Vail’s Buhler accepts Wheeler director position in Aspen |

Vail’s Buhler accepts Wheeler director position in Aspen

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times
Gena Buhler
Zach Mahone |

Gena Buhler, theater director at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek since 2008, has accepted the role as executive director at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House, a position that will command an annual salary of $97,500.

Buhler, a former New York City booking agent, said Monday that her connections in the entertainment industry will help bring exclusive performances to the area. Robin Williams, John Legend and Jay Leno are among the high-profile names Buhler helped bring to the Vilar Performing Arts Center in recent years.

“There’s no reason that with my connections, we can’t make those same things possible for the Wheeler and Aspen,” Buhler said. “I think the opportunity to say the Wheeler should be an in-demand stop on tours for these artists is something that’s very doable.”

A Michigan native with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance from the University of Michigan, Buhler is expected to start May 20 in Aspen. She said that a few years ago, she was ready to leave New York City, and she was spending a lot of her time in the mountains in Vermont. That’s what drew her to the job in Vail, and while she has enjoyed the experience, the community feeling that Aspen has is something she’s been missing.

“And it was a great next step in my career, as well,” Buhler said. “I think the combination of the next step in my career and amazing community that really has culture as a part of it was really that next thing that had me excited about it.”

The new job will include an affordable-housing unit at Water Place for Buhler and her husband. In her first three months on the job, Buhler said she wants to come in and speak to as many people as possible and learn more about the community.

“What are the complaints? What are the positive sides?” Buhler asked. “I’m not the type of person that wants to come in and say, ‘I know every single thing, and my way is the right way.’ I’m really that problem solver, though.”

She added that the job in Aspen offers the perfect balance between work and personal life, and she’s looking forward to riding her road bike in the area.

“I think the road-bike trails that you guys have are some of the best I’ve experienced,” she said. “For that to be in my own backyard and have the Wheeler and work for such a historic venue that so many people have been through is kind of the perfect work-life balance for me.”

While the hiring was ultimately City Manager Steve Barwick’s decision, a six-member panel interviewed the four finalists for the Wheeler director job. The other candidates included Scott Whisler, executive director of Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts; Zoot Velasco, executive director of the Muckenthaler Cultural Center Foundation; and Michael Bollinger, executive artistic director at the Louisa Arts Center.

The interview panel included Wheeler board members Brian O’Neil and Richie Cohen, local arts representatives Laura Thielen and Nina Gabianelli, Aspen Music Festival operations manager Daniel Song, the city’s Director of Human Resources Alissa Farrell and Assistant City Manager Randy Ready.

Ready said Monday that Buhler brings the right combination of leadership and management strengths as well as booking and programming skills.

“She was the unanimous choice,” Ready said, adding that she will be a good fit in the community.

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