Advancing the Arts in San Antonio Will Provide Value for the Next 300 Years

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Native American drummers perform before the interfaith reflections are given on stage.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Native American drummers perform in front of San Fernando Cathedral on the Day of Reflection during Commemorative Week.

“Art is value, not value added.”

I heard this poignant phrase on the cusp of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly  in New York City, where diplomats, philanthropists, artists, and arts leaders from around the globe gathered at the Lincoln Center Global Exchange.

They agreed: Art is a universal language that transcends politics, religion, socioeconomics, and ethnic boundaries.

San Antonio is a city of complex histories reflected in its art and in the constitution of its people. We live in what I consider the "crossroads of the Americas," the intersection of Interstate 10 from California to Florida and Interstate 35 from Mexico to Canada. With a population that is 64 percent Hispanic, we represent a trend in national demographics.

While we are rich in heritage and at the confluence of cultures, we sometimes find ourselves limited in our understanding of those beyond our borders.

Less than 36 percent of Americans hold a valid passport, and many gain understanding of the outside world through the media. While traditional print and television tell stories of war, conflict, and violence that shape perceptions of places like Iraq, Syria, and Palestine, arts organizations across the city work tirelessly to share stories and enhance the public’s understanding of our and others' heritage, lest we forget the past.

Musical Bridges Around the World highlights embattled regions through the lens of the performing arts, working to shatter stereotypes by showcasing their beauty, creativity, and human resilience.

Through our International Music Festival, we have paired artists from Palestine and Israel; while Russian troops invaded Crimea, a Ukrainian soprano collaborated with the St. Petersburg String Quartet; a Syrian clarinetist played a piece he composed whilst in the custody of U.S. Homeland Security – a performance that was complemented by the digital genius of an Armenian visual artist.

Our vision is in our name: we aim to create bridges among people from around the world. This is best done through the arts: architecture, literature, sculpture, music, theater, media, dance, painting, fashion, and cuisine are but a sampling of means.

Our organization is charged with uniting, educating, and inspiring through culturally diverse performing and visual arts. As part of our educational outreach program, Kids to Concerts, we impact more than 50,000 local schoolchildren – many of whom are underserved – by introducing them to Tchaikovsky, Van Cliburn, and Grammy Award-winning artists. Because we believe that great art should be accessible to all, our public and outreach programming is free.

We are fortunate to have a City-led arts and culture department that works to support nonprofit and other organizations dedicated to the creation and sustenance of this fabric in our evolving metropolis.

(From left) Zhang Jianzhen and Chen Yan perform in Musical Bridges Around the World's program "Gems of China" at San Fernando Cathedral.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

(From left) Zhang Jianzhen and Chen Yan perform in Musical Bridges Around the World's program "Gems of China" at San Fernando Cathedral.

As an integral part of this fabric, the San Antonio Symphony employs 72 musicians plus support staff, making it the single largest employer of artists in our city. Musicians from some of the most elite institutions around the globe vie for seats in our orchestra to make their living under the dynamic baton of Maestro Sebastian Lang-Lessing, who hails from Gelsenkirchen, Germany, and pushes his orchestra to new heights.

The Symphony supports San Antonio's Opera and Ballet as well as educational and community outreach, while its musicians teach children and students privately and publicly and, thus, contribute to a vibrant arts ecosystem.

It is no secret that the Symphony's management has been fraught with instability and high turnover, but anyone who attends a concert will recognize that its performances are world class.

So where is the disconnect?

We must recognize that the orchestra is an institution, not a business. Its art is value, not value added. The institution deserves as much support as the halls it fills with music. The return on investment is long-term and must be seen as such. The challenge that lies ahead is finding management that can execute a vision which engages the community to allow the whole city to know that it is our San Antonio Symphony.

As a longtime partner of the symphony, Musical Bridges Around the World works to put San Antonio on the map in terms of globally recognized arts. Last year we merged with the San Antonio International Piano Competition, renaming it “The Gurwitz” after longtime supporter of classical music in San Antonio, Ruth Jean Gurwitz. Just last month the governing body of the Geneva-based World Federation of International Music Competitions voted to include "The Gurwitz" in its ranks.

The quadrennial competition is next slated for 2020 and will offer a novel approach to making traditionally western classical piano accessible across genres. Finalists from around the world will descend upon San Antonio for four rounds of competition where they will perform a program of their choosing, a Latin American or work from their home country, a commissioned work of world music including non-western instrumentation, and a final round of concerto with our very own San Antonio Symphony.

Commemorative Week  is a time during which we reflect on and highlight our cultural heritage and reaffirm our vision for the next 300 years. In a city that embraces its past, it is critical that we engage our future. The buildings that surround us, the food we consume, the clothes we wear, and the music we listen to are a result of creative process. Art is how we communicate our humanity, our very being, and it should be supported and valued as such. By engaging with the arts and one another and by challenging our perceptions and biases, we grow – together as a city.


Musical Bridges Around the World will close its 20th season Sunday at 7 p.m. at San Fernando Cathedral with a free musical evening featuring International Tchaikovsky Competition Bronze medalist cellist Boris Andrianov and guitarist Dmitry Illarionov, winner of 12 international guitar competitions. Joining the pair is Duo AleAnya, made up of Musical Bridges founder Anya Grokhovski of Russia and her piano partner Alena Gorina of Belarus.

Musical Bridges also is participating in the ‘Arts for All’ day at the Carver Community Cultural Center's Jo Long Theatre at 3 p.m. on Friday, May 4, and at the San Pedro Creek Opening at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 5.

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