Search for Aspen’s opera house executive director could take most of 2020
It will likely be the end of the year before the city of Aspen finds a new executive director for the Wheeler Opera House.
The timeline to replace Gena Buhler, who has been the head of the Wheeler for the past five years and who announced her resignation last month, was discussed by the citizen board that oversees the municipal government-owned facility last week.
Board members said the hiring process for Buhler took at least six months, with a national search and a local committee set up to review candidates’ resumes.
Board member Amy Mountjoy said the process was thorough, and it proved successful because the Wheeler landed Buhler, who has been an asset to the community’s cultural and historic performance center.
Scott Miller, the city’s interim assistant city manager and public works director, said there is no current plan to replace Buhler but one will evolve soon.
“We want to do it right,” he told the board at its Wednesday meeting. “More to come.”
He thanked Buhler for her dedication to the job, and said the more diverse the search committee to find her replacement, the better.
Buhler said she will stay on full time through May 22, and has offered to consult on a contractual basis through December in an effort for the city to not lose any momentum and traction with programming and production at the Wheeler.
City Manager Sara Ott said on Thursday that she has not discussed Buhler’s offer but that Miller is developing recommendations to her for the best transition plan for the community.
“I’m confident he will take Gena’s offer into consideration, but it’s premature to comment either way right now while his work is underway,” she said.
Michael Goldberg, owner of Belly Up, Aspen’s central music venue and bar, said his collaboration with Buhler and the Wheeler has been unparalleled compared with previous executive directors in terms of booking complementary acts and not being in direct competition with each other.
When asked at the board meeting what they should be looking for in the next executive director, Goldberg responded, “Can you clone Gena?”
“I think what we’ve been able to accomplish in the last five years … was a real spirit of collaboration and trying to figure out what we could mutually do that would benefit the community,” Goldberg said. “Most of the time I think we’ve succeeded in having something that works for the community, i.e., the Wheeler and us as well, as a privately held entity with no subsidy.”
He noted that there’s been many nights in which both venues have had sell-out crowds with different types of musicians, and he credits the relationship, trust and lack of ego between himself and Buhler as the reason for their successes.
Wheeler board Chairman Chip Fuller said the symbiotic relationship hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“We are aware of that and we want to continue it and grow it,” he said. “The good news is you guys set the mold for this.”
Miller said there is a possibility that two interim directors get appointed in Buhler’s absence.
Board member Ziska Childs suggested that there be two permanent positions created instead of an executive director — one should be an artistic director and the other a director of the facility itself.
“Because someone who has both of those skill sets is rare and they are difficult to find,” she said.
Buhler said she will discuss with Miller her recommendations for the job description moving forward because from her vantage point, it is two positions.
“I feel like most days I’m doing two jobs,” she said. “Artistic director is a very specific job and for those who do it well they are doing it full time and I kind of split my focus on that.”