Federal bailout for some local arts

The federal bailout for the arts â?? which averaged out to about $1 million per state (not that it was allocated exactly like that) â?? benefited two local arts agencies: the Southwest School of Art & Craft, which received $50,000, and the International Accordion Festival, which received $25,000. More grants went to organizations in El Paso, Houston, and Austin, than in SA, and our excellent Symphony did not get the nod.

“Like all grants, it's a competitive process, and we're disappointed,” said San Antonio Symphony President and CEO Jack Fishman. But the organization will apply at the state level for a secondary round of federal bailout funds.

Organizations had to have received a National Endowment for the Arts grant in the past four years to be eligible to apply, and the funds, allocated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are dedicated to preserving staff positions in artistic areas of the organization. The cost of a single symphony concert is more than $100,000, and most of that expense is the musicians' salary. Personnel account for 80 percent of the Symphony's budget, and “You can't just lay off the violin section” because the economy tanks, notes Fishman.

The last six months were tough, Fishman allows, but former Mayor Phil Hardberger and County Judge Nelson Wolff helped the Symphony raise an additional $2 million this spring, which compensated for the philanthropic fallout from last fall's market collapse. Nonetheless, they're planning conservatively for 2010. As the economy recovers, notes Fishman, donations and grants will likely follow more slowly, because it takes a while for the stock portfolios that underpin much giving to regain their value. The Symphony has reduced its budget for next year, from $6.6 million to $5.1 million, not quite half of which is actual salaries.

“It makes our musicians and staff some of the largest donors to the Symphony,” observes Fishman. The Symphony is also being frugal by engaging less expensive guest artists, and trimming the Sunday Pops concerts. And the Symphony is mindful that it's not the only organization doing more with less; they will participate again next year in the Orchestras Feeding America national food drive.

“The arts have the highest value, maybe, in tough times,” Fishman says, but those tough times are also encouraging the Symphony to “re-imagine our role in the community.”

Get more local arts-funding news in this week's QueQue.