A City Reacts as SA Symphony Season is Canceled

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Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

Following the announcement that the San Antonio Symphony’s season would end abruptly following this weekend’s Tricentennial concerts, a range of emotions not unlike those elicited by a soulful aria or Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto poured out along with outraged comments on social media and beyond.

The news came Wednesday night after decades of financial difficulties and a recent breakdown in negotiations between the Symphony’s management, the Symphony Society of San Antonio, and the musicians’ union, and during the first week of San Antonio’s yearlong anniversary celebrations.

Gone are Jaws in Concert, Elgar: Enigma Variations, La La Land in Concert, A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, and the H-E-B Pops Series, not to mention family concerts and school field trips, prompting concern among San Antonio residents that their city, even at 300 years of age, can’t adequately support the performing arts in all its forms.

“Last night I ordered tickets for my husband and me for the Saturday January 13th performance of Beethoven’s Eroica,” Connie Nikolatos Kowat wrote on Facebook. “This morning the Tobin Center informed me via email that the San Antonio Symphony will cease to exist after this coming weekend’s performance and the rest of the scheduled season … I am just heartbroken … shame on this city that wants to make a metropolitan city out of San Antonio … but fails to promote or finance the Symphony.”

City, County, and economic development leaders had similar, if not passionate, reactions when reached for comment Thursday.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg acknowledge the importance of the arts at the Museum Month press conference at the Institute of Texan Cultures.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg acknowledges the importance of the arts at the Museum Month press conference at the Institute of Texan Cultures.

“A world class city needs a world class arts community,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a prepared statement. “Our symphony is a critical part of that vision. Leaders from across the city are working to ensure that our symphony not only survives, but thrives with a solid and sustainable financial footing. Much work and compromise needs to occur to bridge to that future. I am confident that will happen, and commit to supporting the efforts of patron and community leaders to find that balance for a robust and equitable arts landscape.”

Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, stated, “Because we are a top ten U.S. city, and because I am a strong supporter of the arts in all its forms in San Antonio, I am disappointed by the decision to suspend the rest of the Symphony’s season. On a professional level, I realize that the Symphony’s board made a very difficult decision based on the situation and lack of resources.

“Investment in the arts is vital to making our city more cohesive, safer, stronger, and more successful, and I am hopeful that our community will rally together in the future to assist in funding and support for the Symphony.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff speaks about the cultural significance of the San Pedro Creek art.

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff

Said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff: “Of course it’s disappointing that the balance of the season has been cancelled. I’ve been through two [lockouts] and one bankruptcy since I’ve been in public office, and we always find a way to bounce back when we have those downfalls.

“But this is more complicated than ever before, because you have two different organizations that are alive, to some extent, so I don’t know at this point where it’s going to lead. Hopefully, they’ll come together in some manner and be able to reach an agreement. My guess is that it will take quite a while to do that.”

Wolff said Bexar County had been planning to produce an opera in May to celebrate the opening of Phase I of the San Pedro Creek Improvements project.

“But I’m not sure we’re going to be able to move forward with that with things in as disarray as they are now,” he said. “It’s too bad it all came to this.”

Bexar County is a significant Symphony donor. Nearly half of the funds used to build the Symphony’s $203 million home, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, came from the visitors tax on hotel rooms and car rentals. The City of San Antonio contributed the Municipal Auditorium and adjacent Fire Department Headquarters building – valued at $41 million.

Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, could not be reached for comment in time for publication. But the organization’s website entices new business by touting San Antonio’s thriving cultural offerings: “Its distinctive and authentic culture combined with its contemporary offerings including its urban vitality, culinary and arts scene, and value pricing on everything from housing to entertainment, make San Antonio a thriving community attracting a new generation of companies and young professionals seeking the best of both worlds … Big City amenities in an affordable, creative community.”

The Symphony Society of San Antonio launched its first season in 1939 with four concerts, according to the Symphony’s website. By 1944-45, with a budget of $100,000 for the season, the San Antonio Symphony was one of the country’s 19 major orchestras and the only one in Texas.

When the National League of Cities published its 2017 State of the Cities report, which analyzed mayoral State of the City addresses and catalogued the top issues discussed by mayors, the arts and culture were a major subtopic of economic development, the most widely discussed issue.

In a June article on ways the arts can boost a local economy, Jay H. Dick, senior director of state and local government affairs at Americans for the Arts, wrote, While this isn’t surprising, what’s more interesting is the fact that the arts and culture plays a role in at least nine out of the 10 most widely-discussed topics. In other words, the arts are intertwined with nearly every major city issue,” from public safety and housing to education and health.


22 thoughts on “A City Reacts as SA Symphony Season is Canceled

  1. The San Antonio Symphony Facebook page has removed its own posts because of public outcry…banned commenters, disabled reviews…

    I supposed they’re unaware of the effect that kind of thing has on the community.
    The Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony Facebook page is fairly hopping with public discussion, however.

  2. What a mess. It reminds me of a bunch of kids playing in a sandbox. Some of the kids get miffed due to some perceived slight, so they pick up their toys and loudly announce that they are going home. Grow up, kids!

  3. This is getting grim. No symphony for the 300th? This is beyond ridiculous, I just have trouble finding the correct language to express an opinion on this topic.

  4. In a city this size with all the wealth in and around we should be able to support a major Symphony. In addition we should be able to pay the musicians a salary commencerit with the level of performance they provide. I have had the opportunity to hear several major Symphonic orchestras in my lifetime and San Antonio is as good if not better. They are a treasure we should all enjoy and protect.

  5. This is yet another year where this great organization has been silenced. And what of the musicians, who teach at the local schools and universities?

    The symphony financial problems have been ongoing for decades. When will San Antonio finally come up with a viable financial solution that guarantees these world-class musicians commensurate salaries without having to resort to shortening seasons or canceling concerts?

  6. The wealthy people in this town have got to get off their collective a$$e$ and crack open their wallets. They have enriched themselves selfishly off the backs of thousands of people who actually work and have a responsibility to use some of those ill-earned gains for the public good.

    The endowment of the San Antonio Symphony is a joke. Let’s go, richers.

  7. What a tragicomedy.. And to think i did all i could in Seguin to get people to go to the Eroica concert coming up! Some people from out of town have been looking forward to hearing the symphony!

    I don’t know anything about the inner workings that lead to this, but after seeing who the board of directors are, my business and artistic instinct tells me some very wealthy people decided to project their power and pull the plug to spite and bring everyone down. The symphony should reconstitute a new board with fewer old money patrons and more younger, business oriented, aggressive people who know how to market and sell, and who dont have any vested interest other than pure enjoyment of the arts. So sad.

    • Daniel, don’t give up on Eroica. It will take place. As for reconstituting, that is exactly what we are doing.

  8. Very sad and disappointed to read this. A nonprofit’s board’s duty is to fundraise via time, treasure and talent. My heart goes out to the musicians of the Symphony.

    • Thank you for sharing that blog posting. It does raise some interesting questions. I seem to remember that when Bugg’s involvement in the SMSA was first announced then at least one board member of SSSA raised concerns about Bugg’s anti-union sentiments.

    • With respect, this “midwest arts blogger” virtually single-handedly broke the Minnesota Orchestra lockout (the situation in San Antonio too, is by any standard, a ‘lockout’) simply by poring through the public filings required of any nonprofit arts organization, and uncovering disturbing patterns of financial behavior on the part of the symphony board. It ultimately boiled down to the intentions of those who controlled the money, versus the desire of the city to field a world-class orchestra. The Minnesota Orchestra just posted perhaps its most successful season ever, post-lockout, but it required the citizens of Minneapolis taking a good, hard look at the intentions and assumptions under which the symphony board was conducting itself. It’s too soon to know the full details of the situation in San Antonio, but one could do a lot worse than follow this ‘midwestern arts blogger’ as she tracks through the filings and raises questions (one of which, obviously, is ‘Do the citizens of San Antonio really WANT a world-class orchestra?’–perhaps not?). There’s a learning curve, and an education process, involved in these kinds of disputes; they are never necessarily as simple as we all tend to assume. I wish the citizens of San Antonio luck in making the necessary decisions here, and hope that local media like the Rivard Report continue to do their job–turning over rocks, sifting through public filings, and asking hard questions.

      • I second the motion–Please look into Mr. Bugg and how the money flows in and out of the Tobin Endowment, RivardReport.com.

  9. I echo many of the city leaders here. However, I would like to point out that many of the festivals and events celebrate Hispanic heritage. Although there are many other ethnic festivals here that honor all peoples, seems to me that the vast majority are Hispanic related. German, Polish, Czech, other European, and most other cultures are well represented. BUT…the Symphony is pitched to only the…ahem…wealthy, well-heeled patrons. Why not find a way to make the Symphony attractive to ALL socioeconomic classes? If I remember correctly, the Symphony had a commercial not too long ago where they advertised that one does not have to wear a tux to attend a concert.

    At any ate, the Symphony should appeal to everyone across all lines. It should take an offer of free food to get people to attend a concert and support the Symphony.

    • People can dress however they want for any event at Tobin, including the SA Symphony concerts. When the Tobin opened, I was somewhat shocked that drinks from the lobby concessions were allowed into the auditorium area. Sometimes, after a concert the floor of the HEB Hall at Tobin looks like a Spurs game was played there — empty cups and trash on the floor.
      “Only in San Antonio”? I mention this only to indicate that the audience experience at a symphony concert couldn’t be any easier. As for parking — I park for free a few blocks up the river and have a delightful river stroll, regardless of the weather, to the Tobin.
      When the SA Symphony season is reinstated (note that I did not say “If”), then consider treating a friend or two to a concert. Many folks in SA haven’t even been inside the Tobin yet.

  10. Well, as of 2017, I’ve been here 50 years and while some things have changed, it still has the stigma of being viewed as ‘Smalltown, USA’ and a ‘backwater’ town in south Texas. All of it seems a bit unlikely given its status as the 7th largest city in population (it ranks, however, below 20th in size on a metropolitan basis) The symphony problem, as many know, is decades old. How it gets solved is anyone’s guess. But San Antonio is, in disparaging terms, not Houston, or Dallas, or Austin, or even Ft Worth. I suspect that is the way it’s going to be for a long, long time.

  11. Everyone keeps saying 7th biggest that, top 10 this, but over what area?

    The wealth of San Antonio is congregated far in the North completely divorced from downtown.

    This is yet another symptom of the unchecked sprawl and desertion of the urban core that began 50 years ago, and will take at least another decade to correct.

  12. How many of our city officials who are voicing their comments on this sad and tragic situation actually attend any symphony concerts? Supporting this amazing, world class orchestra that is the San Antonio Symphony by actually going to the concerts would be a big help. It reminds me of the “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their family” well these musicians have families and now they are out of a job, the Jewel of San Antonio has been silenced, Shame on you San Antonio, enjoy your 300th birthday, maybe in another 300 years you might be able to support a symphony orchestra

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