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Arts & Culture

The Tobin equation: How performance centers elevate the arts

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, under construction.


Raising money for arts organizations has always been difficult. Competition is steep. And while the importance of nonprofits that provide education and community health care is easy to communicate, the needs of visual, literary, and performing arts often seem less urgent — especially to the local businesses and philanthropists that subsidize the huge costs that extend beyond what is provided by government funding or ticket sales. Factor in an ailing economy and it should come as no surprise that many local arts groups are struggling, some may follow the course of the late San Antonio Opera, and fail.

Last year the Tobin Endowment gifted the Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation with a $15 million gift to re-construct the old Municipal Auditorium into a new performing arts center, gaining naming rights to what is now known as the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Having already raised an additional $37 million from private and corporate funders above and beyond the $100 million approved by Bexar County voters for the project in 2008, J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., CEO and trustee for the Tobin Endowment, is leading the campaign to raise funds for the Center that is slated to open in 2014.

To get a handle on how art outfits can best raise funds, who better to ask than Bugg?

"Since there has been much in the press about the financial woes of the SA Symphony and the [now defunct] SA Opera, we have made case studies of other communities to see what happens when a performing arts center opens, and how it effects performing arts organizations," Bugg said. The case studies serve as examples so funders can see what the probable effect of their support of the new Tobin Center might be on the performing arts organizations for which it is being built. Bugg cited three orchestras that were positively impacted by new performing arts centers. The most dramatic change was the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, which was in bankruptcy in 2000 when plans were laid to build the new Schermerhorn Symphony Center in the Tennessee country music capitol. In less than a decade, they went from a $1.6 million annual revenue to $7.5 million a year, and had attained an endowment of $95 million. The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in Kansas City in 2010, moved the Kansas City Symphony's annual income from $1.75 to $ 2.6 million in one year. Other examples come from closer to home — Dallas. When the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, designed by I.M. Pei, opened in Dallas in 1989, it rocketed the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's annual revenue from $4 million to $6 million. Details of other examples, including Dallas' new Winspear Opera House were cited, but you get the point: performing arts organizations do well when clustered in new state-of-the-art showhouses.

I would like to see a similar set of examples drawn up for other arts capitol campaigns in this city. The proposed new home for Blue Star Contemporary Arts comes to mind. Blue Star recently received $250,000 of a $1 million-plus request for funds from the City. But that is hardly enough to build the new facility planned for the Big Tex center south of the present Blue Star Arts Center.

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