Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Paul Elizondo presented San Antonio Symphony, Ballet San Antonio, and Opera San Antonio with a total of $175,000 in grants on Wednesday. The Symphony and Ballet each received $50,000 while the Opera received $75,000.
“This is (the Opera’s) first year. They’re right out of the blocks,” Wolff said. “We felt they needed some additional help.”
“We are deeply appreciative to the County for the great confidence in what we’re doing and for (its) tremendous financial support,” said Opera San Antonio Chair Mel Weingart. The Opera is reveling in its sold-out inaugural performances of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” earlier this month.
The Opera also recently secured city funding in the amount of $125,000 for the coming year despite low grades from the City’s Department for Culture and Creative Development (DCCD), and an independent panel assembled to review and rate funding applicants. City staff ultimately decided that the performing arts organization scored poorly because of its application and not because of any deficiency in the quality of their professional work.
This is the first time performance companies have directly received funding from the County’s visitor tax funds, Wolff said. The special grants will go towards productions at the companies’ new location at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
“The heart and soul of the performing art groups is the Opera, Symphony, and the Ballet. They bring such a wonderful culture to San Antonio,” Wolff said. “We believe that the help in this first year as they move forward into this new performing arts center is an appropriate expenditure of Bexar County dollars, (because it) supports the investment in this facility.”
On the front steps of the Tobin Center, representatives from each performing arts group expressed their appreciation for the County’s continued support. Bexar County contributed $100 million towards the $203-million Tobin Center.
“We’re very honored to have this support from the County,” said Courtney Mauro Barker, Ballet San Antonio president and executive director. “Ballet is finally getting the recognition and support we’ve never had before … growing the cultural landscape and putting people (and San Antonio) on the map.”
Excluding the opening ceremony performance in September, Ballet San Antonio’s inaugural production at the Tobin Center, an original take on “Dracula,” opens Thursday and runs through the weekend.
For San Antonio Symphony President David Gross, this grant represents the opportunity to continue to fund this year’s season and expand its educational outreach into the city. The Symphony is offering free Young People’s Concerts this year.
“Bexar County usually does not support the individual arts (groups). As such, we leave that up to the City, but it was so important – especially after the investment in this facility – that we make sure at least everything gets started off on the right foot,” Elizondo said. “Without a symphony, without an opera, without a ballet, a city is not a world-class city. So we need to make sure that we do our best to enhance that in our community.”
The Ballet and Symphony received $80,522 and $613,852, respectively, from the City’s portion of the hotel occupancy tax allocated through the DCCD.
Specifically, the grant money came through public service agreements from the Community Venues Program fund approved by County Commissioners on Oct. 7.
In 2008, Bexar County voters approved extending visitor taxes to fund community venue projects including San Antonio River improvements, amateur sports facilities, community arenas and grounds, and cultural arts venues.
“What we did (with sports facilities) is sort of the same thing we’re doing here,” Wolff said. After building 13 regional amateur sports parks, “we created the Bexar County Games and put $100,000 in to it put on various events.”
These grant could very well be awarded next year, depending on revenue flow, Wolff said.
Mike Sculley, program director of the Community Venues Program, said that “extra” would be the wrong word to describe these grants from the program.
“The fund sources (visitor taxes on hotels, car rentals, etc.) came in sooner than expected,” he said. “And one of the best uses is to ensure (Tobin Center) tenant success.”
*Featured/top image: Representatives from the Symphony, Ballet, and Opera mingle with Bexar County officials after the award ceremony. Photo by Iris Dimmick.