How San Diego Opera is Building a Future of Sustainability

San Diego Opera
Since 2014, San Diego Opera has worked to ensure that all programs, on and off stage, strive to strengthen its relationship with the community.

For 52 years, San Diego Opera (SDO) has produced critically-acclaimed performances of grand opera for San Diego audiences and beyond.

In 2014, however, SDO faced the possibility of closing due to a dated financial model.

The organization needed to restructure its mission, vision and core values based on its sources of contributed and earned revenue. Since that time, SDO has worked to ensure that all programs, on and off stage, strive to strengthen its relationship with the community. While sustaining the highest artistic standards, SDO is building a creative style and financial model that meets today’s reality.

The SDO permanent endowment fund at The San Diego Foundation (TSDF) supports this goal and has helped keep the opera thriving in 2018. The fund is a permanent investment, managed by TSDF, to help SDO generate a lasting impact in the region.

I recently sat down with SDO’s Associate Director of Institutional Grants Justin Dake to learn more about SDO’s long-term sustainability and region-wide impact.

Interview with Justin Dake

Candace Wo: Why is a nonprofit endowment fund important to ensure the long-term sustainability of SDO?

Justin Dake: Prior to 2014, our annual budget was around $18 million. At that time, the budget was determined by the needs of each production, rather than by what was reasonable given the predicted annual sources of contributed and earned revenue. Bequests were used largely to sustain our work in each season, and reserve funds were spent down.

While our audience continues to expand, subscriptions and ticket purchases only cover 35 percent of the costs to present our work. We are in the process of securing and expanding our philanthropic base, and the nonprofit endowment fund at TSDF will help provide for our continuing stability and secure our fiscal health.

We are committed to being responsible stewards of grants and contributions for our donors, who want to see SDO succeed and live on for future generations of opera lovers.

SDO Programs
SDO is committed to being responsible stewards of grants and contributions for donors.

CW: Why is TSDF a preferred partner for SDO?

JD: TSDF can help advocate for the arts as an essential component of life in our region and communicate to its donors that the influence and impact of the arts goes far beyond the concert hall, impacting retail, tourism, jobs, education and public safety. As public funding for the arts declines at national and local levels, TSDF can improve the culture of philanthropy in San Diego to inspire local support for institutions like SDO that have a history and commitment to our community.

TSDF can also inform its broad base of donors – particularly those who have philanthropic interests in other sectors like education, entrepreneurship, or technology – about the work that we are doing offstage in our arts education and community engagement programs

CW: How does the San Diego Opera support and engage with youth in the community?

JD: SDO education programs primarily target underserved students attending Title I San Diego schools and students who would otherwise lack access to the arts.

Words and Music engages students with hands-on classroom education; teaching artists, the majority of whom are bilingual, work with students who draw upon their life experiences as the basis for new works of poetry, theater, and music. Our nonprofit partner is Teatro Izcalli, a local Chicano theatre troupe with extensive experience in arts education. This year, we have begun implementing a long-term, research-based strategy to support Words and Music’s comprehensive and sequential youth arts education in southeast San Diego, an area traditionally underserved both by the school system and by support organizations.

Our Student Night at the Opera program welcomes students from schools in San Diego, Riverside, Imperial Counties and Tijuana, and 7,500 students attend each year.

We are also developing a Young Artists Program and partnering with San Diego State University to ensure its quality and sustainability.

CW: What upcoming performances should our readers be on the lookout for?

JD: To complete our 2017-18 season, SDO is presenting Puccini’s final masterpiece, Turandot, from February 24 – March 4, and Florencia en el Amazonas by the Mexican-American composer Daniel Catán, from March 17-25. Florencia has never before been performed in San Diego, so that is very exciting. The opera’s story is inspired by the “magical realism” of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and its lush, neo-Romantic score sounds like a combination of Debussy and Puccini. A final recital featuring international opera stars Lise Lindstrom and Greer Grimsley in Concert will close out our 2017-18 season at the Balboa Theatre.

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About Candace Wo

Candace WoAs Mitigation and Nonprofit Funds Manager, Candace provides oversight, strategic direction and growth opportunities for mitigation and agency funds. She develops complex financial models and provides detailed proposals and recommendations that will produce revenue in perpetuity. Candace serves as the primary liaison to governmental agencies, project proponents and nonprofits in the greater San Diego region to realize their philanthropic needs.