The San Antonio Symphony board and several major donors released the terms of a funding agreement on Friday that includes a combined $600,000 contribution to completely lift the struggling performance art company out of its deficit for this fiscal year. The letter agreement also lays out underwriting support from key donors for 2017 and 2018, but those gifts are dependent on a board restructuring and development of a sustainable business plan by Symphony leadership.
“The pattern of operating deficits (for the symphony) has frustrated a great number of donors in the San Antonio community,” said J. Bruce Bugg. Jr., chairman of the Bexar County Performing Arts Foundation.
Bugg called the agreement a “new paradigm” that takes donors out of the sidelines and into the conversation with management of the symphony.
Symphony board members contributed a total of $100,000, and The Tobin Endowment, where Bugg serves as chairman and trustee, gave $200,000. The Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, which is an annual donor to the symphony, gave an additional $100,000. The City of San Antonio, also an annual donor, contributed another $50,000.H-E-B, a major corporate annual donor, also added $50,000. The newly John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation, managed by the San Antonio Area Foundation, gave $100,000 and is expected to become a major annual donor.
Click here to download the letter agreement.
The San Antonio Symphony League is also donating $60,000 towards a $100,000 challenge grant to the people of San Antonio, Symphony Board Chair David Kinder told the Rivard Report after the agreement announcement.
“Everyone can help us, no matter how big or small – $5, $10, $25– to help us match that,” Kinder said.
The biggest donors of all to the symphony’s future are the musicians who agreed to a potential 10% salary cut for 2017.
“Without the musicians’ cooperation, we could not have made this happen,” said Kinder. “I can’t emphasize enough how important they are and what a sacrifice they have made as part of this. When you look at the total amount that they may give up they are the largest donors. They’re real people donating back to the organization.”
The 72 musicians have agreed to forego up to three weeks pay, $3,300 of their $33,000 salaries in the 2016-17 season if funding can’t be found to sustain a full season.
“You can’t (comfortably) raise a family on that,” said former board chair Denny Ware. Many members of the orchestra hold second jobs as music teachers or operate private teaching studios to augment their income.
All stakeholders present during the press conference held in the symphony’s “home,” the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, agreed that the musicians are the true symphonic backbone. San Antonio Symphony CEO David Gross and Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing also have committed to accept 10% pay cuts if necessary.
The $600,000 commitment made today does not guarantee that salaries will not be decreased, but the agreement came with a strong suggestion (in capital letters) that musician salaries are to be restored as soon as possible.
“PLEASE KNOW THAT THE FUNDERS PREFER THAT THE SIZE AND PAY RATE OF THE SAS ORCHESTRA REMAIN AT THE PRESENT OR HIGHER LEVEL THAT THE BUDGET CAN SUPPORT.”
Underwriting support for future years will be tied to performance, Bugg said. Donors and symphony leadership have spent “hours and hours” in meetings trying to come to understand how to move forward so that they “don’t repeat whatever practices they’ve used where they keep coming back and getting themselves into deficit.
“We’ve really given them two years of runway space,” he said. “We’ve taken care of the operating deficit, they no longer have to worry about that.”
The board already has started to work on a key aspect of the comprehensive business plan: figuring out how to balance a $7.2 million budget for each year through 2019. Fiscal year 2017 starts on Sept. 1, 2016.
Symphony managers regularly use money from tickets sales generated for the next season’s scheduled performances to cover costs in the current season. The agreement signed this morning by Bugg, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston, Area Foundation President Dennis Noll, and Kronkosky Foundation Managing Director J. Tullos Wells, prohibits that practice.
“The real change is the long-term commitment from the donors,” Kinder said. “They are now committing for this year and the next two years, which is the same term as our agreement with the Tobin Center, to give us a financial commitment that we can use as a planning method for setting our budgets.”
The agreement also allows for more communication between the board and symphony donors.
“Why now?” Wells said, outlining why this particular funding boost this time is going to be different. “We’ve kind of seen this movie once or twice before.
“This time it’s not going to be fire and forget. This time we’re not going to walk away and say ‘okay we fixed it, go forth and prosper,'” he said, becuase the partnership developed between the funders and symphony leadership are committed to creating a sustainable symphony.
Judge Wolff, who has seen the “ebb and flow” of the San Antonio Symphony’s struggles over the past 30 years, said today’s orchestra is comprised of some of the most “outstanding” conductors and musicians in the world.
“All the stakeholders are on the same page: these contributions require the symphony to cut back on the budget.”
Wolff recalled the symphony’s deeply-rooted history in San Antonio.
“I believe that any great American city is defined by their commitment to classical music,” he said. “The culture of symphonic music should be supported and should be glorified.”
Another stipulation outlined in the agreement is that the Tobin Center continue to be the symphony’s “home” and venue for Classics, Pops concerts as often as scheduling allows.
This story was originally published on Friday, April 29.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Bexar County Performing Arts Endowment Chairman J. Bruce Bugg. Jr., longtime San Antonio Symphony Chairman Denny Ware pose for a photo with the letter agreement. Photo by Iris Dimmick.