businesses will say that one of their biggest challenges is getting a talented workforce…that having a vibrant arts community is key to attracting a quality workforce. We certainly have an economic impact.”

The FAC also has an impact on community education with programs in art-teacher training and educational school tours, she adds.

Most recently, the FAC’s formal collaboration with its academic neighbor, Colorado College, has upped its national prominence. “We’ve always been on the national stage, especially in the early days before Denver grew its own arts scene,” Hannan says. “We’re known for our collection of Southwestern art. And, now, the alliance with CC presents opportunity to amplify our reputation nationally.”

Centennial Celebrations

The year-long centennial celebration will include special art exhibitions and events (some dates and details to be determined), including the following:

+ A series of exhibitions honoring the mission, vision, and history of the Broadmoor Art Academy and FAC

+ A highly staged theatrical performance of Barnum (May)

+ Special classes at the Bemis School of Art, including field trips and en plein air (outdoor) workshops

+ A black-tie gala on September 7 with dinner, music, art performances, and experiences

+ A public birthday party on October 12, a casual open house honoring the original artists from the Broadmoor Art Academy and the rich 100-year history

+ Readings of one-act plays from the 1920s, presented in the galleries on the following free days: March 9, May 11, July 13, September 14, and October 9

For a full schedule of events, exhibitions, and more, visit https://www.csfineartscenter.org/100-years.