Mark Richter, Executive Director, the San Antonio Opera 

You saved San Antonio opera in your 30s. What are you going to do with your 40s?

I was giving a presentation to some entrepreneurs to get sponsorship for the opera, and the husbands would say, I’d like to introduce you to my wife, we’ve been married for 20 years, or whatever. And so I get up there — I had a logo of the opera — and I said, I’d like to introduce you to my wife, I’m very proud of her. It’s been two divorces, and 150 pounds gaining weight, but there’s an opera here.

How many years do you think it’s taken off your life?

For certainty at least 11 — since I founded it. It’s been hard, but now our budgets are $1.4 million and it’s exciting, but still it’s very hard.

What was the turning point from being on the brink `financially` three or four years ago?

We have a president that for the past two, two-and-a-half years, committed kind of a full-time presence to the company — Bruce Johnson. There’s a VP of finance now, a VP of governance, these people on our executive committee are kind of like officers, and run the company like a paid position.

This is the first year where we’re going into our year with all of our season ticket money from last year, with operating capital, about $150,000, and we’re opening an endowment. That’s usually not the way arts organizations start their year, it’s usually the way they end their year.

You have corporate sponsorship now that you didn’t have before. What do you think got the sponsors engaged in a significant way?

The corporate sponsorships came in in different ways. AT&T started sponsoring before `the June Placido Domingo concert`; they sponsored us our last year. And on top of that they were kind enough to support us when Domingo came. That’s in part because we have two wonderful VPs on our board ... and they both have high positions at AT&T and they really pushed us through. But as far as other corporate sponsors, we definitely had good support for Domingo and we’re hoping that that support is going to carry through to supporting the company for our regular productions every year.

The time for arts in San Antonio is finally coming if it’s not already here — especially the performing arts — I think we’ve been at the bottom of the heap for so long, panhandling and begging for whatever 10 cents we can get. I think now we’re at a different time in our city because of the leadership with Phil Hardberger and Nelson Wolff — and I think the leadership of the corporations — hopefully Toyota’s gonna be a big player. But I feel that now the performing-arts organizations have to change their attitude and be ready for this. Because not to be ready for this possible time of abundance in corporate sponsorships is just as bad as going back to the mentality of begging for everything and being cynical about there being no money in San Antonio. There’s money in San Antonio, absolutely.

In terms of being ready, venue has been a struggle for you guys. One of the things that Wolff and Hardberger’s leadership might result in is a new venue through the `AT&T Center` venue tax.

Well, what started five years ago is a total pipe dream, because why would you need a performing-arts center when you don’t have people supporting the performing-arts groups? Now this is the reality, the performing-arts center, to where I’m on the steering committee for finding where we’re gonna put the PAC, and there’s so many people involved, so many different walks of artistic life, and it’s very exciting right now that this is actually gonna come to fruition hopefully in a couple of years. Because you take any arts organization and move them around four times in 10 years and it’s gonna be almost an impossibility to find any kind of stability and constancy in patron support and corporate support, and that’s what the opera’s had to go through, a nomadic life so far. We’re very happy at Lila Cockrell, but even that, we’ve had to endure construction and lack of parking, and even through all of that we’re still having, every year, 24-percent, 25-percent increase in audience. So no matter what, people are starving for the art form.


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