Wheeler funds: Tap ’em for more acts, marketing? | AspenTimes.com

Wheeler funds: Tap ’em for more acts, marketing?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Wheeler Opera House needs a greater diversity of live performances, City Council members agreed Monday, urging the Wheeler’s board of directors to spring loose the funds to make it happen.

Some council members would also like to see the Wheeler loosen its purse springs to help fund the marketing of Aspen’s arts and cultural offerings in general.

And, the council directed the Wheeler board to take the lead on planning improvements to the opera house with expansion onto the vacant lot next door.

Finally, the council agreed it would seek out a local youth to serve as a voting member on the Wheeler board, along with a representative of the dance community, upping its membership from seven to nine members.

All of the issues came up during a joint meeting of the Wheeler board and the council to discuss marketing of the arts and the board’s role.

Council members Rachel Richards and Torre pushed for greater spending of Wheeler funds to market the arts in Aspen in conjunction with local arts and cultural groups, which are organizing a new Aspen/Snowmass Cultural Affairs Commission to act as a coordinated voice for the arts.

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“This discussion is about how can we as a council and the community go further to support the arts,” Torre said.

The Wheeler, supported by a real estate transfer tax, could do more to market Aspen’s arts scene, in Colorado and nationally, argued Richards.

But others wondered if the arts groups shouldn’t be lobbying the Aspen Chamber Resort Association to do that.

“The ACRA’s got the bulk of the marketing money … there’s a perception that the arts have been short-changed,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud.

A portion of the city’s lodging-tax dollars fund the marketing/advertising campaign spearheaded by the ACRA.

Wheeler board members said they wouldn’t object to helping market the arts as they tie into the Wheeler.

“I think as members of the Wheeler board, our first priority is to the Wheeler,” said member Jim Berdahl. “To the extent that’s synergistic with the marketing of Aspen as a cultural destination, great.”

“I, too, believe the number one role of the Wheeler board is to the Wheeler … but again, without the groups inside it, it’s just an empty building,” Richards responded.

She also suggested the Wheeler board focus on producing more live performances with its funds.

“I, at least, would like to see more live performances, a little less film,” Richards said.

“I wonder how much opportunity we give local performers to use the stage,” Torre chimed in.

The board is looking to broaden the diversity of acts it brings to the opera house, said chairman Larry Fredrick. During last fall’s debate over acquiring the Mother Lode restaurant property for potential expansion of the Wheeler, the board heard the community’s desires for broader programming, he said.

“We’ve gotten the message,” Fredrick said. “We’ve really had kind of an eye-opening there these last few months.”

Various entities produce shows at the Wheeler. The opera house itself brought 19 live performances to the stage in 2003 and is looking to do 25 to 30 this year, said Nida Tautvydas, executive director.

In the past, the Wheeler has avoided producing performances that compete with local nonprofits, she added.

Councilman Tim Semrau urged the Wheeler board to consider subsidizing acts “a little bit” if that’s what it takes to bring them here.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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