What will it take to secure the future of the San Antonio Symphony?

Executive director weighs in

SAN ANTONIO – The unique history between the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Symphony may make it challenging to build a strong foundation for the future, but the executive director of the symphony says they’re committed to moving forward.

The Kansas City Symphony has an 80-member orchestra with a 42-week season. They sit on a $47 million endowment.

In 2017, the Kansas City Symphony launched the Masterpiece fundraising campaign to bring in $55 million.

Daniel Beckley, executive director of the Kansas City Symphony, said it wasn’t always that way.

“That endowment has been very carefully developed over the last several years, and so we’ve been experiencing a lot of the appreciation in the market. That’s really made that endowment grow quite a lot,” Beckley said

Four decades ago, a troubled KC Philharmonic Symphony was forced to file for bankruptcy and dissolution. Beckley said a group of investors with a vision and the means to make it happen teamed up to save their future.

“An organization that’s struggling to rebuild itself needs some real champions, some real financial champions to stand behind it and say, ‘We’re going to hold you up for a little while so that you can achieve this new vision,” Beckley said.

Mary Ellen Goree, a member of the San Antonio Symphony, said their push to increase fundraising and expand the orchestra’s reach across the region had been met with resistance.

“The answer is to expand the net, to explain to individuals and to the people making the decisions at the corporate level how it is that they’re benefiting from the presence of the San Antonio Symphony and why it is that they should want to be part of our success,” Goree said.

San Antonio Symphony executive director Corey Cowart said the city and symphony’s history is challenging. In a statement, he said they’re committed to building a stronger future for the symphony:

“Endowments are at the heart of the arts and a critical component of our ongoing fundraising efforts. The challenge for our Symphony, versus others with more established endowments, has been our troubled financial history. Philanthropic gifts of the size typically earmarked for endowments are meant to provide stable income over time through interest on principal. They are not meant to make up for emergency payroll shortfalls. Unfortunately, in the past our endowment and major gifts that would have otherwise added to the endowment were used in this way, primarily due to unrealistic budgeting. In fact, that was one of the findings of the study commissioned in a 2018 report on the Symphony that stated the organization needed more responsible and realistic budgeting.

“Realistic budgeting is what we are committed to now. Going forward it is critical for funders to be confident that when they give to an endowment, they are building the future of the Symphony, not addressing a short-term crisis need.

“We’ve continued to fundraise through this strike and have conversations for significant investment in our endowment. From these conversations, we are led to believe that once we have a sustainable contract in place and have returned to live music, donors are likely to invest in the future of the San Antonio Symphony.”

Beckley said symphonies are economic drivers for cities as companies look for strong support for the arts in communities. He encourages San Antonio to continue the push to save the symphony.

“When that flywheel is stopped, it takes extraordinary efforts to do anything, to move anything forward,” Beckley said. “And you just have to be patient and know that if you just keep pushing on it, it takes a whole lot to get even a little bit of progress in those early years. But if you keep pushing on it, you will build momentum. And eventually, you’ll start to see real serious growth.”


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About the Authors:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.