Is It Time Yet?
Most people I know have a few things in their life, aside from family and friends, that are their innermost personal passions. You might call them hobbies or interests. Sometimes, if you are fortunate like I am, one of these passions may also be related to your work. For me they would be music - more specifically the San Antonio Symphony and co
mpetitive swimming. Every morning I begin my day with a grueling workout at the UIW Natatorium that prepares me for the handful of meets I compete in throughout the season. Breaststroke is my main event. After I complete my workout, I'm usually on my way to rehearsal, most often at the beautiful new Tobin Center. Some mornings my drive to work takes me down Broadway, not because it's quick but because I can grab a breakfast taco on the way. Swimming leaves you famished.
As I was driving leisurely down Broadway, on my way to that taco and work, I took in all of the construction going on at the Witte Museum. It's looking really great there. I thought to myself, "They must have raised a lot of money for that project." A little further down the road, the taco now on the seat next to me, I passed the recently opened Children's Museum. I really like the blue glass wall that surrounds it. My kids are grown so I haven't had occasion to visit the place but it sounds great from everything I've heard. And, again, I think to myself, they must have raised a lot of money for that project too. And then I get to thinking about another wonderful arts and educational institution up the road in the other direction- the McNay. And I know that when they made their recent improvements, they raised quite a bit of money. And what do you know? Next, I found myself thinking about the arts and educational institution that I work for: the San Antonio Symphony.
One thing that these institutions all have in common, aside from educating our city's children, is an endowment. For as long as I have been in the San Antonio Symphony (35 seasons and counting!), we have never really had much of an endowment. In fact, in a move that can only be described as an act of desperation or misguided good intentions, what little evidence of an endowment we did have was cannibalized to pay off debt back in 1994. It has languished at a pitifully low $1.2-1.4M ever since. To put that amount in perspective, a healthy endowment for an orchestra like San Antonio's should be, at least, $40M. A healthy endowment is critical to the survival and growth of an arts institution. It not only makes regular everyday operations easier to accomplish, it also provides protection from difficult economic times.
You may find yourself wondering why this glaring problem has never been addressed. The answer is a disappointing one. Over the years, we have commissioned numerous feasibility studies, laid the groundwork for many endowment campaigns and have postponed them all. Why? Because just as we were about to tackle this problem, some person of great local importance always showed up to tell us it wasn't our time. They would let us know when it was our turn. We've waited and watched and waited again while others had their day. Always the bridesmaid...
Recently I heard that another feasibility study was done and an encouraging report was issued. Great! I say let's not let this one fall by the wayside. Let's just say once and for all that now it is the Symphony's turn. Our turn to make ourselves strong, healthy and more financially self-sufficient. Now, to be clear about something - a healthy endowment doesn't mean we won't be asking you for your financial support any longer. It just means we won't always be asking you to save us from our latest financial crisis. Wouldn't that be a breath of fresh San Antonio air for us all?
Making something like this happen will take resolve on all our parts. We will all have to work together. But we can't just talk about it. We must do it. It's like starting a new diet or exercise regimen. Or better yet, as a swimmer, improving my performance in the water. I'll never get faster, my times will never improve, and I won't win my next heat if I don't buckle down and work harder on my kick today - not tomorrow!
In two months, I'll be swimming my next meet. I plan to be ready. I'm logging the yardage and doing the hard work. And you can bet I'm working on that improved kick. Even when I don't feel like it. I really want that hard work to pay off when I touch the wall. In two months, I'll also be back at the negotiating table (I am the Negotiating Committee Chair). Because the last proposed campaign never got off the ground, mandated endowment benchmarks were never met. This has triggered an automatic return to the bargaining table to negotiate a new agreement. This is disappointing because we haven't even made it through the second year of what would have been a five-year agreement. It would give me and all my musician colleagues more faith in the good intentions of our Board and Management counterparts if we knew that they had substantively begun the process of raising a healthy endowment by the time we are all facing each other across the conference table in April.
And now you'd like to know what you can do to help. That's simple (and a lot less strenuous than a 20-minute kick set): the next time you are at a Symphony concert and you see a member of our Management or Board (they usually wear name plates), please take a moment to encourage them to take the bold steps necessary to begin an endowment campaign and see it through to its conclusion. Tell them you want the Symphony to be strong and healthy. Tell them you want its future to be secure. Tell them you'll be cheering for them when they touch the wall.
On behalf of all my friends and colleagues on stage, thank you.