The Fine Arts Center at Colorado College is 100 years old this year. It began in the former home of philanthropists Julie and Spencer Penrose in 1919 as the Broadmoor Art Academy. By the 1930s, what was initially a local art colony had become a major force in the art world.
Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, shared his thoughts on the influence the Fine Arts Center has had on the city.
Highlights from the conversation:
On how the Broadmoor Art Academy fit into the image General Palmer had in founding Colorado Springs in 1887:
Palmer wanted Colorado Springs to be the most attractive place for homes in the West. In order to do that in a community in which you did not have industry, which was part of Palmer's vision, you needed great institutions and the environment that would encourage people who just wanted to live in a beautiful place with a wonderful climate that had a culture that was attractive. The Broadmoor Art Academy and the Fine Arts Center certainly fit within that grand vision that Palmer had.
On the success of the Broadmoor Art Academy in its early years:
You really can't understand the Fine Arts Center or the Broadmoor Academy without understanding [that] we had more millionaires per capita than most other cities in the United States at that time. That wealth encourages and gives the ability to support the fine arts. It also attracts to Colorado Springs— a relatively small town in a relatively isolated location—amazing artists and amazing performing arts opportunities that you just don't get in the American West. It's this cross of where Colorado Springs is at the base of Pikes Peak, of access to wealth because of the mining industry, and the desire to create an arts institution.
On how the Fine Arts Center attracted the work of Paull Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh among others, to the West:
A way of thinking of that is the building itself. The John Gaw Meem building, that we know as the Fine Arts Center, is itself a statement—you attract an architect who can create a signature building in this remote location of the American West. That itself takes vision. It takes commitment, and it takes the resources to do it. All of the early years, and even the later years of the Fine Arts Center, are about access to resources that made the whole thing possible.
On the mission of the Fine Arts Center as making art accessible to everyone:
While it was the millionaires who lived in Colorado Springs that made the Fine Arts Center possible, it was about making the fine art available to the public. What the Fine Arts Center is doing today by welcoming people into their doors, by presenting exhibits, by encouraging more understanding and awareness of the arts...it’s all about engaging the public. All cultural institutions try to do this and to make what they do meaningful relevant to the community. I would say the Fine Arts Center has done that since day one.
Editors note: Matt Mayberry is a member of the 91.5 KRCC Community Advisory Board. The Fine Arts Center is an underwriter of 91.5 KRCC and is operated by Colorado College, which is the station’s licensee.