Aspen for Arts raises $53,000 for ballot measure 2A

Aspen’s heavy hitter arts and cultural nonprofits are largest contributors

Frieda Wallison, left, and Carolyn Fields check ballots in the Pitkin County government building in Aspen on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The campaign promoting the passage of ballot measure 2A, which seeks to divert more money for arts and culture from the real estate transfer tax that funds the Wheeler Opera House has raised $53,000 in a month and a half.

The political committee called Aspen for Arts raised that amount between Sept. 6 and Oct. 21, and has spent $28,839, according to a campaign finance report filed with the Aspen City Clerk’s Office.

Aspen’s larger arts and cultural organizations account for the bulk of the political contributions, with the Aspen Music Festival and School as the top contributor with $20,000 and the Aspen Institute putting in $10,000.

Cristal Logan, chair of the chamber of commerce board of directors who represents local arts and culture organizations and is the vice president and director of community programs for the Institute, said Sunday that with a small window to organize and build a campaign, significant investments had to be made.

“We didn’t have a lot of time, and when we were told how much this was going to cost to get this launched, (Alan Fletcher, CEO and president of AMFS) and I recognized we were going to have to give the most” for seed money, she said.

Other arts and culture organizations bucked up, as well.

Jazz Aspen Snowmass, the Aspen Art Museum and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet each donated $5,000. Theater Aspen kicked in $3,500; Aspen Film, $1,500; and Aspen Words $1,000.

The rest of the contributions came from 21 individuals who donated $20 or more, totaling $1,945. Donations of $19.99 came from seven people and totaled $55.

More than $11,000 went to Lara Whitley for the campaign’s communications efforts, and nearly $9,000 was spent on newspaper ads.

Graphic design, postcards, direct mailers, yard signs and Facebook ads account for the rest of the expenditures.

Aspen for Arts and its supporters did not have a lot of time to fund raise or campaign since City Council voted at the eleventh hour to place it on the ballot.

After several meetings this year on whether to divert money for other community uses from a ballooning Wheeler Opera House RETT fund, which stands at roughly $40 million thanks to a local robust real estate market, council voted 3-2 on an ordinance placing the question the ballot.

It was a controversial process leading up to the Sept. 3 vote, which was the deadline to place questions on the ballot.

Some council members were not present for all of the discussions, and two, Rachel Richards and Ward Hauenstein, dissented during the final vote, arguing that the question was rushed, lacks details and other funds have not yet been secured for community needs like affordable child care and mental health efforts.

They’ve both come around and are supporting 2A; Hauenstein is on the list of supporters on the Aspen for Arts website and Richards confirmed she supports the intent of the ballot measure and voted yes.

Councilmembers Skippy Mesirow and John Doyle and Mayor Torre voted in favor of sending the question to voters, saying it is time to let voters weigh in a on decades-long debate over whether to divert Wheeler RETT dollars.

Aspen voters in 1979 originally approved and then reaffirmed in 2016 with the extension of the tax to 2039 that RETT revenue goes to the opera house, along with an annual $100,000 distribution to local arts and cultural organizations.

The ballot question seeks to remove the $100,000 cap and also asks that a portion of the RETT be repurposed to the Red Brick Center for the Arts, which currently is supported by the city’s general fund and asset management fund.

Per the 1979 ballot language, it requires 60% of the electorate to pass, which Logan and political observers have acknowledged is a challenge.

“We are optimistic but we all know it’s an uphill battle to get anything to pass at 60%,” Logan said.

And in an off-year election, low voter turnout is expected.

As of Friday, 2,884 Pitkin County residents had voted, and 1,184 of them are city voters, representing roughly 41% of the electorate who have turned out to the polls, according to county Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill.

There are 14,112 registered voters in the county, and 5,847 of them are in the city. Vos Caudill said she predicted between 500 and 1,000 ballots coming in Monday and Tuesday.

If people have not received their ballots in the mail, they can go to the county’s administration building on Main Street to fill one out.

People who want to register to vote also are encouraged to go in person to the administration building, which they can do through Election Day on Tuesday.

Ballots can be dropped in drop boxes in front of the county administration building, at Snowmass Village Town Hall or Basalt Town Hall until 7 p.m. on Tuesday.