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John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly

I have to say, this whole plan to move and expand the Aspen Art Museum (AAM) seems kind of counterintuitive to me.

Just as workers up and down the valley are finding themselves walking the streets in desperation, looking for a job, any damned job to keep the roof overhead, the management at the AAM is talking about building a massive new facility on land that is, for now, publicly owned.

And it’s not only the worker bees who are feeling the pinch, as recent headlines have trumpeted. The valley’s battered real estate community has just about merged itself into monopoly status, businesses are closing their doors for the off-season with no real idea whether they’ll be opening back up for the summer, or ever.

Even The Aspen Times, that stately old lady of local journalism for which I work, is being squeezed like a grape in a wine-press. Layoffs, cutbacks and other desperate moves are all mere capitulations to the economic realities of the day.

And here comes AAM boss Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, presumably with the blessing of the museum’s board of directors, with a plan to spend untold millions to erect a new art museum. And they want to do it on public land, where the old Aspen Youth Center once operated, which is now used for a mishmash of government meetings, nonprofit activities and pizza, all critical to the public well-being.

Makes one wonder whether Heidi and her crew are living on the same planet as the rest of us, or whether they’ve signed on for a chapter of Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” a bit late but enthusiastically all the same.

A sudden conversion to Ken Kesey’s world view, coupled with the liberal use of certain chemicals, might explain a lot about this puzzling conviction that now, in the middle of the greatest global economic crisis since before FDR was elected, is the perfect time to convince local voters that a sparkly new art museum is just what the doctor ordered.

By the way, I hear the 1968 novel about Kesey and The Merry Pranksters’ madcap ramblings in their bus, “Furthur,” is s being made into a movie, for release some time this year. I’m hoping some of the AAM set have cameo roles in the production.

Keeping an open mind about this issue, we should take into account the fact that those with money tend to snap up deals in bad times, thereby enriching themselves in ways they might not have been able to dream of during flush times.

Witness the fact that the Internet is alive with those charming ads urging the “haves” to gobble up all those houses that the “have-nots”” have lost to foreclosure.

So the AAM plan to buy up a prime piece of Aspen real estate just off Main Street, and then build a 30,000 square-foot edifice dedicated to the glories of “contemporary” art, could be the highest expression of fiscal Darwinism. They could haggle for a good price on the land, and the gasping construction industry in the valley would undoubtedly give them a rock-bottom bid for the work.

Of course, the rest of us would lose the use of that land for any public purpose other than checking out nice art in well-appointed gallery spaces. If the museum ever went belly-up, for whatever reason one might be able to conjure up, the land would most likely be profitably converted to high-priced condominiums for wealthy skiers and investors.

Hey, this is America, and that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

One might argue that, since Aspen already has sold its soul to The Devil in Armani, this whole project makes perfect sense.

Aspen stands accused by most of the world of being little more than a meeting place for the high society of the east and west coasts, with a few international types hanging around the fringes. A museum such as this would certainly fit well in either New York or L.A., and building one here might be just the touch we need to make our visitors from those neighborhoods feel a little more welcome.

Not to mention how great such a project would look on Heidi’s resume, should she ever go looking for a better job in greener pastures.

I feel so much better about all this. Aren’t you glad we talked?

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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