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Fletcher right for the job

Dear Editor:

I write in support of the future of the Aspen Music Festival and School. In the midst of tensions that are seriously affecting the AMFS, I hope more focus can be placed on finding solutions: raising hopes, not dashing them.

In response to the recent articles and letters in The Aspen Times and elsewhere that have both damned and praised President and CEO Alan Fletcher, let me first say that if Alan Fletcher were as demonic as stated in quotes from board members and AMFS faculty, several employees of the AMFS would already have been removed. According to The Aspen Times, approximately 40 corporate members signed the request for the “nonbinding” corporate meeting, without enumerating how many were on faculty; was it 15 faculty unafraid for their jobs? Was it more? Does it matter?

As a longtime faculty member I add my support for Alan Fletcher to other faculty supporters, including the faculty member anonymously quoted praising Alan in one article. (Was this faculty member fearful to be named due to supporting Alan?)

Alan is openly accused of not communicating well or bringing together people. He has communicated with me openly and frequently (definitely with as much openness as his detractors); I know other faculty who agree with this. I have worked well with Alan to develop the Aspen Opera Theater Center; he has disagreed with some ideas and choices, supported some and suggested others, and in doing so has been an intelligent and terrific boss. Sitting in a voice/opera meeting last summer, Alan and senior staff were clear and compassionate about the cuts being made and in explaining the reasons. Regardless, I have been encouraged to think outside the box to arrive at imaginative solutions for the AOTC and to not shut down creativity to meet financial bottom lines. To my knowledge other faculty have also felt encouraged to keep teaching with imagination and have kept communicating with him and other staff, faculty and students to find exciting future-oriented solutions.

As to the tensions within the AMFS for which Alan is blamed, the tensions are real and a danger to AMFS’s future. Since the departure of Robert Harth as president and CEO the AMFS has had increasing tensions amid changing leadership. Board search committees (which include faculty members) strongly endorsed Alan Fletcher as president, but quickly some of those same people became strong detractors. It is as if AMFS says it wants leadership but when someone tries to lead, that person goes unsupported and has to fall. When Robert Harth first arrived he faced similar nay-saying to a real but lesser degree for changes to the AMFS he sought, some of which were later accepted.

At this moment, I believe that supporting Alan Fletcher is the right course. After he has been allowed to function as president, we can evaluate his successes and failures; this already happens regularly through board performance reviews. I believe he has been given very little opportunity to be the president who the search committee chose as the best candidate. Where he has been allowed to be president, as with many board members, some faculty, AMFS staff and the city of Aspen, he has engendered significant support, loyalty and respect. I believe he has the stuff, the intelligence and commitment to be a successful AMFS president.

Calming tensions is critical to restoring the lapsing integrity of the AMFS already seen publicly as waning due to present and past chaos, including last fall’s strange firing and rehiring of Alan Fletcher and David Zinman’s sudden resignation. Supporting Alan now will be a step toward restoring the integrity, the health of the AMFS.

I agree with the anonymously quoted board member that the AMFS will survive if Alan leaves, may well lose some board support and will find new contributors, but is a crisis management mentality the best way for the AMFS to continue operating? The changes in the AMFS that Alan instituted (under “strategic plan” guidelines and with board guidance and support) and for which he is now being demonized are painful, and much pain was caused by the way they happened. But if we want the AMFS to thrive as a living organization it will require change in looking to grow from past and present into the future; real changes that improve the AMFS will never be easy but they must happen if AMFS is to healthily develop and improve its excellent music education. Alan and the present staff’s commitment to AMFS and its future have shown through their remarkable work, especially during this extremely trying year.

As to the timing of the changes and cuts that caused tension to escalate, I question whether the tension would have been similar even if it had been handled differently; for example, wait until a faculty member is about to leave Aspen then tell faculty to pack things permanently, give up faculty ID card and leave by “5 p.m.” (as in many corporate and/or academic dismissals); or wait until a faculty member is in Aspen, have discussion but then give some faculty that much less time to look to the future. Telling people in advance was a very risky choice on Alan, staff and the board’s part and invited criticism but may have been the better way. In fact, nowhere in any articles I have read is the necessity of shortening the festival or proportionately cutting faculty even raised. Are these issues even on the table any more? Or have people accepted the board mandated changes and recognized that in this economy some steps had to be taken?

I believe that in this upcoming vote it is important for corporate members to vote their own votes. People need to vote and if it is through proxy need to be certain that the people entrusted with their proxy are voting in a way consistent with their own beliefs.

The corporate membership will be heard, and the vote carries enormous weight. I hope that all corporate members will listen to many points of view and decide on their own what is best for the future of the AMFS.

Edward Berkeley

New York


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