Aspen City Council gives $30,000 grant to Red Brick Center for the Arts
Last year’s alleged embezzlement scandal that shook the Red Brick Center for the Arts has resulted in the nonprofit’s attempt to reinvent itself while pumping some energy into Aspen’s arts community.
At a work session Tuesday, Aspen’s elected leaders agreed to provide a $30,000 grant to the Red Brick while offering verbal support to the organization.
“So many times you’re forced to make a change … and it works out for the better,” said Councilwoman Ann Mullins, who also is the City Council’s representative on the Red Brick Council for the Arts’ board of directors.
The Red Brick Council for the Arts previously had a management contract with the city to run the Red Brick Center for the Arts. In an autonomous role, it oversaw operations of the city-owned Red Brick Center for the Arts until its executive director, Angela Callen, was fired in June.
Then, the city suspended the contract, which remains in limbo, and seized control of the Red Brick Center’s operations and finances. In the meantime, the arts council has served in an advisory role.
Callen worked for Red Brick Council for the Arts from 2013 to 2017 until she came under suspicion for stealing approximately $150,000 from the nonprofit. She has yet to be arrested or charged with a crime.
During its grant-giving rounds in October, members of the City Council, except for Mullins, withheld the Red Brick Council for the Arts’ grant request due to the ongoing criminal investigation.
The majority of the City Council members also have said they wanted assurances that the Red Brick Council for the Arts had a road map in place for its financial and operational future.
In November, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department took over management of the Red Brick Center for the Arts, with Sarah Roy, who was named its interim executive director after Callen was fired, still leading the organization.
Over the past few months, Roy and Parks and Recreation head Jeff Woods said they have been meeting with the tenants of the Red Brick, which includes 14 resident artists as well as 10 nonprofit organizations.
They’ve also been in discussions with the Wheeler Opera House about the launch of a potential Cultural Arts Commission that would aim to enhance the local arts scene through collaborative efforts.
Roy noted the commission wouldn’t be the enforcer of rules on arts groups, but rather it would serve in a supportive role.
“It would be less telling them what to do, but more ‘what can we do for you,’” she told the council.
Or, as part of a slideshow presented to the City Council said, “A Cultural Arts Commission under the leadership of the local government could be a conduit for collaboration among the various art interests, and give directive for policies and programs that support and promote the local arts’ economy.”
This year the Red Brick Center is projected to generate $344,000 in revenue, with $202,000 forecast to be spent on facility costs and another $67,000 on a maintenance technician, according to a memo to City Council. That would leave the Red Brick with a net income of $75,000, which Woods asked to be spent on its art programming budget. Woods also asked the City Council for an additional $50,000 to cover additional art programming costs and labor through the interim-management period.
For now, however, the City Council said they wanted to wait to see how the next few months play out before making the financial commitment.
“Right now, it’s a shoestring budget,” Woods said.
Roy said she is excited about the Red Brick’s future.
“The activity and the buzz that’s happening in this building is quite special,” she said.
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