Arts and culture organization begin to get Aspen COVID-19 relief money

Two musical organizations have received COVID-19 relief money from the city of Aspen, which will help pay for live concerts this summer.

Jazz Aspen Snowmass received the maximum amount of $30,000, which will help pay for its JAS Cafe series that will be held on the rooftop of the Aspen Art Museum and at The Collective in Base Village in Snowmass.

Jim Horowitz, president and CEO of JAS, said because public health orders limit gathering sizes to 50 people or fewer, ticket sales for the cafe concerts have fallen off the cliff.

“That is a pretty savage drop in what we call earned revenue,” he said.

And with the cancellation of the JAS June and Labor Day Experience festivals, the nonprofit is looking for whatever assistance it can get to put some sort of show on for the community.

The JAS Cafe series was on the books and hadn’t been canceled, so Horowitz had been planning on some variation of the traditional Little Nell basement jazz concert.

“Our approach to recovery is at different levels and we decided early on that we could do some actual programming,” he said. “It became clear that if we can, we should.”

The Carbondale-based Roaring Fork Music Society, a nonprofit dedicated to classical music education for kids throughout the valley, received an $8,000 grant.

Sarah Graf, executive director of the society, said they’ll use the money to instruct kids this summer and put on a couple of small orchestra concerts in Aspen parks in September.

“We would have had to minimize our programming (without the city’s relief grant),” she said. “We feel relatively lucky.”

The society, which has a $100,000 annual budget, relies on contributions from the Aspen Thrift Shop, other grants and tuition, all of which dried up when the pandemic started.

Both JAS and the Roaring Fork Music Society are one of 15 arts and culture organizations that are eligible for the city’s COVID-19 relief and recovery funding.

Aspen City Council has earmarked $400,000 for arts and culture organizations who are also recipients of the annual Wheeler Opera House grants.

One of the criteria for receiving a COVID-19 relief grant is the organization must use some of the money to “activate” the community and be a tourism draw.

Horowitz said JAS is working with other organizations to do some concerts and shows at the base of Buttermilk this summer, which also will be made possible with the city grant.

“We are grateful that the city has given us the endorsement,” he said. “It helps.”

Karen Harrington, director of quality for the city, said nine organizations have applied for the grant.

Six of those are under review by a committee made up of Councilwoman Ann Mullins; Sarah Roy, executive director of the Red Brick Center for the Arts; Wheeler board chair Chip Fuller; and citizen Barbara Owens.

The grants are issued on a first-come, first-served basis, Harrington noted.

Criteria includes what level of impact COVID-19 has had on the organization; the impact on the community as it relates to staffing and events; and what their recovery plan is “that shows the pathway they are taking to get out of this mess,” Harrington said.

“People have been appreciative to have money sent their way,” she continued. “This lets them keep going and be compliant with the public health orders.”

The money will come from a $146,000 surplus in the Wheeler Opera House real estate transfer tax fund dedicated to grants for arts and culture organizations, as well as $250,000 from the city’s relief package.

Harrington said tapping into Wheeler surplus may affect the 2021 grant cycle but it remains to be seen.

City Council approved a $6 million COVID-19 package in April, shortly after public health orders shut down Aspen’s economy to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The $6 million also is helping local businesses with rent relief, as well as residents with personal rent and mortgage relief, child care assistance, mental health services, aid to underrepresented populations and personal protective equipment, among other efforts.

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