Aspen Music Fest to scale back |

Aspen Music Fest to scale back

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen, CO Colorado
Published: Alex Irvin

ASPEN, Colorado ” The Aspen Music Festival and School, by far the biggest arts organization in town and the major cultural attraction for summer visitors, is planning to get smaller.

Alan Fletcher, the institution’s president and CEO, said Monday that beginning in 2010, the summer festival season will be shortened by a week; the number of summer students will decrease by approximately 100; and some 15 to 20 faculty positions will be cut.

The upcoming summer season will not be affected. The 2009 Aspen Music Festival will run the customary nine weeks, from June 25-Aug. 23.

The downsizing is a result of a strategic plan that has taken shape over the course of more than a year. The plan, now completed, culminated in a special meeting of the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) board of directors Saturday afternoon.

The AMFS creates a strategic plan about every six years; the plan was the first created under the leadership of Fletcher, who joined the organization in 2006. Fletcher said that when the process began, the economy was shaky but not nearly as bad as it has become, and the AMFS board was not brainstorming on ways to cut expenses. Still, the idea of shaving a week off the festival season was floated.

At the outset, Fletcher said, “We didn’t think we needed to do anything for cost savings. But we brought up the idea of shortening the season, and there was a lot of consensus for that.”

At nine weeks, the AMFS had the longest summer music program of any festival, Fletcher said. The board believed that “it was better for our students if we were shorter,” he added.

Similarly, the idea of decreasing the number of students was brought up before the current economic woes. Under the late Robert Harth, who led the AMFS from 1989-2000, the student population hovered around 1,000 for the summer. In recent years that number had been reduced to the mid-700s in an effort to improve the quality of education. Fletcher anticipated that as of 2010, the number would be reduced to the mid-600s ” a number that, according to Fletcher, Harth had said represented the ideal size of the student body.

Given the smaller student population, Fletcher said there would be a corresponding reduction in the size of the summer faculty. He expected that 15 to 20 positions would be cut from the current faculty of 150. No decisions on which faculty members would be dismissed have been made yet. Fletcher said those decisions would be part of a “collaborative process” that included the input of David Zinman, AMFS music director.

No cuts to the year-round staff were anticipated. And the strategic plan will not affect the Castle Creek campus rebuilding project, as only operations will be affected, not capital improvements.

The AMFS is among several local arts organizations to make programming cuts. Jazz Aspen Snowmass has cut a day from its Labor Day Festival and reduced the number of headline shows for its June Festival from four to three. Theatre Aspen has reduced its schedule of feature presentations from three to two. Snowmass Village has canceled several events, and reduced the number of concerts in its Free Music Series from nine to six.

Fletcher said that shortening the season is being done in a way to minimize the effect on the audience. The 2010 season will start a week later than it normally would. He noted that 1,500 single-event tickets were sold for opening-week concerts last year, compared to the 5,000 that were sold for the closing week, the festival’s busiest week. He also said that the popular opera program would remain essentially untouched, save for the fact of fewer student vocalists.

“I think the audience won’t feel anything different,” said Fletcher of the overall impact of the cuts on the festival as a whole. “Of course, it’s shorter.”

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