Cydney Payton Leaves MCA/Denver

In what could only be described as shocking news, Cydney Payton (pictured) director and curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver has submitted her resignation. “It’s time to move on,” she says. “I got to build a museum -- how many people can say that?”

This seemingly immodest appraisal of her role in the realization of a permanent home for what she re-dubbed MCA (it was formerly known as MoCA/D) is hardly an idle boast. It really was Payton more than anyone else who deserves the credit. Because of her tireless and downright Herculean efforts, the fabulous, functional and award-winning David Adjaye-designed building is now sitting at the corner of Delgany and 15th streets.

Payton’s been a key player in the Colorado art world for over two decades. In the mid-‘80s she launched her career as an art dealer with a gallery called the Cydney Payton Art Folio in Highland way before the neighborhood became the hip area it is now. She then did the same kind of urban pioneering in LoDo, opening Payton-Rule Gallery in 1990 when the now-hopping neighborhood was mostly filled with boarded up buildings.

Realizing in 1992 that she was not cut out to be a saleswomen, she jumped into the not-for-profit institutional arena, taking the job of running what was then the down-at-the-heels Boulder Art Center. She refocused the exhibits from the Sunday-painter and hobby-potter fare that was served up by the BAC and replaced it with a program spotlighting significant modern and contemporary artists, many of whom produced their works in Colorado. With the change in exhibition philosophy Payton also re-branded the place, coining the name, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in 1996.

In 2000, she quit BMoCA and took over MoCA/D on January 1, 2001. At the time, the funky and disorganized exhibition venue was on the verge of closing down. Yet just over a half a dozen years later, the museum is in its own built-from-the-ground-up facility.

Payton has had her detractors in the art community, but her real accomplishments, not only in glass and steel but in her contribution to the cultural life of the city, are impossible to ignore. Payton will stay on at the helm of MCA into the fall. No word yet on a replacement, not even an interim one. -- Michael Paglia

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes