The San Antonio Symphony can be resurrected. Here’s how.



San Antonio is currently witnessing the brain drain of talented orchestral musicians and music teachers who lost their jobs when the board of the Symphony Society of San Antonio declared bankruptcy and dissolved the organization.

One by one, the musicians were welcomed to Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Salt Lake City and Dallas — cities where symphonies continue to thrive. It’s sad to see, and winning them back, if possible, will only happen if a reasonably funded and reconstituted symphonic organization becomes a reality.

Getting to that day will also be difficult, but it is possible. Other cities the size of San Antonio, or even smaller, have developed public funding mechanisms to support arts and cultural organizations that otherwise might not have survived.

Not only is a reborn symphony possible, but I would argue that it is essential to the quality of life in San Antonio and to the preservation of the city’s performing arts and creative class.

People are already working there. Ironically, one of the hardest-working people is Sebastian Lang-Lessing, fired from his position as music director emeritus in April by the board, which disbanded himself and the orchestra some time ago. one week, June 16.

Lang-Lessing, between trips to Seoul to conduct South Korea’s national orchestra, met with Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who both understand the importance of the symphony orchestra and the orchestra musicians to profile the city as well as its music education ecosystem. Other community leaders join the effort.

A task force of city, county, and community advocates would be wise to examine other regional U.S. cities that have adopted funding mechanisms that provide a stable and sustainable revenue stream to arts and culture groups. This public funding foundation serves as a vote of confidence for customers who purchase season tickets, for corporate support and for philanthropic donations.

Residents of Denver, for example, benefit enormously from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), a metropolitan district created in the 1980s that has generated more than $1 billion in funding through a 0.1 sales tax. % for nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Denver and six surrounding counties. The Denver Symphony does not participate as a beneficiary arts organization, but art museums, the zoo, and dozens of regional nonprofit arts organizations do.

In 1972, St. Louis was the first city to create a municipal tax district, the Zoo Museum District to benefit the city’s zoo, arts, and cultural institutions. The property tax produced $85 million in 2020. Since then, Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland in Ohio, and Salt Lake City have also done so.

Detroit, a city with a rich history that, like San Antonio, struggles with some of the highest poverty rates in the nation, receives property tax support often referred to as mileage funding for the Detroit Zoo and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Owners of a $200,000 home pay about $20 a year to support arts and culture organizations in the city.

San Antonio could seek approval from its own tax district and, if successful, identify the city’s most vulnerable arts and culture organizations, ensuring that such a move doesn’t simply benefit mainstream arts and culture organizations. cultural. The inclusion of community groups would help mitigate the us-them clash that currently occurs when City Council and Bexar County consider allocating funds to local nonprofits.

In the Denver plan, for example, 20% of annual funds are to be allocated to community organizations in outlying counties.

Business leaders and the city’s top philanthropists will not support efforts to revive the symphony in San Antonio unless they are convinced it has a sustainable business model, as well as control over the creation of a new management team and a board of directors. to break the cycle of deficit spending forever.

Resurrecting the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra will be a long and difficult task. The city deserves to stand with other cities that recognize the many social, cultural and economic benefits of vibrant arts and cultural institutions, including an orchestra playing classical music and preparing the next generation of music students to take their place in the ecosystem.

In the meantime, let’s hope that the benefactors guarantee the periodic performances of the members of the orchestra still in San Antonio. Don’t let the music die.

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