Consultant recommends attitude shift at Wheeler | AspenTimes.com

Consultant recommends attitude shift at Wheeler

Janet Urquhart

With new leadership at the Wheeler Opera House should come a renewed focus on facilitating local arts organizations at the venue, the Aspen City Council agreed Tuesday.And, maybe, they’ll be dancing in the aisles someday.The council, the Wheeler Board and staffers at the opera house spent much of yesterday reviewing an outside consultant’s blunt assessment of Wheeler operations and recommendations to overhaul its organizational structure.The proposals come as the city seeks a new executive director at the Wheeler to succeed Nida Tautvydas, who resigned, effective July 22.Virtually all of the recommendations from Toronto-based Genovese Vanderhoof & Associates received general support from both the council and the Wheeler Board, including the directive to embrace local arts organizations instead of competing against them.Dory Vanderhoof, a senior partner with the firm, recommended the Wheeler step back from its role as a producer of performances, which puts it in competition with both nonprofits and for-profit presenters. Instead, the Wheeler could set up co-production partnerships, helping fund performances but letting other entities take the lead in presenting them.Currently, arts groups don’t necessarily feel welcome at the Wheeler, he added.Vanderhoof also recommended the executive director’s post be split into two positions – a director who acts as an ambassador to the arts groups and an operations manager to oversee day-to-day operations and maintenance. The council agreed.The Wheeler Board endorsed the recommendations unanimously, according to Chairman Ron Erickson.”They go to the heart of the problem of the whole organization and the structure,” he said.The board did, however, take exception to Vanderhoof’s suggestion that representatives of arts groups that do business with the Wheeler have no place on the advisory board, given the potential conflict of interest that arises.”I think that’s something the council has to address,” Mayor Helen Klanderud said.Vanderhoof also concluded the Wheeler director has been answering to too many bosses. He charged the council with setting Wheeler policy and city administrators with making sure it’s carried out.He also urged the city to close the Wheeler one night a week – he suggested Mondays – to give the opera house staff a break and allow for maintenance of the historic building. The Wheeler should also shut down for two weeks a year for maintenance, he said.”The building is tired; the people working in it are tired,” Vanderhoof said. “I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed as exhausted a staff.”Council members agreed with the concept of “dark nights,” but they said the policy shouldn’t be so inflexible that the Wheeler is closed during the holidays, for example.They also want room for the Wheeler to produce events, even if that function isn’t its primary purpose.Vanderhoof also suggested the Wheeler simply lighten up. The staff’s zeal to protect the old building from damage has resulted in an overly restrictive environment, he said.”If ever an organization needed an attitude adjustment, it’s the Wheeler,” he said. “Let’s not look at the citizens in town as evil people; let’s not look at the arts groups in town as the competition.”Vanderhoof urged the city to hire a structural engineer and make improvements to the opera house so audiences can dance in front of the stage without the threat of collapsing into the orchestra pit below. The balcony should also be assessed for its ability to accommodate dancing fans.Since the Wheeler’s 500-seat capacity is too small to accommodate big-name acts, he suggested the city explore a “Plaza-Casting” system that broadcasts performances to an outdoor venue, as well.He also advocated a centralized box office that can sell tickets to events at any venue in town, along with ATM-style ticket sales during off hours.Vanderhoof’s firm is also helping the city recruit a new executive director to replace Tautvydas. The position is being advertised nationwide and in Canada, with a July 8 deadline for applications, said Randy Ready, assistant city manager.The city hopes to bring no more than five candidates to Aspen for interviews in July or August and have a new director on board by fall. The director will then help select the newly created post of operations manager, Ready said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com