Reborn: Colorado Springs FAC is Stunning

If you have not visited the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center recently, prepare to be stunned. Not just because of the exquisite new building — 48,000 square feet of glittering glass — but because the Taylor Museum’s permanent collection will finally see the light of day.

Long buried in the dusty bowels of the FAC’s basement, 15,000 pieces of art will at last be on rotated display — a collection that has been languishing out of sight, unseen and unknown by the art-loving public. Now, everything old will be new again in a light and airy environment. Conventional wisdom used to be that light hurt art, the reason why so many museums are dark. But the FAC’s $1 million worth of lighting has changed all that.

Here’s another surprising fact: Did you wonder why the permanent collection’s exhibit seemed tiresomely familiar? Tariana Navas-Nieves, the FAC’s new curator of Hispanic and Native American Art, revealed that for the past 14 years, the same

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center’s new building includes 48,000 square feet of glass.

pieces from the permanent collection were kept on exhibit, never changed and never rotated, even though “the entire collection was always here, down in the basement.” Who knew?

Currently, much of the collection is in storage in Denver, awaiting transfer to its new home beneath the new building. According to Navas-Nieves, the entire new basement space will be devoted to a state-of-the-art collection storage system designed by a German company that specializes in such things. The design will safeguard and preserve the collection, protect its integrity and ensure conservation. “The space of the new building’s basement is really, really big,” she says, emphasizing really.

There are other, significant changes in the Taylor. Originally, exhibits were divided between “traditional” and “fine” art. One of the first things Navas-Nieves did in her new position was to eliminate these distinctions and create three separate areas: American, Latin American and Native American. “I don’t believe there should be a distinction between traditional and fine art. Each of the areas now encompasses both,” she says.

The new permanent collection wing with six spacious galleries will exhibit works that have been sleeping in the old basement, unseen for years, some since the museum’s founding in 1936. Navas-Nieves plans to rotate the art every few months, and have thematic, cultural and special exhibitions. “It’s truly a new era to celebrate our collection, and we can do this only with innovation. I want constant and ongoing change.” And she means it.

John Wayne, a mixed media piece by Venezuelan-born American Marisol Escobar

Three things attracted her to the Fine Arts Center: The expansion project, the FAC’s new direction and potential for collection growth. Primarily, she saw a great opportunity to build a collection that would complement the existing Latin American art in the region. “I want to focus on collecting modern and contemporary art from Latin America, the area closest to my heart.”

It seems provident that this new curator is a Latina herself. A native of Puerto Rico, where she visits her family twice a year, her background is filled with the creative arts, nurtured by supportive parents in a rich cultural environment. Looking at this attractive, outgoing, dark-haired and dark-eyed woman, it’s easy to imagine that she has, in fact, been a dancer all her life, classically trained in ballet, modern jazz and flamenco.

With a graduate degree from the University of Texas, Navas-Nieves is no newcomer to the world of art collecting. Over a 15-year period, she has been a curator for private collections of Native American art; curator for Denver’s Museo de Las Americas; and is a consultant for Latin American art at the Denver Art Museum.

Her enthusiasm and excitement about the FAC’s new direction and her place in it are what motivates her daily commute from Denver, where she lives with her two children, a son and daughter ages 10 and 6, and her husband, an attorney in private practice. “It’s crazy and hectic,” she says, but there are no immediate plans to relocate to Colorado Springs. What drive her days are the endless possibilities to grow a Latin American collection that will stagger the senses.

Following in the footsteps of the FAC’s outgoing former president and CEO, Michael De Marsche, who overhauled the aging building at warp speed, Navas-Nieves is doing the same with the Taylor Museum and the Latin American collection.

She has no misconceptions that the choices she makes will ruffle some feathers. Changing the FAC’s status quo has met with its detractors. But change is good, she believes. “I bring a different perspective from the outside as a woman and as a Latin

Moonrise, Hernandez, NM, a silver print by Ansel Adams

American,” she says, speaking in a soft, barely discernable accent, never referring to herself or the art as Hispanic.

Navas-Nieves is very clear about one thing: “The FAC belongs to the entire community.” There is no mistaking her subtle meaning. “This is community. And we need to break the stereotypes and open people’s minds to what’s happening in Latin American art. I want it to constantly change and evolve.”

She will be busy but not overwhelmed. “I’m a Gemini,” she laughs. “I do so many things at once.”

If You Go

Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St., Colorado Springs, CO 80903; (719) 634-5581

FAC Art Calendar
Impressionist and Modern Masters, from the New Orleans Museum of Art, Dec. 8-March 9

Toni Knapp is a freelance writer living in Colorado Springs.

From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.