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Thomas A. Stephenson, the former publisher of the San Antonio Express-News and later the Houston Chronicle, was named the first executive director of the recently formed Symphonic Music for San Antonio (SMSA), a nonprofit organization with the mission of securing the San Antonio Symphony‘s long-term viability in the city.
The announcement was made in a Monday press release by SMSA Chairman J. Bruce Bugg Jr., who also serves as chairman and trustee for the Tobin Endowment. Bugg led the extensive private sector fundraising effort that complemented City and County funding to transform the former Municipal Auditorium into the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. That effort included a lead $15 million gift from the Tobin Endowment.
The San Antonio Symphony, founded in 1939, is the oldest performing arts orchestra in Texas. Under its current Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the orchestra has enjoyed a strong reputation for its performance standards, innovative programming at the Tobin and in the community, and for the quality of its visiting artists and soloists.
Despite that artistic success and long tradition of symphonic music in the city, a succession of boards of directors and executives have struggled to keep the organization financially viable. Broad corporate support for the orchestra has ebbed and flowed. The orchestra’s move from the Majestic Theatre to the Tobin Center in 2015 did not lead to the sustained surge in ticket sales and philanthropic support that was anticipated.
SMSA was formed in July by Bugg, representing the Tobin Endowment; H-E-B, which has been the symphony’s biggest corporate donor over the years; and the Kronkosky Foundation.
SMSA’s board officers include Bugg, its chairman; Dya Campos, board president, who is director of public affairs for H-E-B; and J. Tullos Wells, board treasurer and secretary, who serves as the managing director of the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation.
The new organization’s mission, according to the release, is to preserve and promote symphonic music in San Antonio, provide a fair contract for the orchestra’s professional musicians, and to oversee a collaborative environment at the Tobin among its resident organizations, including the symphony, Opera San Antonio, and Ballet San Antonio.
“Tom is an extraordinary executive who has great personal passion for the arts in San Antonio, especially the symphony orchestra,” Bugg stated in the release. “He knows San Antonio very well and is a board member of the Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation, which owns and operates The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.”
Stephenson is a longtime newspaper executive who served as publisher and president of the Express-News from 2006-12, and before that as its general manager and executive vice president from 1998-2006. He went on to serve as the publisher of the Houston Chronicle from 2013-15 before retiring and returning to live in Bexar County. Stephenson previously served on the boards of San Antonio United Way, University of the Incarnate Word, and the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.
“We have been looking for the right person to set up and be responsible for all the business functions of SMSA, work with the orchestra musicians, and provide outreach to the many stakeholders we have in the community,” Bugg said. “When Tom expressed an interest in taking on this position it was the quick, unanimous decision of our board to accept.”
“The arts truly make a community better and our world-class symphony orchestra is a huge contributor to the arts in San Antonio,” Stephenson said. “I gained an even greater appreciation of the value of the orchestra through my work as a board member of the Tobin Center…I’m confident we can be successful in providing a financial foundation that will ensure a bright future for our symphony.”