Best political use of an art show to get a bigger building (2000)

Impressionism Denver Art Museum

Last November, the Denver Art Museum asked voters for a $60 million-plus capital-improvement bond to pay for the construction of a new, freestanding wing. So how could the DAM make the case that it needed the money because it was too damned small? Museum helmsman Lewis Sharp went out and scored Impressionism, a traveling show that broke all of the museum's previous attendance records with more than a quarter of a million visitors craning their necks to see Monets, Cassatts, Gauguins and Van Goghs that had come from museums all over Europe. Denver art enthusiasts not only crowded the Hamilton Galleries on the main floor, but they crowded the rest of the museum as well, and Acoma Plaza outside, and they paralyzed traffic on the West 14th Avenue Parkway. And, yes, they also went out and gave the DAM a landslide in its bond election. The political maneuvering through exhibition scheduling was just the first in a series of brilliant moves on Sharp's part. Another was his decision to look for a master architect to design a world-class building, just as the DAM had done before when it built its current 1971 edifice, which was designed by Italian legend Gio Ponti with local genius James Sudler. Thanks to Impressionism, that new DAM wing will surely be one of the best new buildings to rise on the Denver skyline in decades.


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