Denver Art Museum's Fulton sees the big picture

Jutting skyward in peaks and slants of glinting titanium, the Denver Art Museum's new Frederic C. Hamilton Building is progressive and unique - like its home city.

Jutting skyward in peaks and slants of glinting titanium, the Denver Art Museum's new Frederic C. Hamilton Building is progressive and unique - like its home city.

The $110 million, 146,000-square-foot expansion nearly doubled the space for the permanent collection and traveling exhibitions. Architect Daniel Libeskind, who drew the original master plan to rebuild the World Trade Center site, said the Rocky Mountains and "wide-open faces of the people of Denver" inspired the design.

Andrea Fulton has worked on the project for about five years and was promoted to communications director last year. She, an in-house team of six, and agency Resnicow Schroeder Associates (RSA) launched a national media relations campaign 10 months ago.

About 30 carefully selected art and architecture critics were given a project overview in New York last winter. Then targeted outreach to US and European journalists began and culminated a week before the October 7 opening with 150 journalists on hand to see the expansion and meet the museum's director, chairman, senior staff, and Libeskind.

"Having a great team is invaluable," Fulton says. "We've been overwhelmed [with interest]. We haven't had access to the entire museum complex for a long time and we're excited to show that off. Being involved in a project that's been a concept of vision for so long [and now] to be able to walk people in those doors is unbelievable."

Fulton previously had only agency experience and didn't know much about art. She's recognized for internalizing the museum's mission and seamlessly folding it into communications.

"[She listens] to what art means to the curators and to what community relations means to the museum," says RSA principal Fred Schroeder. "[She] let the communications strategy grow organically out of museum needs.

"Museums generally get it wrong when communications or marketing gets placed ahead of the institutional artistic mission," he adds. "She has fully embraced [museum priorities], and it's coming out in coverage. Most [stories address] how the architecture serves the museum's purpose; how it works in galvanizing an already culturally active community; [its] place in downtown and within the cultural district. It's about seeing the museum as a partner with other institutions, not as a competitor."

Marketing director Janet Meredith adds, "Andrea has understood our platform, vision, goals, and [has] taken them through in an extremely clear, effective PR plan. The past few years have been exceptionally complex. She was the right person to handle such an incredibly strategic moment."

Other cultural happenings - such as a new opera house opening and the development of two neighboring museums opening in 2009 - were leveraged to get journalists to Denver and build buzz about the whole scene. Engaging the community was also important. All project milestones were celebrated, and there have been many community events, including a block party when a major street closed during construction.

"Keeping a constant line of communication with the community, and having that as part of our mentality helped us," Fulton says.

Mayor John Hickenlooper (D), a former museum board member, is its "biggest cheerleader." Fulton says, "He has been totally available to us. To have him so aware, informed, and involved is amazing."

Hickenlooper missed the opening due to a family trip to Ireland, but he didn't leave before posing for the family Christmas card in front of the museum. The opening was a free 35-hour affair, replete with live performances, music, dancing, classes, and sunrise tai chi on the new plaza.

"I love working on something I really believe in," Fulton says. "I didn't know a lot about art when I came to work here, and now I really have a passion for it. That's doesn't happen in every job."

Andrea Fulton

August 2001-present
Director of communications, Denver Art Museum

Sept. 2000-June 2001
SAE, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, Denver

August 1998-Sept. 2000
Associate, JohnstonWells Public Relations, Denver

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