Courtesy of Stephen Mease
Michael Dabroski conducting a concert in 2017
The former leader of the Vermont Mozart Festival took to Facebook on Monday to blame the nonprofit organization’s board of directors for the cancellation of this summer’s planned concert events. A volunteer involved with the board denies these claims.
Michael Dabroski was the leader of the Vermont Mozart Festival
until June 16, when he resigned and notified concert venues and the board that this year’s festival would be cancelled. The festival publicly announced the cancellation via Facebook on July 9, as reported by the Shelburne News
. According to the festival website, the shows were scheduled to begin Monday and run through August 4.
On Monday afternoon, a post
appeared on the VMF Facebook page titled “Official Statement by Michael Dabroski.” This was posted without prior knowledge of the board, according to Gene Richards; the director of the Burlington International Airport has volunteered to help the board navigate the cancellation. Dabroski did not respond to Seven Days
' requests for comment.
In the statement, Dabroski alleges that he worked full time for very little compensation over his three-and-a-half-year tenure leading the festival. Although Richards refers to Dabroski as the former executive director, the festival website calls him the organization’s “leader” or “director.”
“The board sought my 40+ hour work weeks as a professional artist and executive without pay for years,” Dabroski wrote.
Richards said it was understood from the beginning of Dabroski’s tenure that he would be a volunteer.
“It was never about Michael’s salary,” Richards said. “It was about Michael’s passion.”
Richards said Dabroski approached the board in October 2018 requesting a salary, which the board agreed to. But it ended in February due to lack of funds, Richards said.
Dabroski’s statement indicated he wasn’t paid after February, but Richards said there were payroll deductions made to Dabroski in March and April.
According to Richards, the festival board wasn’t able to access the organization’s bank accounts, email or social media accounts after Dabroski’s departure, which led to the delay in informing the public about the season cancellation. After his resignation, Dabroski headed to Cuba. His Facebook statement indicates that he now works at El Lyceum Mozartiano de la Habana.
Dabroski’s statement claimed that he left “organized notes and electronic files” when he departed on June 16, but Richards said the information was actually far from complete.
“We just got, recently, control of the checking account,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions we don’t have answers to.”
The board had relatively little oversight into the organization’s financials, with no access to the bank account. Richards said it’s standard with nonprofit boards he has served on to have “full faith” in the organization’s leaders and trust the information they give.
“It’s not the board’s responsibility to run the organization,” he said. "It’s the executive director’s.”
Dabroski’s statement also noted that he operated the festival at less than a third of the operating costs before he came on as leader, and that the board repeatedly declined his attempts to fundraise. He said that a gala was cancelled in 2019, and that a board member sought to cancel a charitable golf tournament.
“The golf tournament did
happen, because I saw a $17,000 debit for that,” Richards said. “It didn’t make any money; it actually cost money.”
Richards added that the board had attempted to rein in Dabroski’s spending on events such as the golf tournament.
It’s not the first time the Vermont Mozart Festival has halted due to funding issues. The original iteration of the festival ran for 36 years, primarily under the direction of Mel Kaplan, before shuttering in 2010
. Dabroski came on as leader and held the first new festival in 2016
. Instead of highly accomplished musicians, it featured younger musicians who performed for free as “fellows.”
The festival’s marketing director, Kevin O’Leary, also resigned this spring, according to Dabroski’s statement and a Facebook post
from May 2. That was one of the reasons for the festival's cancellation, Dabroski said in his more recent statement .
Richards said he and the board members aren’t exactly sure what went wrong with this year’s festival, because they're still trying to get invoices from the bank to see where VMF's money went.
All concert ticket holders can receive a refund by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Richards said the board has received no communication from Dabroski since his resignation, and that they don't want to continue trading accusations.
“What I hope to do is do this forensic review, and then report to the board and the community about what happened,” Richards said. “Hopefully Michael will actively participate.”