Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
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.
“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.”
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.