Vail Daily Town Talk: Many patrons, one masterpiece
Vail Valley Foundation
If you go …
What: Vilar Performing Arts Center 20th anniversary season.
When: All winter long.
More information: Visit http://www.vilarpac.org or call 970-748-TIXS.
Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series celebrating 20 years of performances at one of Colorado’s most successful performing arts centers, the Vilar Performing Arts Center, located in the center of Beaver Creek Village beneath the Black Family Ice Rink. Read part one at http://www.VailDaily.com/entertainment and part three in Saturday’s Vail Daily. Tom Boyd is former editor of the Vail Trail newspaper, and a lifelong valley local who has attended scores of shows at the VPAC. He is also director of public relations and communications for the Vail Valley Foundation, which manages and operates the Vilar Performing Arts Center.
Over the past 20 years, music industry insiders from far and wide have come to appreciate the Vilar Performing Arts Center, which celebrates its 20th season this year.
Accolades from performers come by the dozen. Alison Krauss said it’s “one of the most beautiful theaters, if not the prettiest, that we’ve ever had a chance to play in.” Art Garfunkel said, “This is the No. 1 house for sound and beauty. It’s better than fabulous.” And perennial performer Keb’ Mo’ said, “That (VPAC) is a really great venue … a tight little room, really cool.”
Alexia Jurschak, who became chair of the Vilar Performing Arts Center Board of Directors Committee in 2016 after many years as a patron and supporter, says it’s often surprising to newcomers that such a top-caliber theater exists in such a unique location — at the center of the Beaver Creek Village, beneath the Black Family Ice Rink. To them, it can almost seem as though someone excavated a theater from a major metro area and plunked it down right here in the Rocky Mountains.
Creating such a theater was part plan, part improvisation, according to some of the venue’s original planners and subsequent leaders.
“We’ve made some aggressive moves and it’s paid off,” said Doug Rippeto, who served as chair of the VPAC Committee from 2004 to 2016. “We were always weaving our way through. It is a tremendous story, it really is.”
It takes a village
Rippeto and Jurschak are the first to give a nod to the vision, foresight and planning of the VPAC’s long line of champions, patrons, underwriters and supporters going back decades. As they point out, the theater itself is celebrating 20 years in operation, but the idea for a performing arts center in Beaver Creek goes back to the very earliest planning stages for the resort, which opened for business in 1980.
John Horan-Kates is one who was there in those early days, originally working in marketing for Vail Associates.
“It was in Beaver Creek’s original plan as part of what was called the ‘Arts Center Lodge,’” Horan-Kates remembers. “Many people had input into this plan, including Jack Marshall, Bob Parker, Jack Zehren, Charlie Gardner and Harry Bass.”
In the mid-’90s, Vail Associates was under new ownership from Apollo Management. The time had come to determine the details of the Arts Center Lodge and finalize the plan.
It took a village to complete Beaver Creek Village. Apollo’s Marc Rowan, Zehren, Gordon Pierce, Harry Frampton, Horan-Kates and others came together to build a final proposal. There was planning, vision and fundraising support from people such as John and Linda Galvin, former President Gerald R. Ford, Rippeto, Peter and Leni May, John and Marlene Boll, Ross Bowker, Mike Balk, Elaine and Bob Brotman, Craig Tuber, Bob Buckman, Red Blount and Leon Black, as well as strong support from Beaver Creek Resort Co., the Beaver Creek Metro District, the Beaver Creek Property Owners Association along with many, many more.
By this time, the idea of building beneath the ice rink had gained wide acceptance, and Horan-Kates and Alison Knapp helped put together a fundraising proposal portfolio, including renderings of what the final product would look like. Together, they approached key members of the Beaver Creek community and began to put together the funds to build the theater and finish the village.
“There were many people who were tremendous contributors, not only financially, but also because they helped lead the fundraising with joy, integrity and compassion,” Horan-Kates remembers. “Marlene and John Boll were very top among them, along with John and Linda Galvin — really so many people in the community came together to help make this a reality.”
A Beaver Creek ‘treasure’
About a third of the theater’s income is from ticket sales, another third is from donors, and another third is from the Beaver Creek Resort Co. Additionally, the theater’s capital projects are largely funded by a Real Estate Transfer Assessment that was originally meant to help with an assortment of Beaver Creek improvements, including a proposed gondola to Strawberry Park. When the gondola plans changed, the RETA was in danger of going away. Rippeto, along with Horan-Kates, Balk, Vail Resorts’ Tony O’Rourke and others, helped lead the way to keep a portion of the RETA intact, and designated for a “performance fund.” The new RETA was passed and approved by Beaver Creek voters in 2002.“The people of Beaver Creek thought of the VPAC as one of our treasures, and they were willing to support it by voting in the RETA,” says Balk, who was also instrumental in gaining in the support of the Beaver Creek Property Owners Association. “It’s a big part of what makes us a signature service, a signature facility.”
In addition to the RETA funding for performance and operations, the Beaver Creek Metro District asked the Beaver Creek voters to approve a tax increase to fund annual physical improvements to the theater. Taken together, the RETA and the Metro District actions accentuate the ongoing commitment of the residents of Beaver Creek to the continuing success of VPAC and its service to the valley.
Not all of these funding sources were available in the VPAC’s early years. It’s difficult to build a business model under any circumstances in the performing arts, but after two or three years, the challenges in Beaver Creek were proving to be overwhelming, and the VPAC was in danger of closing.
In the early 2000s, the VPAC alleviated much of these problems through a series of restructuring moves, including creating a partnership with the Vail Valley Foundation and the aforementioned funding sources. The VVF’s existing professional services were able to lessen the burden on the theater’s overhead and allow its staff to focus on enhancing the production quality, booking, and day-to-day operations of the theater.
John Galvin entered the scene as the new chairman, helping re-organize the theater and put it on stronger financial footing. Additionally, Kris Sabel took on an elevated role, eventually becoming executive director and serving for 18 years before stepping down in 2016.
“Kris Sabel deserves a ton of credit,” Jurschak said. “At a time in the industry where performing arts centers of our size were struggling, he helped raise the quality of our bookings and instituted many of the new programs that have become traditions at the VPAC.”
Together with support from the late Pete and Pat Frechette, and others, Sabel also helped usher in the S.T.A.R.S. program, which brings local students to the theater to experience the performing arts. The program now welcomes more than 8,000 K-12 students a year, helping ensure a lasting love of the performing arts in the next generation.
It wasn’t long before the theater was operating in the black, and gaining a stellar reputation, and by 2015-17, the theater was ready for a new generation of leadership. Sabel was followed by current executive director Duncan Horner. For Rippeto, who had become a pillar of stability at the VPAC, it was a long and deliberate process to tap a successor who he felt he could trust to become chair of the VPAC Committee.
“I was unwilling to step down until I found a replacement that would bring new blood, new life and the same degree of enthusiasm, and was also smart and could get the job done,” Rippeto recalls. “And I found her in Alexia — she has been tremendous.”
“The fraternity of older people like Doug (Rippeto) and me, it’s a little bit like Moses going to the promised land. We got you over the Nile, but we have to hand it over to the people taking it to the next step,” Balk laughs. “For a while it was quite worrying, but in the end we landed just fine. Retrospectively I should not have worried about handing it over to a new group.”
A new group inevitably brings new ideas — but Balk says he is enjoying some of the new directions the theater is taking, especially because it is done with a strong commitment to the traditions and themes that helped make the theater great in the first place.
Balk, for his part, is a classical music fan. Although he is not a lover of rock music, he loves seeing so many others from around the valley coming to the VPAC to enjoy a popular music show.
“When I go to the rock shows I’m clearly seeing people from the entire valley, of all stripes, and it warms my heart to see that,” Balk said.
Learn more about the upcoming season, or how you can support the Vilar Performing Arts Center, by visiting http://www.vilarpac.org or calling the box office at 970-748-TIXS.
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