Beware of the words that come out of the mouths of the spin-meisters of the Aspen Music Festival and School, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Theater Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen Film and the Aspen Institute, all of whom are salivating at the idea of gaining unlimited access to a significant portion of the Wheeler Opera House fund which grows by the millions each year thanks to the dedicated 0.5% real estate transfer tax.
Not content with simply sharing in the city’s annual arts grant funding that has totaled $ 400,000 in recent years, these well-heeled organizations have their eyes set on a slice of a much bigger pie that would be released if the 2A vote. was adopted. in the next November elections. The dollars that would be released were specifically limited in previous elections by voters, who specified that all Wheeler RETT funds raised each year, except $ 100,000, would be used to support and maintain the opera during the service life of the installation. These dollars, plus an additional $ 300,000 per year from Wheeler’s operations, have generously provided sufficient financial support for the visual and performing arts to date.
The arts and culture behemoths who already have access to millions of dollars in support through private donations have organized and campaigned in tandem to remove voter restrictions on Wheeler funds. A recent city poll showed that taxpayers are not in favor of this cash grab.
Voters have already pointed out how restrictive they are in this regard, making it nearly impossible to change the mandate by demanding a 60% majority to change it. Obviously, the city’s recent poll shows they don’t have that level of support for a change that would free up a huge stash of extra money just for these arts and culture organizations.
The Wheeler already has $ 40 million in reserves (and growing), which could be more than it actually needs for the foreseeable future. But devoting any future surplus only to arts and culture organizations leaves out a whole bunch of community health and social service organizations that are at least equally worthy and in need.
Health and social service agencies look after the community’s needs for physical and mental health, affordable housing, child care, education and deteriorating infrastructure. They serve a much larger and more diverse demographic than those tasked with entertaining and raising a relatively small portion of the community and, of course, all the tourists who flock to the valley throughout the year.
As two members of Aspen City Council who were not in favor of rushing this issue in the Nov. 2 ballot said, more time and study is needed for community feedback and participation on the issue. how surplus Wheeler funds should be allocated.
As written, the wording of the ballot eliminates the arts funding cap of $ 100,000, allowing an unlimited portion of future Wheeler RETT funds to be awarded only to arts and culture organizations. Additionally, the language of the ballot adds cultural organizations such as the Aspen Institute and the Red Brick Facility to the list of potential Wheeler grant recipients and does not specify how many should remain dedicated to supporting and maintaining the Wheeler. And as previously stated, nothing would be dedicated to health and social service organizations.
If, luckily, this voting matter receives voter approval, elected and appointed bureaucrats will have free rein to do whatever they want with the Wheeler Endowment, potentially leaving the Wheeler unprotected for years to come. .
Arts and culture groups organized in favor of the ballot issue have misled the public that the $ 40 million in reserves remains dedicated to the Wheeler, but it is clear that the language of the ballot does not say so.
By the way, a sneaky little part of this election campaign aims to free up all the money from the city’s general fund that is currently being used to support the red brick, which would then allow the city to bail out Aspen Film and Metropolitan Theaters. in connection with the deterioration of operations at Isis and the major structural changes underway in the film distribution activity.
The two organizations are failing in their obligations to the city regarding the funding and business operations of Isis, and they are campaigning for the theater’s business operations to be taxpayer funded – something the city has promised taxpayers it will not. never would.
Aspen advisers Rachel Richards and Ward Hauenstein have the right point of view on this issue. While the board was unanimous in moving the point to the ballot, Richards and Hauenstein both said his placement had been rushed and not yet fully and properly fleshed out. They’re right ; and I would suggest voting ‘no’ on 2A.
With enough time before the November 2022 election, city staff, elected officials and community members working together should be able to come up with a plan that protects the Wheeler while supporting arts and culture in Aspen as well. as the very good health and human service organizations that serve the whole valley.
Voting “no” on 2A is the right decision now. The powers that be will have enough time and incentives ahead of the 2022 election to plan thoughtfully how Wheeler RETT funds should be allocated in a fair and responsible manner.