Do whatever it takes for our arts superstar

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

Michael De Marsche has taken the Fine Arts Center from local obscurity to regional prominence during a span of only four years.

So here it is at last, the grand opening of the resplendent new addition to the Fine Arts Center. It’s a triumph for and a tribute to our community. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the foundations, businesses and individuals whose generous contributions made this day possible.
But it’s obvious that we owe much to one man, FAC President and CEO Michael De Marsche. Without his leadership, it’s reasonable to assume that the arts community would still be mired in pointless infighting, that no plan would have been conceived, that no project would have been launched.
In four years, De Marsche took an irrelevant, dispirited and directionless institution, and recreated it. He made bold acquisitions, mounted hugely popular exhibitions, opened a new downtown annex and lifted the FAC from local obscurity to regional prominence.
He tripled its membership, tripled its operating budget and helped raise $30 million to pay for the addition, without any significant public funding.
It’s an extraordinary record.
Imagine a CEO taking over a sleepy little company with outmoded products, declining sales, demoralized employees and obsolete facilities, and turning it around in four years. Imagine that the turnaround is so dramatic that it attracts national attention. What do you think happens?
The headhunters come calling, and you can bet that they’ll have some enticing offers for the art world’s newest superstar.
As the New York Times reported last Sunday, there are currently two dozen American museums looking for new leaders. The list includes such prestigious institutions as the Kimbell in Fort Worth, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, the Phillips Collection in Washington, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
To be a museum director is to have a job as difficult, demanding and infuriating as any comparable position in the business world. You need to gain the respect and confidence of your professional arts staff, who may resent being bossed around by someone without a Ph.D. in, say, medieval art history. (For the record, De Marsche has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Arizona State University, and a second master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Stanford University — all in history of art).
You also need to deal with other constituencies — artists, businesses, politicians, donors, museum members and activists of a dozen different kinds. Meanwhile, you have to run the museum, organize exhibitions, raise money and maybe even launch new initiatives.
As the Times put it: “A dream candidate would have both a Ph.D. and an MBA. And given the relentless emphasis on fund-raising, it would help to have the political charms of Bill Clinton and the social stamina of Paris Hilton.”
Sounds like someone we know, doesn’t it?
Conclusion: if FAC board members want to keep the illustrious De Marsche around for a few more years, they need to realize that he’s a hot commodity and reward him accordingly.
But even too much might not be enough.
In the same article, the Times noted that Philippe de Montebello, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the last 30 years, may be, at 71, ready to step aside. And for a museum professional, that’s the ultimate job — although following Montebello might be like following Bill Gates at Microsoft or Jack Welch at General Electric.
Although De Marsche might be the John Elway of the Colorado Springs art world, even Elway admitted that he wouldn’t have won those back-to-back Super Bowls without Terrell Davis and a solid supporting cast. And we have our own T.D.’s and supporting cast in Colorado Springs; dedicated people who neither seek nor expect recognition.
Chief among them is Kathy Loo, who, with Buck Blessing, co-chaired the addition’s capital campaign. She not only made a seven-figure donation, but also spent months arm-twisting, cajoling, charming and gently persuading scores, even hundreds, of her friends, family and associates to contribute.
Looking at the roster of donors, it’s clear that Kathy’s tireless efforts and personal example led many to give far more than they might have originally intended.
The $500 donors turned into $5,000 patrons, the $5,000 patrons turned into $50,000 benefactors and the $50,000 benefactors turned into $250,000-plus mega-donors.
It was an extraordinary effort, one which can only be compared to the Pete Susemihl-led campaign to build the World Arena 15 years ago.
We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Kathy and to Buck, and to Tim Hoiles, Annette Seagraves, Chris Jenkins, Susie Burghart, Margot Lane and many others, whose hard work, extraordinary generosity, and business smarts (because that’s the reason they have the wherewithal to be extraordinarily generous) have given us this beautiful new building.
They represent the very best of this city, and we’re lucky to have them.
Meanwhile, a couple of people who might not represent the very best of this city, the Double Dougs (Bruce and Lamborn) are in the news again. They’re each sponsoring futile initiatives that have little to do with the real world or with their well-compensated public sector jobs.
The original Dougster (Bruce) is threatening to sue El Paso County for illegally raising taxes, because his fellow commissioners voted to stop paying businesses a modest fee to collect and remit the county sales tax. Never mind that such a suit would have no chance of success and no effect, other than to drain money from county coffers to fight a frivolous lawsuit.
The new Dougster (Lamborn) wants to extend the Taxpayers Bill of Rights to the whole country. The bill has no chance of passing — it’s just a lamely obvious political ploy. Lamborn wants the true believers who vote in local Republican primaries to support him next year, when Jeff Crank is expected to mount a ferocious, well-funded campaign to unseat him.
Memo to the Double Dougs: including benefits and expense allowances, it’s costing the taxpayers several hundred thousand bucks annually to keep the two of you in office. Might it not be appropriate to give up your self-indulgent posturing and preening and try your hand at, well, legislating?
That’s what you’re getting paid for, isn’t it?
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5816.