Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Opera director leaving amid $1 million debt

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Leaders of the Austin Lyric Opera announced Monday that they are accepting the resignation of general director Kevin Patterson and that fundraising plans are being made to eradicate the organization's more than $1 million of debt.

"We decided that we needed to address the deficit," said Jo Anne Christian, chairman of the opera board. "We've cut costs, but it's not improving."

Christian said that board President Ernest Auerbach will assume the role of volunteer CEO for the organization while a search for a permanent director is under way. Auerbach is a retired corporate executive who has held senior positions at Xerox, Cigna, New York Life Insurance International and AIG.

Richard Buckley, Austin Lyric Opera principal conductor and former artistic director, will assume responsibility for the company's artistic decisions.

"Ticket sales only cover about 40 percent of the cost of putting on an opera," Christian said. "When the economy got hit, opera companies nationwide got hit extra hard because they depend on philanthropy."

The organization's annual budget is between $4 million and $5 million, Christian said. Austin Lyric Opera will celebrate its 25th anniversary next season. Christian said plans for next season's three opera productions will remain.

Patterson joined Austin Lyric Opera in 2007 after five years with the Pittsburgh Opera. He declined to comment on the board's announcement.

The turnover at Austin Lyric Opera is the latest in a series shake-ups at major Austin arts groups as the nonprofit organizations weather the recession.

Last week, Blanton Museum of Art Director Ned Rifkin announced that he would step down from his post after just two years on the job.

In April, contemporary art center Arthouse hastily eliminated its chief curator position, citing budget constraints.

And in January, after selling a downtown lot on which it had long planned to build for nearly three decades, Austin Museum of Art leaders announced that Dana Friis-Hansen, the museum's longtime director, would step down from his post.

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699