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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.

The Many Faces of SCFD

April 12th, 2011 1 comment

By Pete Vriesenga

I posted an announcement and commentary on March 22nd entitled:  Please attend SCFD’s public meeting on March 24, 2011. My hope was to let our community of professional musicians know that our industry is again in jeopardy because of irresponsible decisions of the SCFD board and administrators. Thankfully, many members responded and filled all remaining chairs in the meeting room. Most were members of the Colorado Chamber Orchestra (CCO).

Many Faces

At stake was the fact that SCFD rejected CCO’s application to apply for funding in the upcoming grant cycle. Among reasons given were that CCO often performs in churches and has played benefit concerts (one for the homeless in Denver and another for AIDS infants in Africa). God forbid if CCO carried through with such good deeds in its past, and what a sad testament of just how silly SCFD policy [or lack thereof] has become.

There is also the fact that almost every other orchestra in town performs exclusively in churches. Homepage photos of the Arapahoe Philharmonic (at South Suburban Church) and Boulder Symphony (First Presbyterian Church) provide just two examples of SCFD’s latest double standard. Additionally, the Boulder Symphony’s rent agreement with First Presbyterian has musicians performing  Sunday worship services for free, including the the Glory of Christmas. According to BSO’s own press release, this is “a musical event of worship and praise celebrating the birth of Christ” that is in fact a “benefit for the Glory Community.”

SCFD officials also expressed concern that CCO’s outreach programs in Douglas County potentially benefit some students who reside in Douglas County, but live in specific areas that don’t pay into the SCFD District. At the conclusion of the March 24 meeting I reminded the SCFD board that this was yet another, serious double standard. I pointed to SCFD’s “FREE Holiday Performance Opportunity at the Park Meadows Mall” that was staged in 2003 and 2004. Prior to a the passing of a 2004 Election Referendum, Park Meadows Mall was similarly situated in a non-SCFD tax area. The difference between then and now is that SCFD was event coordinator and used public resources for their political goal of luring the Mall into the District in advance of the election.

Shame on the SCFD board, not only for stating the opposite view with CCO, but for allowing students to become victims of SCFD/Douglas County politics.

I could go on, and I will.

Sign your band or ensemble as supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act

May 14th, 2009 No comments

Amy Brenneman and Esai Morales are among 47 popular performing artists speaking out on behalf of the Employee Free Choice Act in a dynamic new video.  Please take a moment to state your support on behalf of your business, band or ensemble by filling out a declaration form and returning a copy to the Denver Musicians Association.

Mail support forms to:
Denver Musicians Association
1165 Delaware St.
Denver, CO 80204
or FAX to 303-573-1945

The performers sum it up this way: “The best way for working men and women to get ahead is by uniting with our co-workers and forming a union. The Employee Free Choice Act does exactly what it says: It gives workers a choice of how to unionize.

People associate actors with fame and glory. The truth is for a long time my union contract was the reason I could support my family. That’s why I support the Employee Free Choice Act, because each worker, regardless of their field, deserves the freedom to bargain for a contract, for a better life.”
–Actress Amy Brenneman

As the performers say, this is not a red state issue. This is not a blue state issue. It’s a workers’ issue.

It’s time for Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. It’s time the economy worked for everyone.

“I’ve belonged to three unions in my life, and every one gave me the freedom to bargain with my co-workers for decent hours, benefits and safe conditions. If all workers don’t have the freedom to form unions, I don’t see how we can fix our economy.”
–Actor and comedian Jerry Stiller

Source: The Stars Align for Employee Free Choice Act.

A special thanks to all the actors, editors, writers and crew members who made this video possible, including members of the following unions:

* Actors’ Equity Association
* American Federation of Musicians
* American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA)
* Directors Guild of America (DGA)
* International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving
Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United
States, Its Territories and Canada (IATSE)
* Screen Actors Guild (SAG)
* Writers Guild of America, East
* Writers Guild of America, West

Click here for a full list of performers and their bios.

Categories: Labor, Legislative Tags:

An Open Letter to Senator Mark Udall

May 1st, 2009 1 comment

May 1, 2009

Colorado Senator Mark Udall
999 Eighteenth Street
Suite N1525
Denver, CO 80202

Dear Senator Udall,

I strongly encourage you to immediately endorse the Employee Free Choice Act. I fail to understand why you are not taking a firm public stand on the EFCA when you previously have co-sponsored the bill.

Senator Udall, this is unacceptable! The EFCA is not a political issue; it is a small “d” democratic issue that goes to the heart of freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I find it shameful that you use the EFCA as a political tool, and that you are waiting to see who will give you the most money for your upcoming campaign in 2010.

Recently I heard a talk at a Democratic fundraiser by progressive talk show host and author David Sirota. Mr. Sirota challenged us to ask this basic question about any politician, Democrat or Republican: Are you on our side (the American working people) or are you on the side of big business and money. The answer in your case is really neither. I suspect you are waiting to see where your largest campaign contributions are coming from, in which case you are only on your side, and will do whatever you have to do to be re-elected.

Please prove me wrong by immediately endorsing the Employee Free Choice Act. It’s a new era in America, and we are in need of transparent and honest politicians. Step up to the plate and join us, the working people of America.

Sincerely,

Thomas A. Blomster

Denver, CO

303-322-1764

An Open Letter To Senator Michael Bennet

May 1st, 2009 2 comments

May 1, 2009

An Open Letter To Senator Michael Bennet

Dear Senator Bennet,

I strongly encourage you to immediately endorse the Employee Free Choice Act. Two weeks ago I attended the town hall meeting held at the IBEW Local 68 offices. Unfortunately, I had to leave for another appointment before your anticipated arrival. I was hoping that by the end of the day there would be news that you had endorsed the EFCA. But upon a careful scan of the Internet, I found no such news, and read a great deal about how you are waffling on this issue.

Senator Bennet, this is unacceptable! The EFCA is not a political issue; it is a small “d” democratic issue that goes to the heart of freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I find it shameful that you use the EFCA as a political tool, and that you are waiting to see who will give you the most money for your upcoming campaign in 2010.

Recently I heard a talk at a Democratic fundraiser by progressive talk show host and author David Sirota. Mr. Sirota challenged us to ask this basic question about any politician, Democrat or Republican: Are you on our side (the American working people) or are you on the side of big business and money. The answer in your case is really neither. You are only on your side, and will do whatever you have to do to be elected (not re-elected, because you were appointed to this position).

Please prove me wrong by immediately endorsing the Employee Free Choice Act. It’s a new era in America, and we are in need of transparent and honest politicians. Step up to the plate and join us, the working people of America.

Sincerely,

Thomas A. Blomster

Denver,
303-322-1764

“Canned Cleopatra” opens to over 300 protesters

April 1st, 2009 No comments

ballet juke boxHundreds of musicians and their union brothers and sisters formed picket lines and distributed leaflets in front of Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, in protest of Texas Ballet Theater’s canned music policy. Demonstrators inflated a giant rat balloon to draw attention to musicians’ concerns. Demonstrations were held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 27, 28 and 29, 2009 prior to the start of the company’s Cleopatra performances.

The ballet company outsourced its orchestra pit during last weekend’s performances of “Canned Cleopatra,” replacing musicians with a recording it made in China. Company artistic staff traveled to Shanghai in June 2008 and paid the Chinese government $30,000.00 for a recording of the Rimsky Korsakov score of Cleopatra. The ballet company cheated its patrons with canned music this season and says it intends to replace musicians indefinitely, including shows planned next season at the new $400 million Dallas Center For the Performing Arts.

“Over three hundred musicians and members of other area unions stood outside Bass Hall last weekend,” said Ray Hair, president of the musicians’ union, and a trustee of the Tarrant County Central Labor Council. “We sent a strong message to the ballet company and the arts community. When you hurt professional musicians, there are consequences.”

A Dallas Morning News/Fort Worth Star-telegram review of Friday’s performance criticized the musical accompaniment as clumsy and hamstrung. “…the progression seemed hurried. Raw, rough-hewn, taped music barged forward, when a more caressing tempo was needed to mirror the emotions…”

canned-weddingLabor Council President T.C. Gillespie predicted dark days ahead for the ballet company. “The protest was a huge success. We had tremendous support from patrons who were saying they wouldn’t return to hear canned music. It’s obvious the company is on its knees from poor attendance and the high number of ticket giveaways. If they crawl over to the Winspear, we’ll take our show on the road and protest fake ballet there, too,” he said.”

Click here for additional information from the Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association.

Musicians to Protest “Canned Cleopatra” Shows

March 20th, 2009 No comments

Ballet Company Replacing Musicians with Recordings it Made in China
Company outsourced culture, is an artistic fraud and consumer rip-off, Musicians say

Brothers and Sisters:

In June, 2008, the artistic staff of a Fort Worth ballet company traveled to Shanghai, paid $30,000.00 to the government of China and killed the jobs of our members. Join with us March 27, 28 and 29 as we converge on Bass Hall in Downtown Fort Worth to protest one of the most deplorable acts ever staged in the history of classical ballet theater.

Download News Memo

Message from AFM President Tom Lee

Dear Local Officer,


I am writing to advise you of Local 72-147’s forthcoming demonstration on March 27, 28, and 29 in Fort Worth against the Texas Ballet Theater and invite your Local’s members to join the demonstrations.

In September of 2008, the Theater dumped the Fort Worth Symphony and Dallas Opera orchestras and has used canned music instead. Then in February 2009 the Theater announced that it would open its 2009/2010 season in the new $400 million Dallas Performing Arts Center to an empty pit.

On March 27, 28 and 29, the Theater will present Cleopatra, with the Rimsky-Korsakov score piped in with a recording made in China. This action simply must not be allowed to go unchecked. It is an insult to musicians and audiences in the Dallas Fort Worth community and if we do not show our opposition to it this could motivate other companies across North America to do the same.

I have provided three links below courtesy of Local 72-147. These links provide more information on this matter.

Message to Texas Ballet Theater Employees, Patrons and the Public

Memo to Membership

Local 72-147 Information Page

I look forward to your support on this matter.

Sincerely,
Thomas F. Lee
President