New role: Lee Borden named executive director of The Art Center
Lee Borden named executive director of The Art Center
By his own description, Lee Borden was a “geeky orchestra kid” and prone to shyness. He’d been on stage before, sure, but as part of an orchestra, and kind of toward the back with his string bass.
It was something of a revelation, then, when he stood on stage at Grand Junction High School and sang, “Lord who made the lion and the lamb/You decreed I should be what I am/Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan/If I were a wealthy man?”
Finishing “If I Were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” wearing the clothes and identity of Tevye, he stood in the noon-bright spotlight and watched the audience rise in a standing ovation.
“It’s probably cliché to say it was electrifying, but it was electrifying,” he recalled. “It was surreal to have all of these people cheer for me, holy cow.
“I know it’s true of artists, it’s true of people who try the arts for the first time, that feeling of I created this, it came out of me.”
That’s a significant insight, one that Borden, 54, said will guide him in his role of executive director of the Western Colorado Center for the Arts (gjartcenter.org), which he officially steps into Friday, Oct. 28. He replaces Mikkel Kelly, “who is returning to his family in Denver,” according to a news released from The Art Center.
Borden has been with The Art Center for more than eight years, serving as events and communications manager, and enters the executive director position with a charge from the board of trustees to start thinking about expansion.
“Lee gets it about the importance of art to our community and he’s done a wonderful job in his current role as communications and events coordinator and we feel like he is the best person to take us forward because he knows us inside and out,” said Robbie Breaux, president of The Art Center’s board of trustees. “He’s got really good ideas about moving forward.
“We are in the process of doing our facility assessment, looking at in the coming months what we need to do to be able to grow because right now we’re busting at the seams in our current building. So, we’re looking at either how to expand that facility, which is hard to do because we’re landlocked, and he gets that as well. We currently are at a point where we can offer no more programs, we can’t hire additional staff because we have nowhere to put them,” Breaux said.
Borden’s understanding of that space is unique, since he remembers playing on the lot at the southwest corner of Seventh Street and Orchard Avenue as a child, before construction began on The Art Center building.
“It’s been part of my world since I was small,” he said.
After graduating from Grand Junction High School and then-Mesa College, where he studied theater under Bill Robinson, he “decided I probably would make more money in radio as a DJ and program director,” Borden explained. Until 2000, when he returned to Grand Junction to work with The Cabaret Dinner Theatre — The Cabaret used to occupy space at 701 Main St. — he was a radio personality at stations around the region.
While his passion for the arts began in theater and the performance arts, it has expanded to encompass the role art plays in every life, he said.
“One of my core beliefs is that the arts are not a pastime or a hobby,” he said. “They’re essential to the human condition. The arts are not for the so-called elite, they’re for everybody.”
Among his goals as executive director will be to build relationships between The Art Center and artists, galleries and arts and educational organizations around the region, working to overcome a long-standing sense of territorialism among the different groups. He acknowledged the dollars are limited in weaker economic times, and the competition for them among arts nonprofits can be intense.
“But I do think that in times of economic turmoil, the arts can help us understand who we are,” he said, referencing what Thomas Merton wrote in “No Man Is an Island”: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
Part of bolstering The Art Center’s role in the region, he said, will be showing individuals the role it can play in their lives — stopping by a gallery at lunchtime, perhaps, or taking a beginning ceramics class. Building on that foundation, he said, the natural next step is expansion.
The Art Center building is 14,000 square feet “and we’re kind of bursting at the seams as far as space for programming,” he said, adding that he would like to bring theater and other performing arts back to The Art Center, but right now there isn’t room.
Whether that would mean a capital campaign, working toward more corporate partnerships or individual memberships or yet-to-be-determined fund-raising efforts is still an unknown, he said, as the possibility of expansion still is in the discussion stage.
Ultimately, he said, it’s not about expanding The Art Center’s annual budget, which has hovered under half a million, but expanding its reach in people’s lives around the region. Borden wants people to feel comfortable coming to The Art Center and viewing it as a place where they can not only meet artists but be artists.
“It’s kind of the hidden gem of Grand Junction,” he said. “I just want more people to know about it.”