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The Greater Good

December 9th, 2014 No comments

The Way Forward With National Media Policy

By Pete Vriesenga

pete-vriesengaThe Colorado Symphony Orchestra is at odds with our national union (AFM) over differences with electronic media policy. In recent years the CSO [along with 70 other orchestras] was signed to the AFM’s Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) which expired in the Fall of 2013. The IMA is a national agreement that covers electronic media work common to symphony orchestras such as CDs, public radio and television, but doesn’t cover commercial work such as commercial announcements, film, videogames, etc. Over the past year the CSO offered to bargain a new agreement with the AFM, but that effort seems to have failed. On broader fronts a multi-employer bargaining group was formed to represent the management side for a new national contract, but one year later a new agreement remains in the offing.

Before proceeding I should point out that the DMA (Local 20-623, AFM) is the bargaining representative for CSO musicians with respect to most matters in their collective bargaining agreement, including local media. However, the AFM is the recognized bargaining agent for the Integrated Media Agreement and all national media work. Certainly the DMA has a vested interest in seeing a satisfactory resolution to any internal union conflict, but therein lies the question.

Our local membership first learned of this conflict at our March 31, 2014 General Membership Meeting when members of the CSO shared concerns about the AFM’s intransigence over a marketing collaboration between the CSO and the Colorado Rockies. This was a local collaboration that had broad support of the musicians and a perfect example of creative marketing that orchestras across the country should capitalize on. Nonetheless, the AFM only fought management on this matter. They even fought the musicians against their will, all the while claiming to represent them.

Ultimately a resolution was passed at our membership meeting, expressing unanimous support for the CSO on three points: 1) AFM’s unreasonable delay in bargaining, 2) failure to consult the Orchestra Committee before initiating grievances against the orchestra, and 3) CSO musicians’ exclusion from contract and policy-making decisions that affect them.

These are conventional expectations for any democratic organization, but not in the AFM. One reason is the AFM has grown accustomed to setting uniform rates for 70 years. Surely the prospect of achieving genuine support for uniform recording rates across North America would be preferable, but establishing and enforcing such policy requires broad and inclusive representation that frankly does not exist in our union. Yes, the AFM is obligated to represent the interests of those who do the work, but it’s equally important to represent the interests of those who must otherwise turn the work down. That democratic model is a world apart from where we are now and would be expected if the AFM is to serve the needs of “the many.”

This is a key point of contention for the CSO because the Integrated Media Agreement only covers “symphonic” work and does not cover commercial work. Moreover, I see no visible trace of representation between CSO musicians and those who presently establish terms and conditions for work under these commercial agreements. That remains the closely-guarded and protected turf of the Recording Musicians Association (RMA) which is an AFM “Player Conference” that aggressively represents a small fraction of the AFM membership who greatly influence AFM recording policy. Despite their relatively small numbers, RMA has long demonstrated its ability to elect or unseat AFM officers who fail to follow their lead. That political will enables RMA to impose their agenda on AFM members who don’t even know RMA exists, let alone what it stands for. Consequently, RMA’s unchecked power comes at the expense of “the many” and only serves the needs of “the few.”

On the one hand I can’t blame RMA for taking all they can from a union that wrongly and feebly ceded so much power to them, but I do blame other AFM player conferences (ICSOM and ROPA, specifically) for failing to see what’s really going on here. These representational failures have taken a heavy toll on our union, so I applaud the CSO and AFM members across North America for standing up to force necessary change. Fortunately their demands for change are also being heard. In his column in the November, 2014 International Musician, AFM President Ray Hair points to “brush fires in Montreal, Vancouver, Denver, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.” Fair representation, especially with respect to electronic media, appears to be a common demand.

The only way to move beyond this old and deep-rooted conflict is if our union commits to serve the ‘greater good’ and it appears that President Hair draws this very conclusion in his November column when he writes: “All previous AFM administrations faced the same institutional pressures as we do to this day – the internal struggle to balance the needs of the many, versus the needs of the few, or the one. The rise of business unionism over the past 60 years, with its culture of divisiveness and hierarchical bargaining has spawned a host of haves and have-nots in the workplace that serve the interests of the employers. This has come with a terrible cost.”

President Hair’s hope to serve the greater good is a step in the right direction, but actions speak louder than words. Whether or not the AFM then commits to doing so will be determined by the success or failure of organized protests and demands for change that are taking place in Colorado and across the AFM.

The AFM’s willingness to go to the next step by confronting “business unionism”, if true, is a very long time coming because AFM media policies have been the standard-bearer of business unionism for 70 years.  Dictionary.com defines business unionism as “the trade-union philosophy and activity that concentrates on the improvement of wages, hours, working conditions, etc., rather than on the general reform of the capitalistic system”. Sadly, that is an exacting description of the AFM’s flagship “Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA)” which defines AFM media policy. The predecessor to the SRLA – the Phonograph Record Labor Agreement – was established in 1944 with Decca, Capitol, RCA and Columbia. Those four producers were arguably the only true players in the industry then, but today there are thousands of legitimate record labels and independent producers while only seven producers are actually signed to the SRLA document today. Others may come and go, and typically sign for single projects when they do.

Nonetheless, AFM members are led to believe that the 100-page SRLA is an agreement with “the industry” which therefore applies to any and all competing companies from coast to coast, no matter how small. A “Favored Nations” clause exists to this day in the SRLA that obligates the Federation to notify their signatory business partners if a more favorable deal is cut to anyone else. That little clause is an extraordinary deal for our capitalist business partners like Sony ($3 billion annual sales) and Warner Brothers ($5 billion annual sales) and is quite possibly their primary motivation to keep these “agreements” in place. When President Hair publicly assails Lionsgate ($2.3 billion annual sales) for disregarding AFM agreements, few are cheering him on more than the CEO’s of Sony and Warner Brothers. Observe the Clash of the Titans – “the few” – who already command the upper percentile and remain determined to rule the world of media.

How does this affect the great majority of AFM members who work in an economy where the great majority of employer/producers, i.e., “the industry” may only be one-thousandth the size of Warner or Sony? Does “the industry” benefit when the titans establish and set terms for small independents?
Only time will tell if our elected AFM leadership will stand up to these mega-corporations and reject old business union habits so our union can truly serve the greater good. Early indications of change for the better [or worse] will surely be found in President Hair’s reference to “brush fires.” Will these members be welcomed and encouraged for the healthy debate and necessary change they bring, or not?

Collaboration and COLLUSION in Miami

February 19th, 2012 No comments

The 6th Season of the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Residency began on January 27, casting a dark shadow on memories of the former Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. The FPO’s final concert was played on May 9, 2003 following an apparent ploy by the orchestra’s board chair Daniel Lewis that was obviously designed to fail. Lewis claimed that the orchestra could face bankruptcy by early May if the public failed to raise $20 million, which naturally never happened. Daniel Lewis is now the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Board Chairman, and yet he still files the annual, corporate reports to keep the Florida Philharmonic name alive … and out of business.

In the years following the FPO bankruptcy, Daniel Lewis’ nefarious business dealings became even more evident. Collusion between Cleveland Orchestra Miami, the Miami City Ballet and the Knight Foundation has been so open and deliberate that Dan Lewis doesn’t even bother to cover his own tracks … or lies. A December 10, 2008 story in the Associated Press reported that the Miami Ballet was forced to “forgo a live orchestra and will perform to recorded music for the second half of its 2008-09 season to save money. Blaming the economy, ballet officials said Tuesday that they cut the orchestra because of declining ticket sales and donor contributions. Live music for a full season would cost $480,000, but only $188,280 had been raised so far. Musicians will play during ballet performances through January”

I expect the Ballet had some explaining to do when readers from Cleveland to Miami then pointed to the Knight Foundation’s press release just ten day before, announcing a $250,000 award to Miami City Ballet. The award was given to “To support an artistic collaboration between the Cleveland Orchestra and the Miami City Ballet.” Daniel Lewis and Mike Eidson were listed as applicants for the award. Mike Eidson is a former president and chairman of the Miami City Ballet.

These examples of deliberate intent are easily traced back long before Miami City Ballet’s false claims of poverty in December. In June of 2008, the Cleveland Orchestra announced: “Beginning in 2009, The Cleveland Orchestra will begin a multi-year artistic collaboration with the Miami City Ballet under the direction of Franz Welser-Möst and Miami City Ballet Artistic Director Edward Villella.” It’s too bad that neither the Miami musicians or Miami City Ballet contributors had access to Maestro Welser-Möst’s crystal ball. They would have at least had a fair chance to put up some resistance.

And it only gets worse. At the very time that local musicians were handed their walking papers, the Knight Foundation was moving quickly to provide comfortable digs for Cleveland Orchestra managers. A January 8, 2009 press release from the Knight Foundation reveals a $130,000 award to “provide office space in Miami for the Cleveland Orchestra from 2009 up to 2012.” In just a few short weeks, the Cleveland Orchestra Miami relocated to the 33rd floor of the Wachovia Financial Center in Miami. Now, Dan Lewis need only walk down the hall to pick up his checks from the Knight Foundation … also located on the 33rd floor of the Wachovia Financial Center.

How convenient.

More Anti-Union Rhetoric from the League of American Orchestras

January 25th, 2012 No comments

The League of American Orchestras (LAO), formerly known as the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL) has ramped-up their anti-collective bargaining rhetoric lately. LAO’s latest publication: Fearless Journeys: Innovation in Five American Orchestras is yet another in a string of “new model” discussions that champion this message. The book claims to provide “hard evidence” through a small sample study that orchestras can become more “sustainable” by taking risks and modifying their collective bargaining agreements. Of course there is no mention of the established alternative where the fundamental right to bargain is expressly prohibited as the organization wanders aimlessly to the public trough only to reward their administrators.

LAO vice president Bruce Clinton recently made headlines here in Denver while forcing this very agenda on the CSO and it was a only a stroke of luck that he resigned from the CSO board before succeeding in his hope and efforts to shut the orchestra down. In his 10/7/11 interview on Colorado Public Radio, LAO President and CEO Jesse Rosen provides cover for Clinton while displaying his own ignorance of the facts through his comments: “The disappointment that I feel about it is that there is so much really important work for orchestras to be doing; to continue to innovate, to continue to grow, to deepen their connections to the community. What we see in Colorado, unfortunately, is a group of constituents who have yet to align themselves around a shared set of vision and direction.”

Please give yourself a pat on the back for funding LAO’s self-serving, anti-union agenda. LAO was recently awarded a $100,000 NEA grant to “strengthen orchestras through learning and leadership development” while focusing on “best-practice models” at their annual conference.

The bulk of LAO’s funding comes through membership dues that range from $150 to $29,120 annually. Dues are typically collected as a line-item expense from orchestra budgets without consent or knowledge of members of the orchestra. If union dues were collected in this manner I’d be writing this column from prison.

The LAO made headlines again in a January 4 story in the Oregonian reporting on why the Oregon Symphony dropped their LAO membership. “I find the on-going discussion around the need for a “new model” dispiriting” said Oregon Symphony President Elaine Calder. “At an annual cost of $17,000, the benefits of membership were not worth the expense.” The cost of an LAO membership ranges from $150 to $29,120 annually through a dues structure that places the highest burden on mid-size orchestras.

For many of the same reasons the Youth Orchestras of the Rockies (YOR) recently opted not to renew their LAO membership after their board reviewed the matter. Commenting further on this decision, DMA Vice President and YOR Music Director Thomas Blomster said “The YOR Board of Directors asked what we were getting by being members of the LAO, as most of the Board didn’t even know who or what the LAO is. I responded that we get the privilege of using the LAO’s logo on our website and programs, and the LAO clogs our email boxes with information that is of very little use. All this for a membership of $150 a year, not very much money, but $150 the YOR Board felt could be better spent.”

Mopping up after having been “showered upon”

January 19th, 2012 No comments

Bruce and Martha Clinton

Bruce and Martha Clinton

“Bruce and his wife, Martha, have made a tremendous difference in the many organizations in which they are closely involved, including the symphony orchestras in the three cities in which they maintain homes: Chicago, Denver, and Miami. Their generosity has been showered upon the Colorado Symphony Orchestra here in Denver, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra for their Miami Residency, the New World Symphony and, of course, the League of American Orchestras.”

The above quote comes from a page of the League of American Orchestras website, highlighting a 2008 LAO dinner honoring former CSO board members Bruce and Martha Clinton. Interestingly, the referenced page is no longer available because it is quickly masked by a pop-up ad.

This draws a stark contrast to the Clinton’s deliberate attempts to shut the CSO down only months ago, and subsequent and continued efforts to undermine the organization for months after they walked away from their responsibilities.  The Clinton’s also reneged on their season pledges over their differences with “union work rules,” leaving a sudden and deliberate financial crisis for musicians and community leaders to mop up.

As vice president of the LAO, Bruce Clinton has taken his agenda across the nation. A report on their June, 2011 LAO Conference blames “collective bargaining agreements” for much of the industry problems that orchestras face today. As if this were nothing more than a game of Monopoly or Who Sank my Battleship, the report goes on to script the turmoil that CSO musicians were expected to endure in the immediate months ahead:

“Next few months some major and medium US orchestras will face the challenges of robust innovation. It will be a really interesting experience, which orchestras will succeed best in this competition.”

Heather Miller & Bruce Clinton throwing spitballs … again

December 29th, 2011 No comments

As much as they keep trying, resigned CSO board members Heather K Miller and Bruce Clinton are failing to show any evidence that the CSO is holding firm to an unsustainable business model. As board members they were more determined to shut the organization down than take the lead into the future. Rather than accept their personal failings as board members they repeatedly tried to paint “union work rules” as their scapegoat, despite the simple fact that the musicians repeatedly yielded to their demands.

The first spitball was Miller and Clinton’s politically charged editorial, published in the Denver Post on November 13 – two months after they walked away from their responsibilities as board members. Their latest was a December 22nd interview with Mike Rosen on KOA (850 AM). They initially hoped to have the show to themselves, but a CSO board co-chair arranged after the fact to call in during the later part of the show. It wasn’t until that moment on live radio that Miller and Clinton learned of all the good that happened since they walked away, including the CSO’s announcement of a new business plan that was vetted by an inclusive committee and broadly endorsed by the musicians.

In full disclosure, Mike Rosen admitted “I don’t like labor unions” and “haven’t gone to a symphony concert in probably 10 years, maybe longer.” So, this is the perfect forum for Miller and Clinton who chose to put themselves on public display with a talk show host who knows nothing of the subject matter except that he shares their political ideology.

Hostile Nonprofit Takeovers

December 2nd, 2011 No comments

The sudden, September exodus of twenty CSO board members will be remembered as a fortuitous change for the better, creating a welcome opening for new and returning leaders who are committed to building the orchestra’s future and maintaining stature as a world-class orchestra. Our community is deeply thankful for this show of support and direction from true patrons of the arts. This was not the case in recent years while the orchestra was under the powerful grip of individuals in pursuit of personal agendas and pointless, anti-union ideology.

The latest twist in this sordid story is a vindictive, politically-charged editorial by resigned CSO board members Heather K. Miller and Bruce Clinton that ran in the Denver Post on November 13. Former board members Martha Clinton, Steve Holtze, Bernard Schotters, Kevin Duncan and Gary Lutz contributed to this editorial that lashes out at the very organization they were sworn to support only weeks ago. In an effort to cover their tracks and personal board failings, they go on to blame the Musicians Union that is “more focused on preserving an unrealistic labor contract than preserving the future of the symphony and their very jobs.”

Miller and Clinton claim that “Under the leadership of former president and CEO Jim Palermo, executive salaries were cut and creative programs were designed to expand the symphony’s audience appeal.” That would be an excellent point if it were true. But the facts show that from 2009 and 2011, costs for orchestra, artistic and chorus declined from 75% to 65% of total costs (decrease of $339,000) while admin/marketing/development increased from 25% to 35% (increase of $1,480,000) during the same period. At the bargaining table we repeatedly asked Palermo for any examples where management executives would be sharing the sacrifice that he was forcing upon the musicians. Palermo gave no example, and in fact responded by saying that he must reserve the right to give his top executives raises as he sees fit.

Miller & Clinton also blame the Union for selectively leaking their in-house “Sustainability Study” to the press, which in of itself was a concerted effort to blame the union for anything and everything that could possibly go wrong with a symphony orchestra. Fabricated charges that the union somehow leaked their Sustainability Study or that the union is protecting an unrealistic labor contract may well have come from the moon. The record clearly shows that these board members were determined to shut the orchestra down regardless of whether the musicians agreed to their demands or not. The shameful truth is that these board members resigned their positions in September as the musicians conceded to their demand for a $530,000 wage concession, not to mention their seemingly impossible deadline to accomplish this within 4 days.

I believe the 20 resigned board members mistakenly assumed the musicians would vote against the wage concession, thus enabling them to point to the union as their scapegoat and excuse for a planned, frustrated departure. Their plan was foiled when they woke up the next day to learn that the musicians accepted their demands, which left the entire community scratching their heads wondering why they walked away from their reponsibilities. The truth is far worse than that. They also took $500,000 of 2011-12 season pledges with them, deliberately sending the orchestra into a cash crisis.

2009 contract negotiations were no better, with repeated threats of bankruptcy and forced lockouts. Bruce Clinton and then board chair Kevin Duncan were on the management side of the bargaining table. Both were voting in favor of bankruptcy during that summer of 2009, even as negotiations were underway and the musicians accepted their mandated 24% pay cut. How did it come to this, and where did this determined effort to shut the orchestra down come from?

The Bricks & Mortar Curse
In November of 2007, Denver voters passed a $550 million bond issue that included $60 million as seed money for a new concert hall, with the understanding that the CSO board had pledged to raise another $30 million. But these same board members who beat the drum for $60 million in City tax dollars were suddenly sitting on their wallets when the economy went south at the end of 2008. Their $30 million pledge to the City never materialized (sound familiar?) and their personal frustrations suddenly turned on the musicians, blaming “union work rules” for the mess that the board created.

The ‘Bricks & Mortar Curse’ has raised its ugly head elsewhere. In San Antonio, TX, aggressive fundraising for their planned $195 million Tobin Center is drawing critical contributions away from the San Antonio Symphony. The orchestra ended the 2010/11 Season with $750,000 in debt and is now relying on advance ticket sales to fund operations. An October 7 story on mysanantonio.com warns the “City may get little or no symphony” and raises the prospect of a the new concert hall opening in 2013 or 2014 without an orchestra.

One of the more interesting examples goes back a few more years, but in many ways hits much closer to home. The Florida Philharmonic Orchestra served a population of over 5 million and was on sound footing with budget and ticket sales when construction of their new Miami home began in 2001. Incredibly, the FPO was forced out of business by the time the $500 million Adrienne Arsht Center opened on October 5, 2006. By no small coincidence in January, 2007, the Cleveland Orchestra began their annual 3-week Miami Residency (est. budget of $3 million) as a means of “fulfilling our promise to the community” while simultaneously playing a direct role in the demise of the FPO and its 43-week season (approximate $9 million budget).

The irony is the death of the FPO arguably came at the hands of board members and leaders within the organization. A June 2007 story titled Harmony & Discord in Cleveland Magazine details efforts of former FPO chairman Daniel Lewis who is now chairman of the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Residency. The Cleveland Residency, in collaboration with the New World Symphony training orchestra, has now replaced FPO while drawing considerably more resources from the community.

The direct link to Denver is through Bruce Clinton, who is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Residency and also serves on the Board of Trustees of the New World Symphony. Obviously Clinton got just what he wanted in Miami: NWS orchestra members are given a room and $450/week, they have no union contract and must leave the orchestra after 3 years. “It’s all about the kids,” said Clinton during our 2009 contract negotiations. “That’s why I’m here.”

Just how “sustainable” is Bruce Clinton’s Miami model that imports the Cleveland Orchestra at five times the cost per concert over the former FPO? How sustainable is the future of NWS orchestra members who no longer have the FPO as a potential employer because of the actions of these “civic leaders” in Miami? The Miami example shows that a union orchestra can be shut off as easily as a light switch and a non-union or contract replacement can be sold once again as a “promise to the community.” The New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Dallas Symphony will again be in-residence this summer in Vail, so a similar “collaboration” here in Denver is just a phone call away.

Bruce Clinton made his fortune in construction, so he understands the ‘bricks & mortar’ curse that follows the performing arts. Securing naming rights in public buildings will surely promote his business. Moreover, his multiple board positions have become powerful bully pulpits for Clinton, to promote anti-union idealogy within the cultural community. Clinton’s pulpit has broadened in scope and national influence now that he is Vice-President of the League of American Orchestras. The degree to which Clinton has now abused his position with the League is the subject of an opinion piece Collateral Damage from the Clinton Letter by orchestra consultant Drew McManus.

Yes, the shameful resignation of 20 board members was a rare stroke of luck for the CSO. If Miller & Clinton had gotten their way, the sustainability model for the orchestra would be $450/week (or less) as we see in Miami. I still shudder at the thought that Heather Miller would have been chair of the CSO board had she not resigned over her baseless claims about union work rules and orchestra sustainability. Ms. Miller built her career and influence in the banking industry, which of course makes her a specialist in these matters. Are we then to believe the CSO would be more sustainable if it followed the banking model and became solely reliant on other people’s money? A November 27 Bloomberg News story reveals the shocking reality of the bank bailout from 2007 to 2009 and a previously undisclosed total of $7.77 Trillion.

Need I say more?

Pete Vriesenga is President of the Denver Musicians Association

SCFD’s assurance of “Quality” and “Competitive Grants” – if only it were true

May 11th, 2011 No comments

By Pete Vriesenga

The Scientific & Cultural Facilities District was adopted by Metro-Denver voters in 1988. “Quality” was SCFD’s first and foremost committment to voters who were told that eligible organizations must participate in a competitive grant application process. In many respects this committment was set into law with SCFD’s statutory requirement of adherence to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Unfortunately, recent forays of the Boulder Symphony (Boulder’s ‘Pay-to-Play orchestra) have proven once again that SCFD’s granting processes are anything but competitive. The Lone Tree Symphony, another SCFD-funded ‘pay-to-play’ orchestra receives 80% of its budget from the taxpayers. As a national average, government support for symphony orchestras is just 4%.

Professional musicians continue to suffer substantial loss of income because of SCFD’s non-competitive practices while taxpayer dollars are irresponsibly damaging our economy. In his May 3 letter to me, SCFD board Chair James Harrington defends that SCFD’s is creating jobs and meeting its statutory requirements. My May 5 response to Mr. Harrington states my position as I’ve stated for 15 years … that none of this is true.

Boulder’s ‘pay-to-play’ orchestra lands another gig

May 1st, 2011 No comments

The Cherry Creek Chorale has provided welcome employment for DMA members for many years. These productions are costly and we are forever grateful for CCC’s efforts to stage such events and hope they can continue into the future.

But, as stated in CCC’s 2011-12 Season Flyer, CCC has engaged the Boulder Symphony Orchestra (BSO) for concerts scheduled on October 14, 2011 and May 18, 2012. Sadly, freelance musicians are again learning the hard way that they cannot possibly compete against two publicly-funded organizations that choose to pool their resources in this manner.

Under the baton of Maestro Devin Hughes, the Boulder Symphony has hit the ground running by

Maestro Devin Hughes

Maestro Devin Hughes

undermining the local industry with their SCFD-funded ‘pay-to-play’ business model. The BSO’s new home at Boulder’s affluent First Presbyterian Church is yet another creative collaboration. This deal is paid for entirely by the musicians who now perform free for Sunday services as well as three performances of Glory of Christmas. Additionally, BSO musicians must pay $25 per concert set to play in the orchestra, all of which applies to BSO’s necessary match to obtain SCFD funding in the first place.

I met with Maestro Hughes this past December over a cup of coffee. I tried to explain why it is improper for BSO to use their tax-exempt status and public funding in a manner that unfairly competes against an established industry. I reminded Devin that his actions, also the BSO board of directors, are putting professional musicians out of work while damaging an economy that otherwise fuels our cultural infrastructure and provides a welcome tax base.

Maestro Hughes had little comment except to boast of the great job he’s doing.

A Little Transparency, Please

May 1st, 2011 No comments

The Lone Tree Arts Commission was established by the City of Lone Tree in 1999 to promote public awareness of fine and performing arts within the City. Funding for the LTAC comes in part from the City of Lone Tree, and also from the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District which provides approximately $75,000 annually. The Lone Tree Symphony, for example, receives more than $40,0000 annually in grant awards from LTAC. With additional funding from Douglas County SCFD, 80% of Lone Tree Symphony’s annual budget now comes from “government grants.” Government support for symphony orchestras as a national average is is just 4%.

Taxpayers in the SCFD District have a right to know how these funds are spent when unusual amounts and percentages are passing hands. Lone Tree residents especially have a right to know how these funds are spent. They voted for a tax increase in 2004 so they could join in the SCFD Tax District, and they voted for another tax increase in 2008 to fund the new $20 million Lone Tree Arts Center slated to open this Fall.

So, the $20 million question: Are Lone Tree residents better off after these two tax hikes, and do they know where this money is going? The Colorado Symphony performed annual concerts in Lone Tree’s Sweetwater Park before these tax increases. Now, with added funds in City coffers, the ‘pay-to-play’ Lone Tree Symphony has now assumed the gig. Count one strike against the notion that residents are better off.

Answers and accountability to these questions are typically noted in Meeting Minutes of the Lone Tree Arts Council, but these documents are not as accessible as they should be. In fact, they’re not as accessible as they were in the past. Click here to see Meeting Agendas and Minutes of other areas of Lone Tree city government such as City Council, Planning Commission, Youth Commission, etc. All are perfectly up to date, except for the Arts Commission. Suspiciously, all records stop after January 13, 2010.

My personal conspiracy theory suggests that LTAC is responding to my February 5, 2010 commentary Lone Tree Symphony’s Taking Much, Giving Little. That story raised a bit of a fuss between myself and Lone Tree City Officials, to put it mildly.

With the hope of putting my theory to rest, I sent an email inquiry last week to the Lone Tree Arts Commission, asking for an explanation for this 15-month lapse? Following proper protocol I used the contact link at the bottom of their LTAC webpage, but my email bounced back with a notice:“This account has been disabled or discontinued.”

Maybe they’re just uncomfortable.

Bullying the SCFD?

April 12th, 2011 No comments

By Pete Vriesenga

I have been calling attention to SCFD’s bad policy for 15 years, all the while explaining why their indiscriminate annual distribution of $40 million is doing more harm than good. For the most part this has been a futile effort because we are now facing a culture shift in our community Gig Awaythat, driven either by ignorance or deliberate intent, favors volunteerism over industry.

How do we set SCFD on a healthy course that provides better benefit for the community and is also compatible with our industry? Pointed, healthy discussion going forward will obviously require the opposite viewpoint, and Robin McNeil is as strong a champion of SCFD as anyone I can find. McNeil is a former Executive Director of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra and now maintains  his OpusColorado arts blog.

My recent commentary Please attend SCFD’s public meeting on March 24, 2011 caught McNeil’s attention. On March 26, McNeil posted his commentary to mine which he titled Bullying the SCFD. McNeil tosses out weak and unfounded assertions that, at the very least, require my counter back to him. But despite repeated attempts to post my response to his blog, McNeil has deliberately silenced me … for now.

Click here to read my rebuttal that McNeil and OpusColorado never published.