.Thanks a Million

Generous couple help fund Santa Cruz Symphony’s future

Better sit down for this one. In a time of discouraging belt-tightening, it’s a joy to be able to share breaking news of enormous generosity.

The Santa Cruz Symphony is thrilled to announce a $1,000,000 legacy gift from longtime board member Mark Chambers-Bray in memory of the late Roy Chambers-Bray. Presenting the largest single donation in the 67-year-history of the Symphony, Chambers-Bray came forward with the gift after the recent death of his partner.

A longtime supporter of the arts, and subscriber to the San Francisco Ballet, Mark Chambers-Bray recalls that he and Roy had agreed, upon their retirement, that they “really wanted to funnel our energies and our passion toward the things that inspired us. And the Santa Cruz Symphony was one of those things.”

Two decades ago the two former businessmen became deeply involved with the Symphony, especially through fundraising. “In fact, one of the now-annual fundraisers takes place at our home in Felton,” Mark explains.

“We have a nice home and we have beautiful gardens. It’s a space that can seat 30 people sit-down. Thirty people at $1,000 a place, it’s become a fundraiser for the Symphony League every year to the tune of at least $30,000. And I knew even though Roy has passed away,” Mark says, “he would want me to carry that on.”

After a series of trust revisions, the two men also agreed that the majority of their estate would ultimately go to the Santa Cruz Symphony. “And another decision we made,” Mark recalls, “not knowing that it would come so quickly, was that if one of us passes before the other, we want to donate in the other’s memory a million dollars to the symphony.”

Chambers-Bray readily acknowledged the current funding crisis in the arts. “We hear that news all the time, that all forms of art are struggling right now. And so hopefully this will provide a shot in the arm to the Symphony. And we’re so happy to be able to do it.”

Santa Cruz Symphony Executive Director Gary Reece admits that the Chambers-Bray gift is both thrilling and timely. “We had received a significant amount of funding from both the federal and state governments for COVID relief, but those dollars are gone. It’s a nationwide problem,” says Reece, an active board member of national arts organizations. “Attendance has not yet recovered from COVID, and barely 40% of our operating costs are covered by ticket revenue. So it’s a very significant gift for us, because it will allow us breathing room to try to replace the sources of income that were there in the past, as we work to rebuild our audience level.”

Reece notes that last spring’s Bach program saw a 44% increase in attendance. “And the Pops concert was an increase of 54%, so overall last year’s attendance was significantly up.”

After negotiations with tax attorneys to enhance benefits and minimize the tax liabilities of the gift, Reece projects that the Chambers-Bray funds—an unconditional gift—will be liberated shortly. “And we’re not talking about years,” he adds. “We’re talking about weeks before we’re able to receive that gift in the most tax-efficient way for the Chambers-Bray estate.”

With the loss of beloved arts benefactor Rowland Rebele, many in the community have agonized over the fate of regional performing arts, including the Symphony and its expanded efforts toward growing its educational outreach programs. “The Rebele Family has continued as a season sponsor,” Reece notes.

And now, thanks to the pact made between the two Chambers-Bray benefactors, the work of the Symphony is assured for the foreseeable future. “Mark and Roy have basically said the funds will support the mission of the Symphony,” Reece says. “One specific need that we always have is money to support our education program providing free concerts to fourth- and fifth-grade students in Santa Cruz and northern Monterey County.”

The Chambers-Bray gift will help keep the program running, while earning the thanks of a grateful community of music lovers.


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