What Recession? Opera Raises $20M With Help From $10M Challenge Grant

In late 2009, the Dallas Opera announced that an anonymous donor put up a challenge grant of $10 million to establish a “Cultural Renaissance Endowment Fund,” intended to help secure the opera’s long-term financial stability. That initial generosity aside, it then fell on the opera to raise an equivalent $10 million right in the thick of one of the worst economic periods in United States history.

So, if you had any doubt that Dallas enjoys at least some modicum of insularity from the current recession, the opera has announced today that they have secured those additional funds and some, raising in total (with the matching grant) $20 million for the new endowment. Major contributors, the opera says in a release below, included the Hamon Charitable Foundation, Linda and Mitch Hart, Joy and Ronald Mankoff, Mrs. Eugene McDermott, Phyllis and Tom McCasland, and Margot and Ross Perot/The Perot Foundation. All in all it is a sizable gift, and one that will surely raise eyebrows in the shell-shocked world of philanthropy. Here’s the release:







DALLAS, NOVEMBER 1, 2011 – The Dallas Opera has achieved yet another major milestone in its quest for long-term financial stability by raising $20 million for the company’s “Cultural Renaissance Endowment Fund.”  A total of $10 million in new cash donations for the endowment over a two-year-period ending October 31, 2011, triggered a $10 million matching gift from an anonymous donor.

Exceptional donations from the Hamon Charitable Foundation, Linda and Mitch Hart, Joy and Ronald Mankoff, Mrs. Eugene McDermott, Phyllis and Tom McCasland, and Margot and Ross Perot/The Perot Foundation helped lift the company above the all-important $10 million mark to qualify for the match.

            Other major contributors included Charron and Peter Denker, The Rosemary and Roger Enrico Foundation, Amy and Vernon Faulconer, Enika and Richard Schulze, James R. Seitz, Jr., and Marnie and Kern Wildenthal.

The “Cultural Renaissance Endowment Fund” was begun in late 2009 to support the Dallas Opera’s efforts to achieve fiscal balance and long-term stabilization of the company’s finances, while enhancing artistic quality.


“This is a profound achievement for the Dallas Opera,” says Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny, “and I cannot adequately express my gratitude for the extraordinary leadership of the company’s Chairman, Dr. Kern Wildenthal, our hard-working Executive Committee, our dedicated Board and Trustees, and every opera supporter involved in this Herculean effort to secure the entire $20 million, especially our exceptionally generous anonymous donor.

“It’s an incredible show of support for the great artistic stature of this company,” Cerny adds, “and also for its commitment to fiscal discipline, and its exciting plans for the future.”


In the last four months alone, the Dallas Opera secured a record $14 million in new gifts and pledges for endowment and operational expenses, including a five-day campaign in late July that raised $1.25 million in special production funds, led by a $500,000 contribution from Crow Holdings.  At the same time, the company has also trimmed administrative and operating costs, “right-sized” the number of performances planned for future seasons, and secured vital pledges of future support.

During the past six months, the Dallas Opera has received a total of nearly $8 million in multi-year commitments from donors who have committed to support the company for the next three years or longer.  These loyal individuals are being recognized as members of the “General Director’s Circle,” a new giving category at TDO.

Additionally, the company has now paid off its seasonal line of credit and has enough cash to meet basic operating expenses for the foreseeable future.  This is dependent, of course, on the Dallas Opera continuing to meet its goals for ticket sales, as well as maintaining historic levels for Annual Fund donations, corporate support, and other grants and gifts.

Considered together, these positive signs indicate that the Dallas Opera, guided by General Director and CEO Keith Cerny, is implementing an effective strategic plan in the midst of tough economic times—and has earned the confidence of our community along with the support necessary to ensure artistically successful future seasons in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.


“In the midst of these challenging economic times, it is enormously gratifying to see the depth and breadth of support inDallasfor our company” says Dallas Opera Chairman, Dr. Kern Wildenthal.  “Building on the extraordinary $10 million challenge we were fortunate to receive two years ago, the Opera is raising the bar for both our artistic aspirations and our fiscal discipline.  We are especially pleased that at the same time we have cut general operating costs significantly, our education programs are reaching twice as many children as in previous years.

“While we will continue to rely on generous donors for our baseline operating support, the Dallas Opera is in a dramatically stronger financial position than was the case two years ago, or even four months ago.  I know that our talented general director, Keith Cerny, joins me in expressing the Opera’s deep gratitude to the community for its vital support. ”







The Hamon Charitable Foundation

Mrs. Eugene McDermott

Phyllis A. McCasland and Thomas H. McCasland, Jr.

Margot and Ross Perot/The Perot Foundation

Linda and Mitch Hart

Joy and Ronald Mankoff

Charron and Peter Denker

The Rosemary and Roger Enrico Foundation

Amy and Vernon Faulconer

Richard and Enika Schulze

James R. Seitz, Jr.

Marnie and Kern Wildenthal

Robert Brackbill

Winnie and Davis Hamlin

Holly and Tom Mayer

Jeanette and George Wharton

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Barrett

Patti and John Cody

Robert L. Hull andMyraBarkerHull

Mildred Oppenheimer

Steve and Betty Suellentrop


Plus, 141 additional donors at levels of $25 to $49,999.

            In addition to effective fund-raising, lean staffing levels, and tight controls over expenditures, the company’s strategy incorporates a strong community outreach and education component designed to encourage and develop new and more diverse opera audiences.  This includes free, public simulcasts one or more times each year, as well as additional low-cost or no-cost public performances aimed at children, families, students and opera newcomers.

The Dallas Opera is also pursuing more artistic, marketing and creative collaborations than at any time in its history.  The current season includes a new children’s production and English-language translation of Georges Bizet’s one-act operetta, Doctor Miracle, in collaboration with Dallas Children’s Theater, SMU and UNT; a brand-new production of Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse to be directed by Dallas Theater Center Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty in his opera debut; and a new production of Richard Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde, to be staged by German director Christian Räth with cutting-edge video projections by Elaine J. McCarthy, the designer who created the landmark projections for the Dallas Opera’s acclaimed 2010 world premiere production of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick.


Total expenditures for the company are expected to decrease from $16.9 million in the 2010-2011 Season to $15.5 million in 2011-2012, and will continue to decline through 2014-2015.  By 2015, the Dallas Opera’s previous $4 million annual structural deficit will be eliminated.


After the company has achieved consistent financial stability at its new level of presentations, it can then proceed with plans to expand later seasons by adding more productions and performances to fulfill audience demand.


  • Bob

    What recession? The one that has millions upon millions out of work while the economy is only adding AT MOST a hundred thousand jobs per month. That’s the one you were asking about. But yes, it is lovely that these billionaires have donated to the freakin opera that no one but themselves will attend. Kudos to all, and watch for the pikes that we’re coming to put your head on

  • Dole

    I’m so glad all those miliionaires and billionaires have money to burn. Maybe they should have given to some of the needy, or spent it hiring people, instead of throwing it at an organization that wasn’t in danger of shuttering its doors without their money. The fact that you have the gall to title this article “What recession?” when unemployment is hovering near 10% is absolutely sickening. Shame on you.

  • Alton Callaway

    I have a friend who works for the opera and it has been tough going there for some time. The staff has been reduced and they cancelled a production (nearly two) this season. From reading the press release – it is clear that they are not out of the woods yet. Strong arts organizations are not just luxury items for a city – they help to promote tourism and employ NUMEROUS people IN the community. The chorus, orchestra, stage hands, dressers, and many others are all LOCAL citizens of Dallas who would be in a bad way if the opera folded. The out of town artists rent hotels and apartments here – and shop here – adding to our tax base. So please don’t characterize the opera as elitist and unnecessary. I’m surprised and disappointed that a magazine as savvy as D isn’t more aware of the importance of the Arts – and isn’t more sensitive to the feelings of everyone in the community.

  • Gee, where to start, Bob/Dole?

    The Dallas Opera is one of the top arts employers in North Texas, providing hundreds of area jobs for musicians, singers, designers, electricians, stage-hands, painters, drivers, graphic artists, writers, seamstresses, carpenters, administrators, etc. – both union and non-union. And that doesn’t even take into account suppliers, vendors, etc. You cannot have “the arts” without arts employers and this organization provides a lot of full-time and seasonal jobs.

    Secondly, your assertion that no one but billionaires attend the opera isn’t just out-of-date, it was never true – read a little arts history about the rowdy, rollicking world of opera.

    Regarding affordability: full season subscriptions at the Dallas Opera start at $76, single tickets at $25. If you have a valid student ID and you are under age 36, you can obtain a best available seat in the house for $25 at every performance. And if that’s too pricey, you can attend one of the low-cost performances (like last Sunday’s $5 Family Matinee of “Doctor Miracle”), or a free simulcast like the one that attracted hundreds of people October 21st to picnic in jeans and t-shirts and enjoy “Lucia di Lammermoor” under the stars.

    Try it – you might be surprised.