by Cindy Hirschfeld | December 1, 2010 | Lifestyle
Protestors converge at the Climate Policy rally.
On a balmy evening last summer, a group of stylish Aspenites, most of them under 40, gathered at the Baldwin Gallery for cocktails and a talk by owner Richard Edwards. A few days later, 30 members of the Aspen Young Professionals Association filled the second floor of the Aspen Historical Society, viewing an eclectic exhibit on Aspen circa 1975 while networking in the here and now. And just before that, nearly 50 Roaring Fork Valley young professionals met at the Highlands Pizza Company to hear about an upcoming tree-planting project from the Independence Pass Foundation.
It’s all part of Aspen’s burgeoning youth movement. While some lament the graying of the town, others are buoyed by a trend to cultivate the next generation of leaders and philanthropists, as local nonprofits seek to add younger donors to their mainstay supporters and other groups aim to develop business and environmental leaders.
That pizza party, for example, was hosted by the Maroon Corps, founded by former Aspenite Aron Ralston in 2006 under the aegis of the Wilderness Workshop. A few times a year, the group hosts “parties with a purpose,” inviting a speaker and recruiting volunteers for outdoor projects. “The idea is to engage young people in environmental issues in the community and empower them to participate,” says Sarah Johnson, current Maroon Corps chair and education coordinator at the Roaring Fork Conservancy.
When Cari Britton Kuhlman, regional president for United Western Bank, noticed many of her friends leaving town, she and eight other young professionals founded the Aspen Young Professionals Association (AYPA) in 2003 to address this “brain drain.”
“I wanted to get people to network so they could find jobs or housing or discuss issues affecting them,” she explains. AYPA holds monthly events for its 250-some members; recent ones included a panel with young local entrepreneurs and an educational evening at the Aspen Institute. “I’ve heard so many times that this type of organization has fulfilled a need,” says Kuhlman. “The fact that it’s continued to grow and prosper shows that.”
Local cultural nonprofits have realized it’s smart to foster new, younger audiences, growing both their fan base and donations. Aspen Film’s new junior board has hosted parties before signature events like Filmfest and late-night gatherings with visiting filmmakers during spring’s Shortsfest.
The Aspen Art Museum’s assistant development director, Christy Mahon, started AAMContemporaries in 2002 in part, she says, to help nascent art enthusiasts develop their own tastes. “We never just go to the Sky and meet for drinks,” she says. “Everything we do is educational. People know they’re going to leave having learned something.” For $150 annually, members visit private art collections and studios, preview exhibits at the museum, and hear presentations by art experts.
With all of Aspen’s big-ticket fundraisers, philanthropy from a more junior perspective can seem intimidating or plain out of reach. The Buddy Program sought to address that last year, adding a $125 ticket to its annual Boogie’s Bash for the Buddies fundraiser that included dessert, dancing and an open bar. “It was just the life of the party,” recalls Natasha Long, a former Buddy Program event director. “The dance floor was flooded with younger people at 10 PM, when many older people were going home.” Subsequently, Long launched the Buddy Program’s Leadership Development Board, which brings new energy and a younger perspective to the longtime nonprofit. “Many of our board members were born and raised in Aspen,” says Long. “These are people who are really invested in our community and want to give back. They’re the next generation of philanthropists.”
The comparatively venerable Spring Board, started by the Aspen Community Foundation in 1997, holds two or three fundraisers a year, with tickets topping out at $30, then grants the money to local youth-focused nonprofits. Members, who must be under 35, actively volunteer, too. “Our [upcoming] fundraiser involves beer pong,” notes board member Sally Spaulding, who is also Aspen’s community-relations director. “It’s making philanthropy that much more accessible.”
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF ASPEN ART MUSEUM (AAM)