Corporate contribution attracts activists’ attention
By Peter Alexander
They started blowing their whistles about three minutes before the concert was scheduled to begin.
Last night (May 5) was one the biggest nights in the history of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO). Just before 7:30 p.m., the players were all on the Macky Auditorium stage, along with members of the Boulder Chorale, getting ready to perform Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony.
It would be the climactic concert of their 13th season. The house was filling with a large audience.
Suddenly, several protesters—I saw three but it sounded like there were more—stood up and started blowing police whistles. The audience suddenly grew quiet. A woman near me stood up and started shouting, although her words were lost in the general din. Loud voices could be heard from other parts of the hall.
The woman hurried down the aisle, still blowing her whistle and talking to several audience members on the way. A man near the back was shouting, and raised a fist in protest; I saw one or two others rushing out of the auditorium. They made a quick exit from the building, leaving behind flyers headed “Community Alert.”
The protestors were from East Boulder County United (EBCU), an activist group that opposes fracking. The group’s Facebook page lists as one of its goals “to protect our community and neighbors from the dangers that oil and gas development poses to our health, the quality of our air and water, and our agricultural heritage.”
They had already stated their opposition to contributions the BCO received from Extraction Oil & Gas, which describes itself as “a domestic energy company focusing on the exploration and production of oil and gas reserves in the Rocky Mountains.” It is likely that EBCU alerted some of the media of the planned protest against Extraction, since the Boulder Daily Camera had a reporter and photographer at Macky before the performance.
As soon as the EBCU protesters had left the building, the concert continued as planned. Board chair Jessica Catlin spoke briefly from the stage, acknowledging the BCO’s supporters. Conductor Bahman Saless came onstage and talked about the program, as he often does. The performance took place without further incident.
There was no evidence that the musicians were rattled in any way. Their ardent performance received a boisterous standing ovation. With people on the main floor and in the balcony, this was likely the largest audience the BCO has played before.
After the performance, BCO board member Ari Rubin said that the board and orchestra had received no notice or threat of the protest. “It saddens me that they would choose to use this as an outlet rather than contact their elected officials,” he said.
The trouble between EBCU and the orchestra began about April 30, when the BCO posted a notice on their Facebook page that a gift from Extraction Oil & Gas would help pay the cost of free student tickets to the performance. EBCU responded with a message to supporters, asking them to “Please contact the Boulder Chamber Orchestra and call on them to end their partnership with Extraction Oil and Gas. . . . We are calling upon (the BCO) to immediately return all money you have taken from this lethal corporation and remove all promotion of them from your publications. Make music, not pollution.”
EBCU also posted protests on the BCO Facebook page. Those posts were taken down, and the BCO board issued a statement that read in part: “Organizations like ours have increasingly been forced to look towards private donations and corporations to help fund our mission to educate and expand the cultural fabric of our city. . . .Donations are necessary [for us] to survive and thrive as a nonprofit.”
The donations from Extraction was one of three gifts that provided free tickets to the performance for students from Boulder Valley School District, Jefferson County School District, and St. Vrain Valley School District. The University of Colorado, Boulder, and Excel Energy also contributed to this initiative. According to the board statement of May 2, “Students have responded eagerly to our offer, and we must honor our commitment to them.
“We understand corporate donations may present difficult and controversial issues, but we viewed the acceptance of funds as way of ensuring that some good can come from otherwise divisive issues surrounding corporate stewardship.”
Extraction Oil & Gas is one of 15 sponsors listed on the BCO Web page. Total corporate contributions, including Extraction and other local businesses, are reported as 17% of the BCO’s budget.
Regarding the larger controversy that ECBU has generated, Saless and the BCO’s acting managing director, Nell Clothier, have declined to comment. Members of board have indicated that they prefer for the board’s written statement, posted May 2, to speak for itself.
UPDATE: According to a report published in the Boulder Daily Camera, EBCU member Kristin McLean said that there were seven activists who blew whistles in Macky Auditorium before the performance. She was also quoted saying that the group had paid $562 for their tickets to get into the auditorium.