Milteer maintains his and others’ art treasures

Blake-MilteerBlake Milteer is the executive director and chief curator of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center’s museum. The Norfolk, Va., native met his wife Sarah, “an amazing painter” who works in the writing center at Colorado College, at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Milteer was a student and Sarah was on an exchange program with the Glasgow School of Art. Their sons Kenny and Sam “are inquisitive dudes with good heads and big hearts,” Milteer said. “If they grow up and support the arts, we’ll have done well.” Milteer spent some time this week with the Business Journal explaining his life and career.

Please explain your job and the museum.

I oversee the museum’s staff, exhibition program and permanent collection of art with the goal of facilitating varied, and hopefully extended, encounters with art. Our community has expressed a fondness for historic art in balance with contemporary art, and that has been a strength of the FAC’s program since the institution opened. The exhibition program I have sought to maintain accordingly explores art of various eras, ideas and media from regional to international scope. We balance a significant range of major loaned — original and packaged — exhibitions with exhibitions from our own collections. We consistently seek ways to present our programs to new audiences and intensify the investment of existing audiences.

What do you love most about your job?

I love collaborating daily with the great FAC staff and working directly with amazing artists. The FAC has always had a role in fostering creative development and innovation. Exhibition of work by contemporary artists is an elemental extension of the creative process, and the FAC occupies a critical role in the development of new art. Working directly with artists on original, dynamic and relevant exhibitions is essential to the museum’s vibrant presence in our community. As artists’ voices are critical to continually vigorous discourse, the museum must regularly engage them in original exhibition projects and often in art added to the collection.

What has been the most exciting thing you’ve done in your current position?

With the generosity of many fabulous donors, we continue to very selectively add new art to the collection. Stunning recent acquisitions of art by Jennifer Bartlett, Eric Bransby, Charles Bunnell, Rafael Ferrer, Sam Francis, William Kentridge, Roy Lichtenstein, Isamu Noguchi, Ellen O’Brien, Boardman Robinson and Dawn Wilde now grace our galleries. Major promised gifts of private collections will immensely deepen the experiences we are able to offer in the galleries and will remain beloved for generations to come; among them are the Loo collection of historic Colorado art, the Vogel and Brasch collections of contemporary art and an extraordinary gift of Birger Sandzén paintings. We also have recently instituted the Museum Society. This membership-based group engages in annual activities such as artist studio visits, private collector visits, behind-the-scenes museum tours, lectures and travel — all for the purpose of digging deeper into various aspects of the art world we hope will raise enthusiasm and support for our programs.

Major gifts will immensely deepen experiences we offer.

Tell us a little about the history of the FAC museum.

With its opening in 1936, the Fine Arts Center’s Taylor Museum continued a vigorous exhibition program that began almost two decades prior with its predecessor, the Broadmoor Art Academy. A permanent collection of art was then introduced that would be cared for and exhibited under the auspices of the museum. Over the past 78 years, the collection has grown and evolved through curatorial cultivation of generous gifts and prudent purchases of art. The collection’s initial focus was on arts of the American Southwest, based upon works collected and gifted by benefactor Alice Bemis Taylor. Thousands of Hispanic and American Indian objects from Taylor’s collection formed the edifice of the museum’s activities.

In the early 1940s, the museum began to collect American modern art, given the interests and collecting emphasis of Elizabeth Sage Hare, another FAC founder. The bequest of significant works from Hare’s collection was the impetus for important later acquisitions of art by Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Robert Motherwell, Marisol, Richard Diebenkorn, Paul Cadmus and Dale Chihuly. Our 2007 expansion provided the magnificent gallery spaces we need in order to protect the art, to create focused exhibitions from our collection and to continually bring a balance of regional, national and international art to our community.

What is your biggest challenge as executive director and chief curator?

Organizations like the FAC exist because of the artists and their art. We must always strive to honor the art and the artists’ intent — even at their toughest — while simultaneously providing visitors the interpretive tools that inspire them to spend time really looking at the art and letting it unfold in their own experience.

What do you do in your spare time?

I thrive on being surrounded by art of all forms by and the smart, engaged and creative people who make it. I love getting out with my family and exploring various experiences around Colorado. Cooking and gardening are also quite fulfilling. Then, every so often, I find my way back into the process of making my own art. nCSBJ