The Dallas Opera has received $2 million from Dallas philanthropist Margaret McDermott and the The Eugene McDermott Foundation. The gift was given to honor Kern Wildenthal, the former chair of the opera’s board. During Wildenthal’s tenure, the opera moved into its current home in the Dallas Arts District and its endowment grew from $5 million to $25 million.
Wildenthal also helped hire Keith Cerny, who has led the opera since 2010. The title of Cerny’s position has been changed to the Kern Wildenthal General Director and CEO.
Here’s the release from the Dallas Opera:
THE DALLAS OPERA IS THE PROUD RECIPIENT OF
EXTRAORDINARY GIFTS FROM
Mrs. Eugene McDermott
The Eugene McDermott Foundation
Honoring Kern Wildenthal
The Position of General Director and CEO
Has Been Named, in Perpetuity, for
Two-Time TDO Board Chair
DALLAS, DECEMBER 18, 2015 – The Dallas Opera is the proud recipient of two extraordinary new gifts, totaling $2 million, from The Eugene McDermott Foundation and Mrs. Eugene (Margaret) McDermott, who have requested that the position of Dallas Opera General Director and CEO be known henceforth as the “Kern Wildenthal General Director and CEO” in honor of the longtime Dallas Opera Board Member and Past Chairman. Dr. Wildenthal currently serves the company as an Officer-at-large on TDO’s Executive Committee.
Recognized throughout the medical and business communities for his accomplishments as president of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Southwestern Medical Foundation, as well as in his current position as president of Children’s Medical Center Foundation, Dr. Wildenthal applies the same combination of vision, skill, philanthropy and advocacy to advance the standing of The Dallas Opera, both locally and internationally.
In addition to his 27 years on The Dallas Opera Board of Directors, Dr. Wildenthal has been extremely generous with both his time and expertise, sitting on multiple senior committees including Strategic Planning, Nominating, Finance, Audit, and the Executive Committee. He has also served on The Dallas Opera Board of Trustees.
Kern Wildenthal was a founding board member of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts (now known as the AT&T Performing Arts Center) and worked tirelessly toward the successful completion of the final phase of the city’s central Arts District, with the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House as its acoustically acclaimed “crown jewel.”
In 2008, Dr. Wildenthal accepted the position of Chairman of The Dallas Opera Board of Directors, leading the company for two consecutive terms through the most dramatically transformative period in the company’s history. During his 2008-2012 tenure as Chairman, Kern Wildenthal:
• Guided the company’s October 2009 move into the Winspear Opera House after more than 50 years of performances in the Music Hall at Fair Park
• Served as the principal negotiator of a $10 million matching challenge to build the company’s endowment, personally securing 6-and 7-figure gifts and devoting countless hours to the task of completing the match, which quintupled the endowment from $5 million to $25 million
• Acted as a strong advocate for The Dallas Opera in the community, recruiting numerous patrons, supporters and board members from among business leaders and Dallas’ philanthropic community
• Played a leading role in the recruitment of Keith Cerny as TDO’s General Director and CEO
Upon Mr. Cerny’s arrival in 2010, Dr. Wildenthal was asked to take an unusual step: “Kern agreed to serve a second consecutive term as Chairman of the Board, in order to provide stability and continuity to the company, and to support my transition into my new role,” explains Keith Cerny, who will be the first “Kern Wildenthal General Director and CEO.”
“I shall always be grateful to Kern for putting the company’s needs first during that critical time,” Mr. Cerny adds, “and for his role in securing major gifts for general operations to deal with a significant deficit in our second year in our new home.
“Together with the Board, we restructured The Dallas Opera season schedule and successfully addressed significant cost increases, while simultaneously developing strategies to attract new and more diverse audiences. Ultimately, this led to a dramatic expansion of our education programs—reaching tens of thousands of students each year—and an ongoing program of free simulcasts which, so far, have entertained more than 60,000 people.”
Dr. Wildenthal and his wife, Marnie, are members of the General Director’s Circle and are recognized on the West Lobby Wall in the Winspear Opera House as donors of 21st Century Major Endowments and Special Gifts. They share a genuine passion for opera and are known throughout Texas as two of our most committed and enthusiastic champions.
A multi-year pledge made by the couple in 2011 established the “Marnie and Kern Wildenthal Principal Artist,” a fund to support an artist’s participation in one main stage production each season. The 2015 recipient was internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who led a glittering, all-star cast in The Dallas Opera’s eagerly anticipated October world premiere of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Great Scott.
“The Eugene McDermott Foundation is delighted to be able to show its passion for the Greater Dallas community, as well as for the arts, through this gift made in honor of Kern Wildenthal,” says Mary McDermott Cook, President of the McDermott Foundation. “Kern has earned the admiration—not only of our foundation and our family—but of the arts, medical and academic communities in Dallas and throughout the country. His insightful leadership, integrity, and decades of exemplary service to a variety of causes have contributed greatly to our community.
“I think,” she adds, “this is the perfect way to acknowledge Dr. Wildenthal’s continuing influence on the life of this city while providing an even brighter future for opera and the arts in Dallas.”
Margaret McDermott and the Eugene McDermott Foundation have been steadfast and generous of supporters of The Dallas Opera. Since 2003, they have made gifts totaling more than $7.6 million to special campaigns that helped the opera build their administrative offices in the Winspear Opera House, complete a $10 million challenge grant to build the company’s endowment, underwrite the world premiere of Great Scott, and to name the position of the General Director and CEO for Dr. Wildenthal.
“It has been a great privilege to be associated with The Dallas Opera as it has emerged as one of America’s leading companies,” Dr. Wildenthal responds. “The major gifts from Margaret McDermott and the Eugene McDermott Foundation are of enormous importance to the expanding mission of The Dallas Opera, and I feel incredibly honored that Margaret and Mary wished to recognize me by having my name associated with their exceptional donations.”
The new name of the position of general director and CEO for the company will be applied in perpetuity.