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Hometown artist takes helm at arts center

Cristie Scott moves from board seat to director position
Cristie Scott starts her new job as executive director of the Durango Arts Center today.

Two years ago, Cristie Scott shot for the moon and applied for the position of executive director of the Durango Arts Center.

Scott, who grew up in Durango before leaving to pursue an education in studio art and nonprofit administration, realized that she was young (in her late 20s), but went for it anyway. She ended up being edged out by Peggy Zemach, but, she said, the next best thing happened.

“I did not get it, but they offered me a spot on the board and I was thrilled,” she said. “I was shocked that I was even a finalist.”

In the two years that followed, Scott’s DAC colleagues say, she proved herself a devoted and hands-on board member and president who worked tirelessly to help bolster the region’s artists through DAC’s programs.

“You could always call her, she was always there for support,” said fellow board member Margie Deane Gray. “She supports our local artists so much. She was a wonderful leader.”

Scott also got a first-hand lesson in the inner workings of Durango’s 41-year-old art institution, which organizes gallery shows in town, oversees a theater program and offers year-round arts education.

Still, when Zemach announced that she was leaving the organization and DAC began a search for a new director early this summer, Scott did not immediately pursue the position.

Instead, she went to work on the search committee, helping to set up the timeline, create a subcommittee and redefine the job.

Then she had what she calls “an ah haa moment,” when she realized that she has worked lifelong for an opportunity like this.

And with that, Scott summarily resigned from the board and threw her name in the hat. She distanced herself from the board to ensure a fair process, she said, and soon received a phone call for an interview. Scott and board members stress that she was given the same treatment as the other job candidates.

“I resigned, then Tim (Kapustka) became the president, and I was in the dark for the rest of the process,” Scott said.

And that’s how Scott once again found herself as a finalist for the job of her dreams. Only this time, when the final phone call came, the outcome was different: Scott was offered the job, and she accepted.

Scott begins her position at the helm of DAC today. She said she is thrilled to lead the arts organization into the future.

“It’s pretty surreal,” she said.

She was selected from a field of roughly 40 candidates from Durango and around the country. Gray said Scott has the experience, the education, the know-how and the intimate knowledge of DAC to hit the ground running.

“She’s really outstanding,” Gray said. “She just gets it, which is important. She is perfect for the job. And we have all the confidence in the world that she’s going to be stellar.”

Scott moved to Durango with her mom when she was in second grade, and first experienced the Durango Arts Center as a student and a young art enthusiast attending children’s museum events. Her love of arts grew as she got older, and by the time she was in high school, she was a watercolor painter and member of the National Art Honor Society.

After graduating, she studied studio art at the University of Puget Sound before landing a position as an arts coordinator at Idyllwild Arts Foundation in southern California. It was at Idyllwild that she discovered a knack for arts administration.

“I realized that I really liked the administrative side of it,” she said. “I really enjoyed the coordination aspect, I liked the whole community aspect.”

Galvanized, she enrolled in a graduate school program for visual arts administration and nonprofit management at New York University’s Steinhardt School. There, she learned about marketing, outreach, strategic planning, running boards and the behind-the-scenes work that makes nonprofits operate.

A couple of years after finishing that program, she answered the pull of her hometown and moved back to Durango. She got involved with arts immediately, volunteering for DAC one day a week, joining the city’s Public Art Commission and doing studio work. It was a path that led to her new role.

Scott said her goals as director include ensuring that DAC is a creative, efficient and professional organization that props up the region’s artists. She hopes to build an endowment during her time at the helm, facilitate the effort to search for a new building, create connections, diversify DAC’s fundraising streams and support artists.

“Always looking at how DAC can remain relevant with the community,” she said. “We’re really lucky. We’ve got a lot going on here.”


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