Amber Hasler says Fringe would cease to be Fringe if it became a curated festival that paid artists in advance, bu it is striving to keep fees low. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Festivals claim $127m impact

Friday, 15 June, 2018 - 09:32
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The state’s two leading arts festivals have a large role to play in the cultural and creative vibrancy of Perth during the summer months, according to their impact reports released this week.

Based on extensive surveys, the reports indicate the vast majority of respondents agree the state government should continue to support their operations with funding.

A total of 96 per cent of Perth Festival respondents agreed the curated festival played an important role in the cultural life of the state, while 91 per cent of Fringe World survey respondents agreed that Fringe enabled them to see high-quality performances they would otherwise not see.

Executive director Nathan Bennett said Perth Festival had undergone a rebrand in the lead-up to the 2018 season, with this year’s post-festival analysis by local firm Culture Counts its biggest to date.

This year, Perth Festival increased box office sales by 13.2 per cent to $4.3 million across its 270 free and ticketed events, Culture Counts reported.

It reported the flow-on economic impact of the festival to the state equated to $25.6 million.

Perth Festival attracted about 461,000 attendances, up by 18 per cent from 2017.

“About 12 per cent of people were first-time attendees and that’s an increase on last year, which was at 7 per cent,” Mr Bennett told Business News.

“I think that increase is an indication that the brand work we did was effective in positioning ourselves as accessible to a wider audience. But I still think there’s an opportunity for us to increase that.”

About 7 per cent of the festival’s audience was from outside of Perth.

Mr Bennett referenced Adelaide Festival as a best-practice benchmark, saying it had increased its visitation from outside of South Australia to 25 per cent in 2018.

He said it achieved that by working closely with its state’s tourism agencies, and alongside its local Fringe, to implement effective destination marketing.

“We’re working with Tourism WA to make sure that we’re in close consultation about where to market, either elsewhere in Australia or up to Singapore and Malaysia, so we can coordinate our efforts,” Mr Bennett said.

Just short of last year’s figure, Fringe World reported it generated $10.1 million in box office revenue in 2018; contributing total revenue of $21.4 million, which slightly exceeded expenditure.

With 4.6 per cent of its audience respondents living outside of Perth or WA, the festival reported Fringe goers coming from outside the city spent $15.3 million while visiting for the festival season.

That contributed to the festival’s total economic impact, which was estimated to be $101.6 million.

While average attendances across shows were down 6 per cent, Fringe World chief executive Marcus Canning said Fringe World had experienced significant growth in its first few years.

“We literally doubled in size each year until we put the brakes on and stabilised,” he said.

“We’re still seeing strong repeat attendance and growing new audiences each year, but we can always do better.”

Mr Canning said, with state government funding accounting for just 6 per cent of Fringe World revenue, Fringe World was doing well to drive such an impact for Western Australia.

State funding has accounted for just less than 50 per cent of Perth Festival’s revenue in previous years, indicating the contrasting business models under which the two festivals operate.

Offering a curated program, Perth Festival covers the costs of artists in advance.

On the other hand, Fringe World acts as an open-access platform for emerging and established artists to gain exposure and develop works at their own financial risk.

While that has always been the nature of Fringe festivals around the globe, Fringe World has reported a decline in artist satisfaction, with just 58 per cent of artists believing Fringe World provided a presentation service that was of ‘good value’.

The majority of artists reported ‘exposure’ as their primary goal from Fringe, while just 12 per cent of respondents classed it as a ‘good earner’, and 22 per cent reported they lost money.

However, 77 per cent of artists still agreed Fringe World was an important platform for their work in WA, and 95 per cent of respondents agreed Fringe World should continue to be presented in Perth for the foreseeable future.

Fringe World director Amber Hasler said Fringe would cease to be Fringe if it became a curated festival that guaranteed artist payment, but it was striving to keep fees as low as feasibly possible.

Fringe World paid about $8.9 million to artists this year, accounting for 42 per cent of its expenditure.

“The beauty of Fringe is, anything goes,” Ms Hasler said.

“The type of shows presented at the festival is driven by the artists and what they want to perform and present.

“It’s wildly democratic and the variety of shows makes a smorgasbord opportunity, which is a win-win for artists and audiences.”

She said the perception that Fringe made high profits based on comparatively high tickets sales was false.

“The 2018 festival was budgeted to break even and it came out a tiny bit ahead of its targets,” Ms Hasler told Business News.

“Every single bit we make goes straight back in to making it better.”

Fringe World’s recent report provided its most comprehensive financial breakdown yet.

“Understanding what it costs to produce and promote WA’s largest annual event should help to address ongoing questions about where fees and revenue generated by the festival gets spent,” the report said.

It said attracting more government support, establishing new sponsorships, expanding existing partnerships and growing philanthropic support would be needed if the festival were to continue to deliver value sustainably.