Dishing up a cultural feast

16/01/2008 - 22:00


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It's hard to believe that, just five or six years ago, the Perth International Arts Festival was in a rebuilding phase after a multi-million dollar loss had shaken the morale of the festival team.

It's hard to believe that, just five or six years ago, the Perth International Arts Festival was in a rebuilding phase after a multi-million dollar loss had shaken the morale of the festival team.

In what has been a remarkable turnaround, expectations for this year’s festival are far more positive, with strong attendance figures tipped and box office takings set to match the record $3.5 million achieved last year.


It’s also the inaugural festival for incoming artistic director Shelagh Magadza, who took the reins from Lindy Hume last year.


Ms Magadza worked closely with her predecessor from 2004 to 2007 as associate director, before taking over in the lead-up to this year’s festival.


Under Ms Hume’s stewardship, PIAF’s box office revenue increased by about 46 per cent last year on the two previous festivals, which Ms Magadza said boosted confidence among festival organisers.


“The success of the last couple of years under Lindy has generated increased confidence around the festival,” she said.


“We’ve also really focused a lot of effort on customer relationship management and marketing tools, and that seems to be working, in that we have a more direct engagement with our audience.” Although interest in the festival has been growing, audience development remains a key objective of the 2008 festival.


“The figure that’s really critical for us is how many people the festival reaches.


That speaks to our wider agenda as a not-for-profit and the fact that we’re a recipient of public funds,” Ms Magadza said.


“Last year we had about 150,000 people attend [the festival] and we’re aiming for an increase on that this year.


We’re tracking well to achieve our target and a few shows have sold out.” Ms Magadza, who has been appointed as artistic director until and including the 2011 festival, said free events and cheap tickets were part of making the event more accessible.


She said that, while there had been steady growth across the board, several events had stood out.


“The two areas where we’ve seen really strong audience growth are the contemporary music program and the writers’ program,” Ms Magadza said.


In order to accommodate this interest, there have been several location changes for this year’s festival.


The Beck’s Music Box, formerly known as Beck’s Verandah, has moved to a purpose-built site on the Esplanade to cater for an expected crowd of 15,000 over the course of the festival, while the writers’ program has been shifted from the Concert Hall to the University of Western Australia campus.


“Both programs had grown beyond capacity, so we’ve had to re-house them,” Ms Magadza said.


This year’s program includes themes such as urbanity, urban development and the city environment, as well as indigenous works.


“The international program is the core of the festival, but within that, we’re still supportive of locally commissioned work,” Ms Magadza said.


Corporate support for the festival has remained strong, with mining giant Rio Tinto coming on board this year as a commissioning sponsor for the theatre section of the program.


The company has put up funding for the adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel The Turning.


Meanwhile, Wesfarmers Arts and Beck’s have been retained as principal sponsors.


The festival’s total budget of $12 million is made up of about 18 per cent corporate sponsorship, with a further 45 per cent sourced from core funders UWA, Lotterywest, and the City of Perth.


Revenue from box office sales makes up the remainder.


PIAF’s film festival at Somerville and Joondalup Pines commenced in December and will run until April, while the main festival runs from February 8 to March 2.



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