We salute $43 million Bloomberg arts gifts, Austin Opera, Austin Art League and more

As reported in the New York Times, Bloomberg Philanthropies is putting $43 million into small and midsize arts group in seven new cities, including Austin.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

“We wanted to reach cities that we thought had a really strong mix in the way they were serving up arts and culture,” Kate Levin, who oversees arts programs for Bloomberg, told the Times.

The other cities new to the project are Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. Already, the program has given $65 million to smaller groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

By invitation, the arts groups are offered unrestricted support up to 10 percent of their budgets along with management training.

We’ll update this report when names of the local arts groups are revealed.

Austin Opera

Notes on Austin Opera‘s recent production of “La Traviata.”

• Just as with Austin Symphony‘s concert that included Beethoven‘s Fifth, the opera company can fill a house with a favorite. Yes, just as patron Robert Nash said as he passed me going in, this was something like my 5,000th “La Traviata,” but who is counting? I like a full, enthusiastic house and a fresh interpretation of a classic.

• Every “La Traviata” is about Violetta, the fallen woman who finds love, abandons it in sacrifice, then dies. Yet everything about this production at the Long Center for the Performing arts centered expressly on Marina Costa-Jackson, who could fill an sporting arena with her charisma, her nuanced acting and her gorgeously tawny voice. She now moves up to spot No. 2 after Patricia Racette on my list of favorite Violettas.

RELATED: How Austin Opera got its groove back.

• Every conductor from here on out must be considered a candidate for the position of Austin Opera artistic director. That’s not the official line, but it’s customary. What can we say about Steven White, who conducts around the world including at the Metropolitan Opera in New York? Judged by this one show, his sound is clean, unassuming and solidly in support of the artistic whole.

• While we loved the whirlwinds of activity elicited by stage director David Lefkowich, as well as the simplicity of his intimate scenes, we were of two minds about the costumes, sets and lights. The first act was appropriately suggestive of a bordello with a hint of luxury, each subsequent scene looked more and more bleak, less and less polished.

• Alfredo is, by nature, a pallid character. And that’s the way tenor Scott Quinn played him from beginning to end. Even during scenes of rage or regret. Germont, on the other hand, offers a mature range of responses. Although he looked young for the role of Alfredo’s father, Michael Chioldi proved forceful, then dignified, although he was less convincing as he warmed to Violetta.

Austin Art League

They have been meeting for more than 100 years. The Austin Art League started regularly examining and discussing art in social settings in 1909. They continue to do so.

Apoorva Jain, Lulu Flores and Laura Bauman during the Art League Luncheon at Tarry House. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

During a light luncheon at Tarry House, a private club in Tarrytown on a former estate that belonged the Reed family, they covered a multitude of subjects, but got down to business handing out scholarships to Austin Community College art students Apoorva Jain and Laura Bauman. A third recipient of the $1,500 grants was not present.

They can do so because, a few years ago the group sold a collection of art that they owned, but had been closeted at the Austin History Center for decades. That secret stash brought in $200,000, part of a story I want to tell in full.

In the custom of legacy women’s clubs, members have at times been identified only by their husbands’ names, at other times by their given first names and married last names. Looking over a list of first 100 or so presidents, I spied some social celebrities right off: Mrs. Walter E. Long, Mrs. Harry Bickler, Mrs. T.P. Whitis, Mrs. R.L. Batts, Mrs. T.S. Painter, Mrs. Z.T. Scott, Mrs. Fred. S. Nagle, Mrs. Austin Phelps, Mrs. Martha Deatherage, Mrs. G. Felder Thornhill III, Mrs. D.J. Sibley, Jr. and Mrs. Frank Starr Niendorff.

Leonard Lehrer

We did not know accomplished artist, teacher and administrator Leonard Lehrer, but he spent his last years in the Austin area. He died on May 8.

Leonard Lehrer

Lehrer was a founding trustee and current honorary member of the International Print Center New York and emeritus professor of art from New York University, among other titles. His art was the subject of 48 solo exhibitions and multiple group shows. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery, Corcoran Gallery, Library of Congress as well as other museums and private collections.

Lehrer studied at the Philadelphia College of Art and the University of Pennsylvania. He taught at or led programs at the Philadelphia College of Art, University of New Mexico, University of Texas at San Antonio, Arizona State University, Columbia College Chicago and New York University. His last position was a director of the printmaking convergence program at the University of Texas.

A celebration of his life will be held at 3 p.m. June 2 at Thurman’s Mansion in Driftwood.

Ernest and Sarah Butler give $1 million to support Austin Opera artistic director

Not long after she took the reins as Austin Opera’s general director, Annie Burridge told a reporter how she felt about the quality of company’s sound under Artistic Director Richard Buckley.

“The second the performance started, I bolted forward in my seat,” Burridge recalled. “I couldn’t believe the caliber of the musicianship.”

RELATED: Austin Opera general director turns to big data to engage audiences.

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Austin Lyric Opera Artistic Director Richard Buckley (left) coaches Wayne Tigges. American-Statesman

Soon after the article was published, major benefactors Sarah and Ernest Butler asked the general director over for tea. Burridge came away with a pledge from the Butlers — who have strategically given tens of millions of dollars to build Austin’s arts — to support Buckley’s position with $1 million.

“As long-time opera fans, Sarah and I are so pleased with the artistic achievements of Maestro Buckley and quite proud of the caliber of musicianship he has brought to Austin,” Ernest Butler said. “We are also very optimistic about the future of Austin Opera under the leadership of General Director Annie Burridge. We hope that our gift will enable the company to flourish for years to come.”

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Sarah and Ernest Butler. American-Statesman.

Son of a distinguished maestro, Buckley has conducted operas and symphonies far and wide. He has been part of 38 Austin Opera productions — 37 percent of them new to the company’s repertoire — going back to the 2004-2005 season with “Tosca” and “Electra.”

Along with setting high standards with familiar operatic fare, Buckley has won praise from Austin observers for daring ventures such as “Waiting for the Barbarians,” “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” “The Bat,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Dialogue of the Carmelites,” “Flight” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” To celebrate his 10th year as artistic director, the company staged Verdi’s formidable masterpiece, “Don Carlo,” during the 2013-2014 season, along with a revival of his first Austin opera, “Tosca.”

RELATED: Austin Opera conductor Richard Buckley celebrates 10 years.

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Austin Opera General Director Annie Burridge. Contributed.

When Buckley conducts around the world as a guest, he tends to win over even the toughest critics.

“He lifts the orchestra with incontestable spirit, rhythm and presence,” reported Le Figaro newspaper in Paris. “We have here a real artist.”

“Richard Buckley, who has matured into an exquisitely sensitive yet fiery conductor, characterizes every measure of the score,” judged the Miami Herald critic. “But Buckley does it in a natural way that never seems self-conscious, and his reading crackles with theatrical excitement. It is fluent, spontaneous, superbly proportioned and, when necessary, wonderfully hushed with suspense.”

In other Austin Opera news, Burridge recently announced the appointment of three new members to her leadership team: Jennifer Dubin will serve as the group’s chief development officer; Nathan DePoint is the Company’s director of operations; and Melysa Rogen is the Company’s new director of marketing and communications.

The art stars came out for the Blanton Gala

Not many galas come with two big stars. Make that three.

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Michael and Jeanne Klein, honorees at the 2017 Blanton Gala. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

One obvious star attraction at the opulent Blanton Gala was the rehung permanent collection. In a mixture of formal and gallery attire, guests promenaded up the grand staircase early in the evening to view the American, European, Latin American, video and special exhibit rooms. They looked fantastic, more clearly articulated and presented, along with almost twice as much art on display as in the past at the 10-year-old University of Texas art museum.

RELATED: A new Museum in Austin: It’s called the Blanton.

The other two stars shined as well. Folks from New York, Santa Fe, Dallas, San Antonio and especially Houston joined Austinites in celebrating the Blanton’s very special patrons — Michael and Jeanne Klein. These art collectors have been with the Blanton and director Simone Wicha every step of the way. They donated “Stacked Waters,” which transformed the museum’s rather chilly atrium, and they led the way in acquiring and building “Austin,” Ellsworth Kelly‘s campus retreat now under construction — it is expected to open in a year.

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Nina Katchadourian ‘Accent Elimination’ (2005) Six-channel video with sound, six televisions, three pedestals, 13:26 minutes. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin. Promised gift of Jeanne and Michael Klein in honor of Director Simone Jamille Wicha’s ten-year anniversary at the museum, 2016

Not coincidentally, the Kleins, who enjoyed two rapturous standing ovations during the gala and gave a very funny speech in tandem, have promised to give a collection 28 videos to the Blanton. It includes works by Tania Bruguera, Isaac Julien, Pipilotti Rist and others. The museum will share ownership of pieces by Eve Sussman and Ana Mendieta with the Whitney Museum of American Art.

As part of the reinstallation, the Blanton has created a gallery — where the contemporary installations once stood next to the soon-to-be-delivered Meredith Lounge — dedicated to the ongoing display of video works. Its inaugural installation is artist Javier Téllez’s Letter on the Blind For the Use of Those Who See” (2007), one of the Kleins’ promised gifts to the Blanton.