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Lone Tree Symphony’s taking much, giving little

Every summer, residents of Lone Tree, CO and neighboring communities enjoy a free concert by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. These concerts are presented in Sweetwater Park by the City of Lone Tree, but this coming summer the Lone Tree Symphony Orchestra (a volunteer community orchestra) will replace the CSO. A CSO file photo still adorns the Lone Tree Summer Concerts website, but now accompanies a July 24 listing for the LTSO.

Of course the City of Lone Tree should support their local orchestra, and by all accounts they heavily support the administration. Past Minutes of the City of Lone Tree Arts Commission show that the LTSO was in line to receive $35,000 in city support for 2010, and $45,000 the previous year. All metro-Denver residents should take a bow for YOUR hefty support through the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). According to SCFD’s 2008 annual report, $76,856 was paid to the Lone Tree Arts Commission that year. The report also shows that LTSO received another $7,000 that year in direct support from SCFD.

Commission Minutes also reveal that “Each member of the LTSO pays annual dues of forty dollars” to play in the orchestra. The Lone Tree Arts Commission should net additional savings by removing costs for professional musicians, but this assumes that LTSO volunteer musicians are willing to take on the additional workload. According to Commission Minutes, the LTSO will be “working toward increasing visibility and the number of performances, while working with schools, various groups and boards and the general community.”

What protections are there for an LTSO volunteer who is injured on the job? Do Lone Tree residents recognize and accept new liabilities that now fall on them? I seriously doubt that City officials ever discussed such matters among themselves, let alone with their constituents.

The coup de grâce of public support is a new $17 million home for the LTSO, which would be the envy of any professional ensemble. Funding for the Lone Tree Cultural Arts Center was narrowly approved by voters in 2008 and is scheduled to open in 2011.

With all of these public funds that are exchanging hands, one would assume that Lone Tree officials and orchestra administrators have at least taken the time to read the conditions of funding that are mandated in SCFD’s Tier III grant application. Apparently they haven’t, because #22 (Assurances) of the Tier III Application states: “The applicant pledges that they will comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act“ Beyond the obligation to Minimum Wage, the FLSA cites clear prohibitions against replacing professional employees with unpaid workers.

Looking for answers, I contacted LTSO board president John Nemcik. John immediately took offense after realizing that I was speaking on behalf of the Musicians’ Union. John said he grew up in Pennsylvania, and proceeded to blame Unions for the loss of jobs in the region. I responded by asking what jobs he’s creating [or taking away] in context of the upcoming LTSO Season? I’m still waiting for his answer.

I asked John if he had any plans, now or in the foreseeable future, to compensate his musicians? His response was an immediate and resounding NO. I asked if he was aware of SCFD’s Fair Labor Standards/Minimum Wage requirements that LTSO must follow in the example of the July 24 concert. Needless to say, John had no understanding of the requirement, nor did he voice any change of mind.

LTSO is just one example of labor abuse that occurs in our community on a daily basis, and we all share responsibility for allowing this to happen. We must continue to pressure SCFD to enforce their own FLSA provision, but I have yet to see that happen and frankly don’t expect to. These self-serving examples of ignorance and abuse will only worsen until musicians and performing artists everywhere take a very simple stand:

Click your heels three times and tell yourself that you will no longer accept your pre-classified status as a “volunteer.” If that happens the LTSO will become a professional orchestra by 5:00 PM on Monday. Then, take a moment to reflect on the hard-won labor rights & protections that many generations before us have fought for.

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