Sharing Joy

Anita and Bill Cochran grew up experiencing the arts. Their gift provides Austin schoolchildren with similar opportunities.
Bill and Anita Cochran
Photos by Sloan Breeden

As children, Bill and Anita Cochran both experienced the joy of seeing live performances, from ballet to symphony to theatre. Growing up just outside Schenectady and New York City respectively, Bill and Anita enjoyed frequent access to artists and venues that shaped their memories and broadened their worlds.

Now the Cochrans are providing access to similar entertainment experiences for Austin-area students. Bill and Anita are establishing an endowed fund to benefit Texas Performing Arts, one of the most important contributors to cultural life in Central Texas. The William and Anita Cochran Endowment for Performing Arts Access and Education supports daytime youth performances by nationally recognized artists for students from elementary through high school. The Cochrans’ endowment assists with fees for artists, transportation to bring students to the theatre, producing and distributing supplementary material to educators, and other outreach activities. In addition, their gift helps provide free or discounted tickets to TPA productions for children who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to attend a performance.

“The arts are one of the things that make us human, that make us whole,” says Bill. “Experiencing the arts is about finding an appreciation of something other than the basic necessities. If you look back through all of history, the arts have always been important to society. Our gift is intended to open the door for students to another aspect of cultural life.”

The Cochrans’ gift has enriched the lives of tens of thousands of children to date. Anita derives as much joy from watching the students enjoy the shows as she does from the productions themselves. “It’s fascinating to watch how excited the kids get during the shows,” she says. “For many of them, it may be their only opportunity to see something like this.”
“Experiencing the arts is about finding an appreciation of something other than the basic necessities. Our gift is intended to open the door for students to another aspect of cultural life.”
— BILL COCHRAN, pictured with his wife, Anita
Bill and Anita Cochran

Expanding Worlds and Minds

In addition to their shared interest in the arts, Bill and Anita have similar academic backgrounds. Both have been part of the UT community since 1976, when Bill joined the research staff of UT’s McDonald Observatory and Anita began her graduate studies. Anita earned both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in astronomy and is now assistant director of McDonald Observatory. Bill, currently a research professor at McDonald Observatory and in UT’s Department of Astronomy, holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Princeton University. Since 1981, the Cochrans have been TPA members.

“We became members back when the concert hall first opened,” Bill explains, “because it was evidence that UT was making a commitment to be a major player in the national arts scene. We thought, ‘Let’s participate in this and see what artists they’re able to bring in.’”

During more than four decades of attending performances, the Cochrans have seen some of their all-time favorite artists, including the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, Yo‑Yo Ma and B.B. King. (“Sitting 30 feet away from B.B. King, that’s quite something,” Anita says.) And after all these years, the thrill is not gone. Huge fans of blues and chamber music, Bill and Anita always find something to look forward to each season. “Over the years, I’ve seen a real broadening of the types of shows TPA presents,” says Bill. “Early in its history, they had a small audience base and needed to play it safe. Now they’re introducing Austinites to a variety of performers, and I think that’s really valuable.”

Bill and Anita, firm believers in education and personal growth, keep an open mind about each new TPA season and avail themselves of opportunities to experience something new every year. They’ve learned that by attending performances by artists who are unfamiliar to them, they have a chance to expand their worlds and their minds.

“When we go to shows that are outside our comfort range, we discover we like what we didn’t even know we liked,” Anita says.

Texas Leader Magazine

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