22/04/2010 - 00:00

Arts falls behind in culture of giving

22/04/2010 - 00:00

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IT’S fair to say that Western Australians have traditionally been a pretty generous bunch.

Arts falls behind in culture of giving

IT’S fair to say that Western Australians have traditionally been a pretty generous bunch.

Telethon and Appealathon immediately spring to mind as examples of protracted munificence by the public.

When it comes to the state’s arts sector, however, it seems the culture of giving in WA has fallen behind that of other states.

Art Gallery of Western Australia director Stefano Carboni recently arrived in WA from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Met, where about 90 per cent of operating costs were sourced from wealthy individual donors.

“I think WA is behind with the culture of giving,” Mr Carboni told the WA Business News boardroom forum.

“And there’s also quite a big difference in per capita giving between the east coast and WA.

“We need to go out into the community and really promote the culture of giving, that’s not been happening so far.”

Kerry Stokes’ Seven Network has raised more than $87 million since Telethon’s inception, predominantly sourced from corporate purses and the wallets of Perth’s mums and dads.

According to Telethon’s website: “It is regarded as the most successful fundraising event per capita in the world”, a claim backed up by philanthropist, Janet Holmes a Court.

“I know from my role on Telethon Trust, Western Australians are the most generous in the world,” she said.

While Telethon’s emotive messages have inspired sustained support, the arts sector in WA has found fundraising much harder going.

Quoting the London Benchmarking Group’s 2009 annual benchmarking report, which measures corporate community investment, His Majesty’s Theatre Foundation executive director Patria Jafferies said Australian’s level of giving to culture and the arts had been inadequate.

“Arts and culture is only 6 per cent of giving in this country, which is very limited,” Ms Jafferies said.

“And then take health, which is 46 per cent.

“If you could get half the 46 per cent thinking about arts and culture I think you’ll have something to start growing on.”

A philanthropy project backed by the University of Western Australia has done some preliminary research about attitudes towards giving in the state.

A draft report found that, among the reasons people in WA are reticent to give are a lack of perceived need, the desire for privacy, and concern about the organisations that are requesting the money.

Azure Capital executive chairman John Poynton heads the steering committee, and the project has Lotterywest funding.

Mrs Holmes a Court was adamant the corporate sector has continued to lift its support for the arts but said high earning individuals could do more.

“CEOs used to earn, in 1990, 27 times the average worker’s wage, now it’s 92 times,” she said.

“I would love to know how we tap into all those executives.”

West Australian Symphony Orchestra chief executive Craig Whitehead highlighted Wesfarmers, Ernst & Young, and Emirates as some of the state’s leading corporate contributors to the arts, including WASO.

Wesfarmers Arts contributes about $1 million annually to an extensive list of cultural and arts organisations, stemming from the early 1980s when it was the first WA business to donate to the Art Gallery of WA.

Ernst & Young Perth sponsors both the Art Gallery of Western Australia and WASO, and Emirates vice-president Australia Stephen Pearse said his company supported WASO because sponsorships were one of the best ways to connect with its passengers.

“Last year, we invested around 1 per cent of Emirates’ total revenue on sponsorship, promotions, events and media relations. More than 65 per cent of this budget is used on sponsorships,” he said.

Fremantle Arts Centre director Jim Cathcart said he was fortunate to have secured valuable corporate partnerships with Little Creatures and Bendigo Bank, as both corporations shared similar aspirations to the centre.

“Often when you’re dealing with the corporate sector and arts there’s a certain amount of contrivance,” Mr Cathcart said.

“But in that situation it’s a beautiful fit.”

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Sam Walsh queried the role of the media in raising the culture of giving to the arts amid discussions about the right corporate fit for cultural organisations.

“It’s getting the right people, getting the right engagement, whether they’re contractors or businesses or service operators, (and) finding the way to tap in,” Mr Walsh said.

“And I’ve generally found people will be reserved until you actually go there and say you need help.”

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