City, Wheeler board squabble over marketing, programming |

City, Wheeler board squabble over marketing, programming

Janet Urquhart

About $320,000 to ramp up marketing of the Wheeler Opera House and subsidize more live performances there won a nod from the Aspen City Council on Tuesday despite charges of “micromanagement” by the chairman of the Wheeler board.The marketing plan and a boost in subsidies for performances were both debated at length and, at times, heatedly during the informal work session.The council endorsed a plan to spend $151,200 marketing the Wheeler both in the valley and regionally but instructed Wheeler Executive Director Nida Tautvydas to hire a professional to formulate the marketing plan.A $169,000 boost in programming dollars will allow the Wheeler to produce perhaps eight more live events this year, including three to four performances of the caliber of Jonny Lang and Marc Cohn, who are already scheduled to play the venue. After ticket sales, the subsidy for the shows will total an estimated $54,000 to $74,000.That comes on top of a $176,245 Wheeler programming budget already in place, with a projected subsidy of $26,245 after ticket sales. The additional money comes from a real estate transfer tax that supports the Wheeler.The programming dollars are for shows produced by the Wheeler, as opposed to other organizations or private promoters who also bring performances there.Ron Erickson, chairman of the Wheeler board, criticized the council’s involvement in the details of running the opera house and objected to additional subsidies for “free market” performers.”We feel that this whole experience is basically an exercise in micromanaging the Wheeler Opera House,” he said. “It’s you trying to dictate down to the Wheeler staff what you want to see done.”But one fellow board member, Sy Coleman, said the board as a whole doesn’t necessarily share Erickson’s views.”I don’t appreciate being lectured by Ron on micromanaging city assets,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards, who suggested the Wheeler board has been dragging its feet on a council directive a year ago to boost Wheeler marketing and programming.”It’s as if this is Aspen’s treasure and we don’t want anyone else to know about it so we can get a front-row seat,” she said.Tautvydas presented a specific plan to spend the marketing dollars, but Erickson complained it lacked clear objectives and strategies, calling the expenditure “throwing away $150,000.””We’re in favor of promoting the Wheeler and we’re in favor of additional programming, but we’re not in favor of how it’s getting done,” he said.The council ultimately agreed it would like the input of a professional for the marketing plan.Several Wheeler board members said they are frustrated that local groups aren’t making more use of the Wheeler for their performances and suggested an increase in live shows could come from them.Board member Jon Busch said there seems to be an “impediment” to more local use of the venue.”We’re not as embracing as we could be. We’re not as helpful as we could be,” he said.”Why are we not getting dance programming? Why are we not getting more theater programming?” board member Cathy Markle said.The Wheeler board expressed the same concerns a year ago, Richards noted.”It’s just extremely frustrating for me,” she said. “I think we’ve laid out clear goals of quality, diversity and quantity of live performances.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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