The Thomsen Fund: Connecting Comets to world-class art

Grace Cowger | Mercury Staff

Computer science junior Kenneth Anttila finds himself within the arts district of Dallas again for his 25th event, this time listening to the beautiful sounds of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Along with dozens of other students, he can do this for free each month thanks to the Thomsen fund.

The Thomsen Fund is a program that provides free tickets to artistic events, available to all UTD students. The fund is administered by the Hobson Wildenthal Honors College, overseen by Dean Donal Skinner, and typically gives out tickets on the second Wednesday of each month at 8:15 a.m. in the Green Center. Events include performances by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Opera, the TITAS Dance series and more. Students should arrive early if they have event preferences, as lines regularly form an hour or more before the distribution. Skinner said the fund typically distributes 2,500 to 3,000 tickets each year.

“I feel that the vision on this endowment was incredible,” Skinner said. “It is not just investing in the theater, symphony or opera, but it is investing in the future of these arts by allowing students to go to these events for perhaps the very first time in their lives.”

Anttila feels that the fund has allowed him to experience art that is otherwise inaccessible to him because of the financial barrier: tickets to each event can range between $25 and $90 each, and that does not include the cost of transportation downtown. Skinner said the fund is self-sustaining because of accrued interest, allowing it to continue to distribute tickets for decades to come. Skinner said that this is made possible by an endowment of $32 million made in 2000 by Margaret McDermott in honor of former Texas Instruments CFO Carl J. Thomsen.

“This is not only a fund open to all students at UT Dallas, but it is the most incredible gift that has been given to the university,” Skinner said. “You come to university to get educated, in all facets of the mind, and this gift deeply enables that.”

The Honors College has overseen the fund since 2012. The fund works to make events accessible to students by having multiple ticket options and announcements on social media; any leftover tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. In case of scheduling issues, the Honors College allows students to return tickets and exchange them with other Comets. Announcements about ticket availability are regularly posted in the Thomsen Fund Tickets Teams channel.

Antilla attends Thomsen Fund events every month because he loves how symphonies allow him to be more immersed in the performance. Antilla said the fund has also helped him connect to other UTD students who attend, as college students typically stick out of the crowd at symphonic events, which brings them together.

“When you get tickets through the Thomsen fund, you get 2 tickets, so you can either bring a friend and have a really good shared experience or get a nice date for free,” Anttila said.

In their time at UTD, physics junior Bronwen Olsen has used the Thomsen fund to attend over 30 events including operas, plays, dances and symphonies. The tickets have helped them meet their symphony viewing requirements as a music minor, with Dallas Symphony Orchestra performing both modern and classical music.

“Classical music is kind of known for being stuck in the past,” Olsen said. “But I think it is great that the DSO has facilitated me seeing that there is innovation happening in this space due to modern composers, and I get to see all of it due to the fund.”

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