Music News

Sour Notes as DIME, Metropolitan State University Cut Ties

DIME Denver is shutting down.
DIME Denver is shutting down. DIME Denver
Metropolitan State University of Denver has severed ties with DIME Denver, a celebrated private school that focuses on the business and production of contemporary music, with branches in Denver and Detroit.

MSU's decision has forced DIME to close its Denver location's doors at 800 Kalamath Street, say DIME founders Sarah Clayman and Kevin Nixon in a statement sent to Westword on June 3. And DIME's location in Detroit is also in trouble.

The Denver partnership started out five years ago with a great amount of fanfare, but what's left are a lot of sour notes...and different, discordant versions of what happened.

MSU insists that it lived up to its legal agreement.

"The MSU Denver-DIME partnership, signed in 2015, was to be an innovative program to educate musicians and those who sought to work in the music industry, but for whom the traditional university education didn’t fit," explains Larry Sampler, MSU's chief operating officer, in a statement. "Initial expectations were high. However, after 5 years, and per an independent marketing study done in 2019, the financial prospects for the partnership going forward were impossibly dire....

"MSU Denver made a very difficult fiscally-based business decision, in accordance with our agreement, to terminate the partnership in 365 days. As per the agreement, DIME officials were notified of our decision by email on the morning of 16 March: Emails were sent to students later that day," adds Sampler.

DIME's founders, however, say that they didn't hear about the termination until after MSU reached out to students to inform them the partnership was ending, and that didn't leave them enough time to find any solution, either with MSU or another institution, "to protect the current students studying in the Commercial Songwriting, Commercial Music Performance and Music Industry Studies Bachelor of Arts in Music programs," the DIME founders say in their statement.

"MSU Denver voluntarily breached the partnership agreement by not adhering to the 360-day notice period of termination, that would allow DIME to find another partner or partners, and would enable DIME to continue to recruit and educate students for Fall 2020 and Spring 2021," they add.

DIME's founders say that over the past couple of months, they tried to find a legal fix and negotiate a continuation of the partnership, but MSU rejected their proposals.

Sampler, however, says that it was DIME's leadership that made the decision to terminate the agreement soon after the March 16 email went out to students. "Several weeks later, within hours of our request for an audit of their financials, they notified us that they would terminate the agreement for cause, effective 1 June,” says Sampler, who notes that enrollment at both DIME locations produced only 168 students in 2019, fewer than half the 349 students required for the partnership to break even.

The June 1 date might be the only thing on which both sides can agree.

"It is with great sadness that we received confirmation on June 1, 2020, of MSU Denver’s decision to reject DIME's proposal to teach-out the remaining students together, that confirmed their unwillingness to adhere to the Partnership Agreement," the DIME founders say in their June 3 statement. "No reason was given."

Either way, DIME Denver students are now wondering what's next.

"MSU Denver recognizes our obligation to our students at both the Denver and Detroit locations, and is reaching out to students now to discuss their academic future — whether with MSU Denver or other options," explains Sampler. They are eligible for a classical music education through MSU's music department or can go to school elsewhere, MSU noted in a message to students. DIME is not an option, since the schools in both Denver and Detroit are closing down.

While their dreams of a sustainable Denver program are scuttled, DIME's founders plan to try to reboot the Detroit facility. Although the Denver building belongs to MSU, they hope to help students in this city, too.

"We have not given up hope that we can reinvent DIME in Detroit, and work with other local organizations to continue music education in the city we have lived in for the past six years and have grown to love," the founders explain. "We believe that everyone should have the opportunity and access to an education in music that will allow them successful long-term careers in a profession they love."
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris