Tribute to Karen

Tribute to Karen Ripley Dugan
1939 to 2015

Karen, 1965, with children Rafael, Derek and Nike VanArsdale

Celebration! A History of the Visual Arts in Boulder (HOVAB) is dedicated to the memory of Karen Ripley Dugan, a pillar of the Boulder arts community, without whom much of what we can appreciate today might not even exist.

When the idea of HOVAB came up in early 2014, Karen was ─ of course! – the very first person contacted and inducted into our curatorial and steering committee. Despite her fragile health, she worked diligently to help us identify artists, venues, funders and more. She knew everyone and had strong, deep bonds with hundreds of people all over the country. In the time she worked with us she was unfortunately often in pain, but never once did she give up on her commitment; never once did she complain.

She was always smiling.


Karen Ripley Dugan Gallery

Indeed, Karen Ripley Dugan was probably born smiling – on November 11, 1939 in New Jersey, where she spent her youth. In 1957, she came West to attend the University of Colorado. She said that when she crested the hill overlooking Boulder, she knew this was “the place” and that she would never return to the East Coast.

At CU, she married Robert VanArsdale and had three children, daughter Nike and sons Rafael and Derek. After their divorce, she married Jerry Hodge and together they established the Sun Sign Center, which served as a gallery and all around art center.

After a second divorce, Karen returned to CU, where she completed a degree in Humanities. From there she spent the rest of her life promoting and advocating for the arts. In 1978, she became the first paid director of the Boulder Arts Center, later renamed the Boulder Center for the Visual Arts, which, after her departure, became the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

Once the BCVA was solidly established, Karen moved on to become Director of Cultural Programming at the Boulder Public Library, where she curated memorable art exhibitions, as well as marvelous programs in the library’s new auditorium. She retired in 2005. Karen curated the Boulder Public Library Canyon Gallery exhibition on behalf of HOVAB, and most of the works displayed there were chosen by her. She died on July 29, 2015.

Karen featured in a Focus Magazine article in the Daily Camera, November 1976

In 1992, Karen married her partner of many years, Tom Dugan, who generously invited their friends to donate to HOVAB in her name and who has loaned us many works from their collection. We are profoundly grateful to them both.

Karen met every challenge with shrewdness, creativity and compassion. We miss her terribly. We wish she were here to enjoy this final accomplishment, just one of many.

Among her numerous honors are the Daily Camera Pacesetter and the Boulder Chamber’s Women Who Light Up the Community awards. Those say it all: Karen Ripley Dugan devoted her life to illuminating and bringing Boulder arts forward. She not only made Celebration! A History of the Visual Arts possible, but brightened and enlightened us.