Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
Aspen, CO, Colorado
You’ve all heard the story of the three Cub Scouts who were asked what their good deed for the day had been.
“We helped a little old lady across the street,” they answered.
When asked why it took three of them to get that old lady across the street, they replied, “She didn’t want to go!”
The point, of course, is that charitable endeavors are not always easy.
Which brings us to the richly deserved $569,000 paid to Aspen Art Museum head honcho Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson.
That lovely number was featured in an Aspen Times story on the paychecks of the CEOs of local nonprofits.
Now I understand that a $500,000-plus paycheck might sound like a lot of money to you who are living on four bucks an hour plus tips. But keep in mind that Zuckerman Jacobson is CEO, executive director and chief curator at the vast Aspen Art Museum organization and that’s three jobs. So her half-million doesn’t even amount to $200,000 per job.
Come on, people! This woman is working three jobs just to get by.
Besides, as noted above, charitable endeavors aren’t necessarily easy, and Ms. Z-J (sorry – I’m not paid enough to type out both those names every damn time) has to handle some mighty tough assignments.
For one thing, she has been leading the brilliantly successful effort to create a widely unwanted, widely reviled building in the middle of Aspen.
Annoying a vast swath of the community – not to mention inflicting permanent scars – is no easy assignment.
Plus, she long has been saddled with the unenviable task of dragging people several blocks away from the downtown core to see difficult, contemporary art that a lot of people don’t really want to see.
Which takes us back to those Cub Scouts and the little old lady who didn’t want to get dragged across the street.
That kind of work ain’t cheap.
Indeed, while Ms. Z-J was too modest to comment, the museum’s communications director explained that her pay was perfectly reasonable, when you consider “compensation at comparable museums.”
So let’s pick a “comparable museum” at random.
How about New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art?
As reported by Bloomberg News, Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Met, earned $929,735 for running the city’s most visited museum. Comparable, you ask? Well, certainly, like the Met, the Aspen Art Museum is this city’s “most visited.”
The Met has a collection of more than 2 million works of art and is visited by more than 5 million people a year.
And the Aspen museum? Well, as they say, comparisons are odious, but I’m sure Aspen’s numbers are “comparable.” (Which means they could be compared – if comparisons weren’t, as noted, odious.)
So the Met guy is making darn near double what Ms. Z-J pulled down.
It seems like she’s getting the short end of that stick.
Our Lady of the Newest, Most Important Evolutions in International Contemporary Art (to quote the museum’s Mission Statement) isn’t the only self-sacrificing nonprofit do-gooder in town. Not at all.
The Aspen Times story also shines a little light on that other deserving servant of the people, Alan Fletcher of the Aspen Music Festival.
Mr. Fletcher, like Ms. Z-J, has been hoeing a hard row. Though perhaps his row is not quite as hard as hers, as reflected in the fact that her reported pay was $569,000, while his was just $430,000.
Obviously, her operation must be a whole lot bigger than his.
Bigger organization, bigger paycheck. That is the way it works, right?
Oh sure, the Music Festival has hundreds of concerts, hundreds of musicians and something like 100,000 people attending the concerts – but, hey, it’s only a summer affair.
The museum is around all year long.
(OK, the woman who runs the Aspen Center for Physics apparently has to worry about the entire universe for a mere $116,000 per – but 10-dimensional Superstring Theory pales in the face of the Newest, Most Important Evolutions in International Contemporary Art. I mean, really.)
And, again, stop for a moment and think back to the three Cub Scouts and the little old lady. She might have fought hard, but no one’s really afraid of a little old lady. (Except, maybe, my third-grade teacher. She was terrifying.)
The point is that Ms. Z-J has had a big chunk of Aspen hating her, but Mr. F. has only been faced with hatred from a bunch of musicians.
And whose loathing would you rather face: a mob of burly art-hating locals (mostly drunks and newspaper columnists) or a handful of piccolo players and bassoonists?
OK, sure, it’s rough to be hated by the people who work for you; but, let’s be clear, not every musician at the Festival hates Mr. Fletcher. Just a whole lot of them.
And Mr. Fletcher is only being accused of destroying the Aspen Music Festival, while Ms. Z-J is being accused of destroying downtown Aspen.
Which gets us back to my original point (well, sort of): It isn’t easy doing good works.
Mr. F. and Ms. Z-J are both selfless laborers in the vineyards of Aspen.
They endure slurs and slights (and cheap shots from jerks like me), sustained in the face of all this hatred by two slender reeds: their well-deserved paychecks and the love of their boards of directors.
For is it not said that “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down a six-figure paycheck for his friends”?
Yea, verily. It is thus said.
Let me note in closing that I have run a couple of nonprofit businesses myself and I never made the kind of money these guys are making.
But my businesses were never meant to be nonprofit – they just worked out that way.
Apparently, if the idea from the get-go is to not make any money, you get a paid a whole lot more.
Now that’s something to think about.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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