Boulder Chamber Orchestra (photo credit: Boulder Chamber Orchestra)

A premier chamber orchestra in Boulder, Colo., said anti-fracking activists bullied and harassed the nonprofit arts organization for accepting donations from an oil and natural gas company to provide free concert tickets for students and families in local school districts.

“The Boulder Chamber Orchestra was recently bullied and threatened, as an organization, by activists in the anti-fracking community who posted inappropriate remarks on our Facebook site, which was otherwise promoting our Unity Concert occurring this weekend,” the orchestra wrote in a statement to Western Wire. “The activists were using our Facebook page as a bully pulpit for their social media lobbying efforts.”

The orchestra, which the Daily Camera has described as “one of the most stalwart and artistically satisfying of Boulder’s many classical music organizations,” promoted its upcoming concert series, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, on social media April 30, noting that an oil and natural gas company with proposed development plans in the area was supporting the shows.

“Extraction Oil & Gas is helping bring #Beethoven9 to Colorado by making it accessible to students in the Saint Vrain Valley School District, Boulder Valley School District, and Jefferson County Schools!” the orchestra wrote on Facebook. “Come see it May 5, 6, 7!”

The posts immediately drew criticism from anti-fracking groups, who demanded that the orchestra return the money and urged supporters to do the same.

“You have certainly hit the wrong note with the communities being poisoned by fracking,” East Boulder County United wrote in a Facebook post. “We are calling upon you 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. We will expect to see these changes prior to the opening stanza.”

Photo credit: East Boulder County United

East Boulder County United, which was founded by Cliff Willmeng, is an anti-fracking group that has repeatedly campaigned for bans on oil and natural gas development in the area. In March, Willmeng was reprimanded by Lafayette Mayor Christine Berg for interrupting the city council’s discussions of an anti-fracking ordinance.

Later, East Boulder County United wrote on Facebook, “They just took the FB [Facebook] event down after 24 total minutes of pressure.”

When Western Wire reached out to the orchestra for comment, the board of directors explained that it decided to remove the post to rid its social media pages of the activists’ harassing posts.

“The removal of our Facebook page was an attempt to get control of a situation where our mission statement and our concert promotions were being overrun with negative, contentious, and inflammatory material which did not comport with our mission as a nonprofit arts organization,” the orchestra’s board of directors told Western Wire.

The board also explained that the funding from Extraction Oil & Gas was used to purchase concert tickets for students and their families in the area.

Photo credit: Boulder Chamber Orchestra

“We are a small, nonprofit arts organization which promotes classical music in the community, with an emphasis on outreach,” the board said. “The sponsorship we received from Extraction allowed us to purchase tickets for students and their families in the Boulder Valley School District, St. Vrain Valley School District, and the Jefferson County School District to attend one of the three performances of Beethoven’s 9th Concert.”

“Thus far, we have had tremendous response from the students for these tickets and have been able to provide access to all three venues for this concert,” the board said.

The board released a statement to the public on Tuesday, explaining the importance of private and corporate donations in funding the arts.

“Public support of funding of classical music, and the arts in general, has been decreasing exponentially over the last several decades,” the orchestra’s board wrote. “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.”

Addressing corporate donations specifically, the orchestra said: “We understand corporate donations may present difficult and controversial issues, but we viewed the acceptance of funds as [a] way of ensuring that some good can come from otherwise divisive issues surrounding corporate stewardship.”

East Boulder County United responded: “They are a sweet non-profit, yes, AND they have chosen to accept dirty money and in the process are complicit in the green-washing of Extraction,” the group said. “Get ready for this to happen ALL OVER Boulder County, by the way.”

This is not the first time anti-fracking groups in Colorado have pressured organizations to return donations from oil and natural gas companies that benefited local students. A school in Broomfield, Colo., returned a $5,000 donation this year from the same oil and natural gas company following pressure from anti-fracking groups.

Photo credit: Broomfield Clean Air & Water

In January, Broomfield Clean Air & Water urged supporters to contact the school and speak at a school board meeting regarding the donation.

A day after the school board announced its decision to return the donation, the group wrote in a Facebook post: “The voice of the citizens should never be underestimated.” Broomfield Clean Air & Water is opposed to oil and natural gas development

According to the Broomfield Enterprise, the school faced a $350,000 deficit at the time, and Colorado Politics reported that the school’s board had written that it was “significantly behind in donations” for school fundraisers.

Clarification: An earlier version of the story stated that a portion of the proceeds from one of the orchestra’s concerts would benefit the Sierra Club. The orchestra has removed the Sierra Club from an online list of nonprofits benefiting from the concert based on a request from the environmental group.