Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Institutional Memory at the Fine Arts Center

On balance, I view Michael De Marsche's tenure at the Fine Arts Center as a spectacular success. His achievement in getting the expansion built - and in getting such a wonderful expansion built - will be an enduring legacy.

But it's undeniable that in at least one area, he left the center immeasurably poorer than when he arrived in August 2003: Institutional memory. The creative staff turned over entirely during his tenure. Curator Cathy Wright went to the Albuquerque Museum, librarian Rod Dew was fired, performing arts director Sandra Womochil Bray left without explanation. (I've given up even trying to worm it out of her, but she's returned to the Colorado Springs School.) And that's just three names out of many.

Between them, Wright and Dew had about 50 years at the FAC. Bray wasn't at the center that long, but she'd been part of the local theater scene for at least two decades. In contrast, the new department heads are all from out of town, and have no long-standing connection either with the FAC or with the region's arts in general.

That's not entirely a bad thing, especially when you're dealing with an arts community that's accustomed to struggling. Sometimes it takes outsiders to break out of long-entrenched patterns.

But it leads to occasional gaffes. When interviewing curators Blake Milteer and Tariana Navas-Nieves about "Altered Space," both seemed unaware that edgy, contemporary installation art is nothing new at the FAC. This installation isn't as provocative, for instance, as the summer 2002 exhibit of Larry Kledzik's "Diet: The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker," and Cory Mahler's "On Longing: The Physicality of Absence." just one of several contemporary exhibits brought in by then-curator of visual art Scott Snyder.

And when the center re-opened in August, nobody on the staff seemed aware that the Frederick R. Weisman collection, one of the re-opening's centerpieces, had been exhibited at the FAC in 1988 - albeit a smaller selection of work.

If there's a point to this rambling post, it's that the De Marsche era was a revolution, not an evolution - a change as great or greater than the gutting of the art school in the 1950s. The new director, when he or she arrives, will have what's as close to a clean slate as is possible in an organization of this size. It's an exhilarating but not entirely comforting thought.

I practically grew up in the Fine Arts Center. I often posed - usually for hands - for my father in his studio: Everything else he could paint effortlessly from memory. I fell into the pond in the courtyard, back when there was a pond; I was aghast at the gory wooden sculptures of the Crucifixion. (TV was a lot tamer then.) I loved the old FAC, but it's gone. Long live the new FAC.

4 Comments:

Blogger tarianann said...

Hi Mark,

I agree with you, Mike De Marsche was fantastic for the Fine Arts Center. He brought much needed energy and vision, and for that we should all thank him. As a matter of fact, I can say that I am at the FAC in large part because of him.

I am quite aware though that installation art is not new to the FAC. As recent as the Faces exhibition, and the Weisman exhibition we had installation pieces. There are installation pieces in the permanent collection as well. To have a space (FAC MOdern) solely devoted to the art by regional artists and art collections IS new, and this installation show is the first of this new focus. Just to clarify...

Additionally, to move forward does not mean that we will forget the past. I am grateful for all the work done by my predecessors, in particular Cathy Wright. Changing can be scary, but I always look to the future with excitement and optimism.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Mark Arnest said...

Thanks for your comments, Tariana.

I'm confident that the FAC has no intention of forgetting the past. But there's a difference between knowing about the past and having been a part of it - it's the difference between history and experience. And for all that the center has gained - which includes its current strong, intelligent and energetic staff - a lot of that direct connection is gone. What's left of it is on the board, not in the museum.

5:26 PM  
Blogger ¬©Hotbutton Press said...

I haven't been able to bring myself to go there since the "Stale Pachouli" installations. No please not more glass bubbles! LOL. Ah, well... I'm sure the FAC will do fine without me... or my memories. Not to mention my opinions of contemporary glass art.

5:48 PM  
Blogger tarianann said...

hotbutton press, I urge you to come back to the FAC. I promise you, there is much more than glass bubbles :-) It is time to build new memories, call me and I will give you a personal tour. I have no doubt you will be pleased.

Tariana Navas-Nieves
FAC Curator of Hispanic and Native American Art

7:30 AM  

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