Editor’s note: Michael Dabroski directed the Vermont Mozart Festival from 2015 until he resigned from the organization this June when this summer’s concert series was canceled. The festival featured an orchestra of early-career musicians performing a number of concerts in Shelburne, Stowe, Charlotte and Burlington. The future of the nonprofit arts organization is unclear.
I wish to apologize to the public for any and all Vermont Mozart Festival organization cancellation inconveniences this summer.
As a rebuttal to my critics of recent weeks, it was the members of the Vermont Mozart Festival Board of Directors who failed the public trust since October 2018.
In June, I announced that Vermont Mozart Festival was not prepared to perform as a business financially this summer. My professional decision and method to cancel the summer season (July 15 to Aug. 4) was prudent and responsible for purposes to avoid major debt and preserve the corporation.
Since June I have been living in Havana, Cuba, developing both existing and new musical projects. I would like to respond to points made in recent coverage of Vermont Mozart Festival as they pertain to my role in its management.
Sadly my working with the volunteer Vermont Mozart Festival Board of Directors was similar to the moment when I provided a conductor’s cue to the orchestra and they failed to enter. I got wide-eyed stares and silence from the players despite their professional training. In turn, board members abandoned their jobs over months that needed to be accomplished to fulfill the season.
An orchestra plays loudly when the music demands. Likewise, the board was to raise money when necessary. This summer was not what the composer intended, and not what the audience or public expected.
For those who do not know me, I am a 51-year-old entrepreneurial artist and executive with 25 years career experience. I am as qualified as any professional musician and arts manager in Vermont and the United States to determine the competence of a board and if available resources exist to fulfill a large-scale festival.
I rekindled Vermont Mozart Festival in 2015 by purchasing the Vermont Mozart Festival business name with my own money and then converted the entity to a nonprofit organization with a relevant and sustainable mission as my gift to the community.
I credit the original founder Melvin Kaplan (my former boss) with a great idea of producing Vermont destination concerts of the highest quality, and I sought to honor him in principle by fulfilling more concerts.
I produced three Vermont Mozart Festival seasons of 100 concerts with 90 young professional musicians as a fellowship program representing over 50 universities. I programmed events at Shelburne Farms and Trapp Family Lodge, and built multi-year international projects in Cuba and Dominican Republic with program graduates. I solicited and received a total four-year $200,000 corporate title sponsor, made recordings and a brand.
My administrative responsibilities were many, covering planning and operations. I was unpaid for many months. In four years I was not provided a staff, office space, fair compensation, a designated office phone line, job description or review, or board retreat as is typical with other professional arts organizations. However, I created more product at a third of the cost and at greater sustainability than the previous festival.
It is appropriate to scrutinize volunteer board members who are seeking new leadership proposals in media articles published in August despite providing two official letters to me in June and August that upheld my position in stating: “your resignation as Leader and Director is not accepted.”
I believe the volunteer board also merits scrutiny on matters including:
• Their lack of fundraising between October 2018 and June 2019. Only one of seven board members made a financial cash donation or donated time during that nine-month period.
• Their ignoring leadership in committee roles and participation, and no recruitment and approval of new board members.
• Their failure to support authorized plans for a gala and other events designed as fundraisers and audience development tools.
I maintain that I have provided the board with access to financial online information, bank statements, databases and all business information since 2015.
I believed the board members understood that electronic transactions (such as credit cards and checks) are prohibited in Cuba — cash only is used. However, recently the board informed me via letter that they considered all cash business withdrawals to be my personal income — yet I did not benefit from the cash personally.
I believe their references to Venmo payments were misleading. I processed a single such transaction to refund an approved airfare expense to a fellow living in Denmark.
Ultimately, the state of culture is fractured in Vermont and should be of major concern when a board of directors mishandles beauty and generous artistic gifts such as the music of Mozart in destination venues. The issue now is upholding responsibilities and accountability measures to fulfill a successful outcome to benefit community. I see it as similar to an orchestra rehearsing and performing a concert together.
Despite the numerous challenges of producing a festival and creating value, I remain inspired by the beauty music provides in the lives of people. I welcome people to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for purposes only to rebuild the Vermont Mozart Festival team, and as always, pursue artistic goals that benefit community.
Michael Dabroski is planning a modified “Season 4-5” on behalf of Vermont Mozart Festival.